Cover photo for Jerry Odneal's Obituary
Jerry Odneal Profile Photo
1937 Jerry 2023

Jerry Odneal

November 21, 1937 — September 8, 2023

The wild ride of Jerry Leon Odneal, long time resident of Houston, Texas, came to an end September 8th when he passed away at his home in Shawnee, Oklahoma. By his side, was his wife of 65 years, Mary Ann, his son, James, and his eldest grandson, Chris. His journey began in the rural community of Commerce, Oklahoma, on November 21, 1937, where he was born. He was the baby of the family with an older brother, M.C., and older sister, Jeannine. He loved telling stories about his family and his childhood adventures in Commerce. The escapades were numerous and memorable. Like the time he and his friend tried to dig a tunnel under Route 66 that ran in front of his family's farmhouse, until the Oklahoma Highway Patrol came by and told them to stop.  Or the story about how Mickey Mantle gave him his first beer in thanks for shagging baseballs at a sandlot field in Commerce. In fact, of all of Jerry's accomplishments, storytelling ranked at the top of the list. It was a gift, and he never felt that the truth should get in the way of a good story. On many occasions, eager listeners like his daughter and son, nieces and nephews, and later grandsons and their friends, would gather around to be regaled by his tall tales.
Jerry's teen years were spent around Del City, Oklahoma, where he divided his time between playing baseball, playing the trumpet, making mischief, and meeting his future bride, Mary Ann. He was 16 and she was 14 when they first started dating. In the mid 1950's, at Del City High School, Jerry was renowned for his trumpeting skills and would often perform solos before the entire school. In November of 1957, immediately following their marriage, Jerry and Mary Ann drove to Houston to begin their new life with little more than the pennies in their pockets, and Houston would be their home until 2016 when they moved back to their home state of Oklahoma. He found work at Engineers and Fabricators Company in the Heights, where his older brother worked. Jerry was there for 24 years, starting at the bottom, putting in 18-hour days, and working his way up through the company. He took night classes at the University of Houston to further his career and help provide for his growing family. After leaving E.F.C.O., he went to work for Bechtel Engineering and then Dupont as an inspector, traveling to many power plants across the country, and into Mexico, and beyond. In 1997, he traveled to northern China for an inspection job, just as the country was beginning to open its doors to the outside world. It was an intense and forbidding excursion for a small-town Oklahoma boy. While being escorted and highly scrutinized everywhere he went, he noticed everyone would stop and stare at him. He finally asked his interpreter, "Why is everyone staring? Is it because they don't often see people who look like me?" And she quickly replied, "Oh, no, Mr. Jerry. It is because you are fat!"
Aside from traveling for work, Jerry and Mary Ann loved going places together. They drove all over the United States, and once, even went all the way to Acapulco in the family station wagon. In later years, their travels took them to Ireland and England. In part, to do research on the Odneal origins in Ireland. The stories from Ireland are remarkable. Like the first time they went to Ireland and upon arriving, being completely exhausted, they checked into their lodging and immediately fell asleep. Upon awakening, thinking they had overslept, they grabbed their bags and hurried downstairs to check out. The innkeeper eyed them with confusion and said, "But you've only been here a couple of hours." Or the time, while standing on the fabled hill of Tara pondering the past and the Irish kings who had been crowned there and feeling quite proud of his heritage, Jerry stepped back onto a bit of sheep's dung and went tumbling unceremoniously down the hill.
Ancestry and family were important to Jerry and Mary Ann. They began doing genealogy research in the mid 1960's before it became the national pastime. They spent many hours at genealogical libraries, here in Houston and in Salt Lake City, pouring over books and microfilm. After 40 plus years of research, they printed their work and shared it with the rest of the family and with genealogical libraries across the country. Jerry's ancestral history was rich, from both his father and mother's side of the family. His mother's family was among those who helped settle New Amsterdam, which became New York. The Odneal ancestors were a hearty bunch of pioneers who settled in Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina, owning property alongside Daniel Boone's family. Many of Jerry's ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War and the stories are fascinating and historic.  Years later, a large portion of the family made the journey west by covered wagons to Missouri, and then on to Oklahoma.
In 1979, when Jerry's daughter, Tammy, gave birth to his first grandson, Chris, he became known as "Pappa Jerry”. Some years later, when he was coaching Chris' Little League baseball team, the entire group of boys began calling him "Pappa Jerry". He told them they could call him "Coach", but to them he was just "Pappa Jerry''. To this day, Chris' friends still call him Pappa Jerry and he always thought of them as family. Three years ago, he became a great grandfather when Chris' daughter, Ellis, was born. He sometimes referred to her as "a little ray of sunshine".  His happiest times, as an adult, were the days he spent at his and Mary Ann’s Lake house. He liked nothing better than having a beer with his brother, M.C., fishing with his son, James, his nephew, Rodney and his family, his grandson, Chris, and all his friends.  And later, teaching his two younger grandsons, Ryan and Sean, how to fish.  And of course, sitting around the fire telling stories.
Jerry Odneal led a charmed life. Many people didn't realize, because he was very athletic, that he was born with Spina Bifida. His parents were told when he was very young that he probably would not live past adulthood, but he cheated death for 60 plus years. In the late 1960's, he had an experimental surgery, in Houston, to address his Spina Bifida issue. It was a risk. One of the doctors on hand to observe was the world-renowned cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. Michael DeBakey. It was a success. His was a life full of interesting encounters. Like the time Lee Harvey Oswald accosted him and Mary Ann on the street in New Orleans and after showing them the gun he had tucked in his waistband, forced them to have one drink and listen to his political diatribe. Or the time in the early 1970's when they were in Acapulco and met Sally Field and her husband, spending several days with them without bringing up the fact of who she was. He always wondered, "Did she think I was cool for not talking about her being a television star? Or did she think I was dumb for not knowing who she was?"  And then there was the time they knocked at the door of a Bed and Breakfast in England in the middle of the night and actor Michael Caine answered the door. It was his brother's B & B. Too many stories, too little time. Jerry wrote in his family journal, "It has been said that no one is truly dead, so long as there is one person alive who remembers them." While Jerry Odneal's wild ride has, sadly, come to an end his memory and the tall tales will journey on.
A memorial service will be held at 11:00 am, Monday, September 25, 2023, at AE Funeral Services Chapel, 603 W. Independence St., Shawnee, Oklahoma 74804.
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Jerry Odneal, please visit our flower store.

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Monday, September 25, 2023

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