In Passing

Virginia N. Axenfield

Virginia N. Axenfield passed away on Aug. 3 at Logan Hospital in Whitefish, Mont. Virginia wintered in Sun Lakes since 1993 and lived in Palo Verde. She is survived by her two sons, Stephen and Richard. A viewing of the body took place in Columbia Falls, Mont., and a funeral took place at Sunset View Cemetery in El Cerrito, Calif., in mid-August 2023.

Robert Bybee Jr.

Robert Bybee Jr.

Robert Allen Bybee Jr. (Bob), age 73, a devoted husband, loving father, doting grandfather and great-grandfather, passed away peacefully on July 30, 2023, surrounded by his family. He was born on June 15, 1950, in Peoria, Ill.

Robert’s strong sense of family and compassion for others were evident from a young age. He grew up in a close-knit home with his four brothers. His father, Robert Allen Bybee Sr., and his mother, Helen Jean Bybee (Chittum), predeceased him. He was also preceded in death by his four younger brothers, Gary, David, Jeffery, and John. Their passing left a void in his heart, but their memories remained a cherished part of his life.

Robert leaves behind his devoted wife, Vickie Bybee (Sutter), who currently resides in Sun Lakes, Ariz. They shared a special bond, having known each other since their childhood years.

Robert’s legacy lives on through his four beloved children: Robert Bybee III (Jodi), Danny Bybee, Steven Bybee (Jo), and Matthew Bybee. His devotion as a father was unparalleled, and he took immense pride in being a grandfather. He was blessed with 12 grandchildren, each one filling his life with joy. Peyton, Regan, Dani, Jacob, Ryan, Brody, Brianna, Tyler, Blake, Darien, Baron, and Gretchen were the apple of his eye, and he relished every moment spent with them. The family continued to grow, welcoming two great-grandchildren, Baron Bybee Jr. and Elliot Gray, who were loved dearly by their great-grandfather.

Robert was known for his unwavering willingness to help others. He had an insatiable drive to stay busy, always working on various projects. Robert’s love for golf was a passion he pursued until a week before his passing. His generosity and willingness to assist others were a testament to the kindness and compassion that defined his character.

As a young adult Robert joined his father at LR Nelsons. He became the union president at 21 years of age and contributed greatly to the improvement of working pay and retirement benefits for the employees. Within 18 months he became a general manager of the plant.

In time he moved to Pontiac, Ill., to embrace new opportunities, and became a respected Screw Machine Line Supervisor at Caterpillar, where his dedication and leadership shone brightly. In addition to his professional achievements, Robert’s legacy extended to the wrestling community in Pontiac. As a wrestling coach, he instilled the values of discipline, sportsmanship, and perseverance in his athletes.

Vickie’s career advancement took them to Holiday Island, Ark., where Robert began working for Komet of America. As a continued testament to his love for his wife, Robert again followed Vickie’s career to Ballwin, Mo., where he continued to work for Komet. In 2010, Robert retired, and he and Vickie relocated to Chandler, Ariz., near two of their sons and grandchildren. By early 2022, all four of their children would join them in the Phoenix area for the first time in nearly 30 years, where they all cherished their remaining time together.

Robert’s memory will forever be etched in the hearts of those who were fortunate enough to have him in their lives. May his soul rest in peace and may the memories of the love and joy he shared be a source of comfort.

A Celebration of Life for Robert Allen Bybee Jr.’s life is planned in October 2023.

Susan Jane Carew

Susan Jane Carew

Susan Jane Carew passed away in the hospital in Chandler, Ariz., on July 19, 2023. She was born on Christmas Day, 1946, in San Francisco, Calif., to Thomas Carew Sr. and Alice Carew. She was preceded in death by both parents and her sister Kathleen. Susan attended Star of the Sea Grammar School and Star of the Sea Academy, graduating in 1964. She started her 35-year career at the Bank of America in 1968 and retired in 2003, achieving the position of Vice President.

Sue started her career when banking was in transition due to computer technology. She was involved in implementing new programs and services, including Interstate Banking and ATMs. During her career she was assigned to many projects that required travel throughout the United States and Hong Kong, an opportunity that she thoroughly enjoyed.

