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Bethel Seals

Birth Date: March 20, 1933
Death Date: December 21, 2017

Bethel Seals, 84, died with great peace and honor, surrounded by her family on Thursday, December 21, 2017 in Decatur, Illinois.

She is survived by her younger sister Gennetie married to Herbert Blanford of Shelbyville, her daughter Kathy married to Edward Speagle of Scottsdale, Arizona, Sandra Brammel married to Russell Brammel of Cerro Gordo, Debra and her husband Alan Shride of Bethany, Elisabeth Baugus of Lovington, her only son Jeffrey Seals of Decatur, 15 grandchildren, and 21 great grandchildren.

She was preceded in death by her husband of over 30 years and the father of her children Ralph Seals, her father Chester Sparks, her mother Minnie Sparks Strong, daughter Patty Seals and her four sisters and one brother.

Funeral services will be performed by Reverend Gordon Speagle at Graceland Funeral Home on Tuesday, December 26, 2017 at 1:00 pm.

Bethel Strong Sparks was born in remote Owsley County, Kentucky on March 20, 1933 to Chester Sparks and Minnie Strong. Bethel was the third of six children who grew up poor, hard, and with little education. Her father was a notorious moonshiner, alcoholic, gambler, and womanizer who brought a lot of grief and trauma to the family, making hard times harder. Bethel’s mother Minnie was a deeply religious and pious woman who supplied love and nurturing in abundance to her family. Despite their life of adversity and toil, they managed to find joy in the small, seemingly insignificant things in life. Minnie was a direct descendant of Chief Redbird (Aaron Brock), a legendary Cherokee War Chief responsible for saving many Eastern Cherokee peoples from peril during the Trail of Tears. Bethel’s Cherokee ancestry informed many things about her, including her mysteriously dark features, her lifelong affinity with nature and gardening, and most of all her undying loyalty to her family.

Bethel, her mother, and her siblings continued to live on their land in Owsley County for as long as they could until ultimately fleeing the tyranny of their father Chester and scattering to different parts of Appalachia. Bethel eventually landed in Connersville, Indiana, meeting and falling in love with Ralph Seals, who would become her husband of over 30-years and the father of her six children. Ralph and Bethel spent the first several years of their marriage in and around Kentucky before Ralph found employment with the Caterpillar Corporation and moved the family to Central Illinois. Many of Bethel’s siblings and her mother followed her to Illinois from Kentucky to carve out a new life for themselves as well. Ralph and Bethel raised five girls and one boy on East Grande Street in Decatur, Illinois. Bethel worked tirelessly for her husband and her children to make a beautiful life, full of love and tenderness.

After raising their six children, Bethel divorced Ralph and moved to Stonington, Illinois where she spent most of the rest of her days gardening, collecting knick knacks, and providing for and helping her six adult children, her 15 grandchildren, and her 21 great grandchildren navigate life. The legacy that Bethel Strong Sparks leaves behind reminds us to always treat each other softly, with tenderness, with generosity, and with love. To always find and delight in the sugar of life and the sugar in others, even when we ourselves struggle, falter, and lose hope. Although much of Bethel’s life was marked by toil and adversity, her life’s work was marked by giving whatever she had to lighten the load of another human being, family, friend, or foe. She led a life that was in faithful keeping with her Cherokee roots and the teachings of Jesus Christ, which were held so dearly by her mother, Minnie. Bethel’s spirit took flight on the evening of the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. The rising sun on the winter solstice, like Bethel’s life unto the world, brings light to darkness, love to fear, and gratitude for our time together. Let Bethel’s light continue to shine for all eternity. We love you always. Goodbye.

She will be missed by all who knew her and loved her. The extended obituary is accessible at

Video Tribute for Bethel Seals:

Funeral Service
December 26, 2017
1:00 pm
Graceland/Fairlawn Funeral Home
2091 N. Oakland Ave. Decatur, IL 62526
Get Directions
December 26, 2017
12:00 pm
- 1:00 pm
Graceland / Fairlawn Funeral Home
2091 N. Oakland Avenue Decatur, IL 62526
Get Directions
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  1. My grandmother, Bethel Seals, was a remarkable woman. In her time on this earth, she faced every type of adversity (financial, romantic, family issues, deaths, etc.) and yet she always overcame those challenges with grace and dignity.

    My earliest memories of my grandma take place in the kitchen of my childhood home, somewhere between the mid 90s and the early 2000’s. My mom and grandma would sip coffee, smoke a cigarette or ten, and carry-on such long and detailed conversations that an objective observer might think they hadn’t spoken in years. In reality, grandma was over at our house at least three times a week.

    My grandma was a loving woman. She was kind and gentle. But her oftentimes soft demeanor masked a fiery spirit and an incredible will to live. She was tough beyond belief, working a physically demanding full-time job right up until 2005, when she suffered a debilitating stroke that robbed her of her ability to work. Even after that stroke she remained a permanent fixture in the lives of all her children and grandchildren. She could communicate very clearly in her own way and, true to her independent nature, was able to care for herself some of the time.

    Bethel Seals had a pioneer spirit and she consistently showed bravery and fortitude through her long and colorful life. Every single one of her children and grandchildren will miss her terribly. We will always hold a special place in our hearts for our courageous, compassionate, loving, Bethel Seals. Until we meet again.

    -Courtney Jean

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