Sue retired and moved to Sun Lakes, Ariz., remaining very active, doing contract work for Wells Fargo for 8 years. Susan also became active in her community, serving as the HOA Treasurer and recently on the Election Committee. Sue made many friends there among neighbors and participants of many social activities. She loved meeting friends for pool exercise and lunch. Her biggest passion was Monday Night Trivia with her fellow teammates, The Hot Dogs. To honor their friend Susan, The Hot Dogs gathered at the Sun Lakes Community Center and held the Susan Carew Trivia Tribute, wherein Sue was the subject of the trivia questions. When asked what Sue’s finest personal quality was, the answers included: her kindness and calmness, her intelligence and wit, her independence and endurance, all correct answers. And they all commented on simply enjoying conversations with her.

Sue’s family would like to acknowledge the professional and loving care Sue received from the staff at Fresenius Medical Center during her years of dialysis treatment. A very special debt of gratitude is owed to Ali Trevino, who volunteered to stay with Sue while she was rehabilitating at home from recent bone fractures. They quickly developed a close and affectionate bond.

Susan is survived by her beloved brothers: Tom (Michele) of Granbury, Texas; Paul (Meg) of Seattle, Wash.; Jerry (Lupe) of Santa Rosa, Calif., and Jim (Laurie) of Queen Creek, Ariz. She is also survived by her beloved nephews and nieces: James Jr. (Lacey) of Marysville, Wash.; Chelsea Baldwin (Zac) of Queen Creek, Ariz.; David of Seattle, Wash., and Anni of Bellingham, Wash. Sue would also want everyone to know how much she loved Jack, son of Zac and Chelsea, and Madeline, daughter of James and Lacey. Sue was a loving sister and aunt, and her family will miss her greatly.

A Memorial was attended by family and Susan’s dear friends at her Sun Lakes Community Center.

Donations to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital preferred.

Condolences may be expressed at

Judith Ann Conaway

Judith Ann Conaway

Judith Ann Conaway was born July 25, 1936, and passed away July 24, 2023. Judy had a wonderful career as an elementary school teacher in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She was considered by all to be an excellent educator. She loved playing tennis, golf, and board games. She is predeceased by her beloved husband, George. The couple loved to travel during their 62-year marriage and happy retirement in Arizona. They spent one year traveling the world attending every Grand Slam tennis tournament.

Judy is survived by her daughter Tamera and partner Vincent, of Philadelphia; her son Todd and his wife Michael of Apache Junction, Ariz.; four grandchildren: Andrew and his wife Kimberly; Alex and his wife Kim; Lexi, and Chase; three great grandchildren; and three great-great grandchildren.

Judy will be missed and fondly remembered.

Nancy L. Matus

Nancy L. Matus

We are sad to announce the sudden passing of Nancy L. Matus, who died on July 11, 2023, at her home.

Nancy was born in Wichita, Kan., on January 22, 1955, to Joseph and Josephine Matus. From an early age Nancy showed an artistic talent, which was encouraged by her older sister Karen. Nancy loved to draw and paint, and was selected for a summer art workshop for young people at Arizona State University.

When her dad gave her his old set of drafting pens and tools, this sparked an interest in Nancy for architectural drafting. One of her first jobs out of high school was at Paramount Drafting, where she was the only woman drafting technician at the time. She thrived in her drafting classes at Phoenix College, where she graduated in 1980. A further development of her interests led her to be accepted to the University of Arizona college of architecture, where she excelled in her studies. Unfortunately she was unable to complete the course and returned to Phoenix, where she was hired with the City of Phoenix. Throughout her 30-year career with the city, Nancy held a variety of drafting and supervisory roles in the Water, Engineering, and Streets Departments, eventually retiring in 2007.

Even during her full time working career, Nancy continued to explore her artistic talents with painting, drawing, and jewelry making. She was proud to be a member of several professional art groups, including National Acrylic Painters Association and the International Society of Acrylic Painters. Her works have been published in two art books by Rockport Publishers, and she has shown her paintings at the Coos Bay Art Museum, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, and the Phoenix City Hall, and many of her works are in private and public collections.

Nancy was predeceased by her beloved husband Kenneth Walker, who passed away in 2018 after 28 years of marriage. She is also predeceased by brothers Kenneth and Daniel Matus, and sister Karen Matus Boswell. Surviving are sister Patricia Matus; sisters-in-law Denise Matus, Misa Matus, and Judy Walker; stepson Ivan Nicholas Walker; niece Laura Boswell Bucci; nephews Mark, Matthew, Christopher, and Patrick Boswell; and aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.

Nancy was a beautiful, vibrant, and creative force, who will be missed by many. She will be laid to rest with her husband at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona. No immediate services are planned.

Jennifer L. Strickland

Jennifer L. Strickland

Jennifer L. Strickland, 54, departed this life from her Sun Lakes home on Thursday, July 27, 2023, for one last adventure, after a lengthy battle with cancer. Her travel arrangements had been made in advance, and she had no need to pack; all would be provided. She didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.

Jennifer was born Aug. 17, 1968, in Fairfield, Calif. She lived much of her early life in Colorado, a state she loved. She graduated from Lamar High School in 1986 and resided there until 2001. She and her former husband, Gary Phillips, moved to Arizona about five months before the birth of their daughter. She and Gary divorced in 2011 but remained good friends. Jennifer married the love of her life, Bryan Strickland, in 2014, with whom she built a beautiful blended family.

Jennifer loved visiting animal shelters. If she had the room, she would have taken all of the animals home with her. She leaves behind her support dog, Buddy; her one-eyed kitty, Phoenix; and her guinea pig, Tank; for Bryan and Kass to love and care for in her absence. Jennifer found humor in the absurd, and often shared memes, videos, and pictures with her family, making each other laugh.

Jennifer is survived by her husband, Bryan Strickland, and daughter, Kass Phillips. She is also survived by stepson, Devin Strickland, and his wife, Annika, their children Ava, Laura, and a third on the way; stepdaughter Kayla Strickland; Jennifer’s father, Ed Norris; and her mother, Georgie Norris. We wish to acknowledge Jennifer’s many friends and acquaintances, unfortunately too many to list here, but we appreciate you, and know you grieve with us.

The family wishes to thank Hospice of the Valley for all the time and effort they devoted to Jennifer’s care during her final days. They made her comfortable and allowed her to pass in peace and dignity at home surrounded by her loved ones. We thank them for all that they do and continue to do for patients like Jennifer every day.

Jennifer’s memorial will take place at 11 a.m. on Sept. 16, 2023, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 800 W. Chandler Heights Rd, Chandler, AZ 85248. In lieu of flowers or gifts we instead ask for donations to be made to either Hospice of the Valley or the American Cancer Society.

Melvin Weiser

Melvin Weiser

Melvin Weiser, 99, passed away at his home in Sun Lakes, Ariz., on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023.

He was born in Manhattan, NYC, on May 9, 1924, son of Samuel and Rose (Cohen) Weiser. Raised in the Bronx, Mel graduated from Evander Childs High School and then, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the start of World War II. He served on the baby aircraft carrier Croatan (CVE 25) in the Atlantic. The mission was to destroy German submarines that were attacking allied ships. He always said his Naval service was a positive turning point in his life, and it was then that he decided to become a writer.

After the war, Mel studied and received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in English and Theater from Brooklyn College. He became a teacher and wrote plays and stories in his free time. He taught at Midwood High School and Thomas Jefferson Vocational School.

Mel married Isabel Ehrlich in 1948, and they had two sons, Brenn and Darin. In 1958 the family moved to Phoenix, Ariz., where Mel taught English and Drama at North Phoenix High School. After several years, he transferred to Alhambra High School, and then spent 17 years teaching English at Glendale Community College. During that period, he also wrote the books and lyrics for nine “Hollywood Hits,” musicals performed all over the country by high schools and community theaters.

Mel directed several productions at Phoenix Little Theatre. He started the original Phoenix Jewish Theatre (1962), Circle 16 Playhouse and Actors Inner Circle (1969). Mel directed Brightower on Broadway (NYC, 1971) and produced and directed Best of Broadway Productions, a dinner theater circuit for numerous Valley of the Sun resorts. Mel’s influence in local theater was enormous.

In the 1970s, Mel published his first novels: The Trespasser (Avon Books) and Within the Web (Dell Books). Years later, he wrote and published Nick Nolte: Caught in the Act (Momentum Books, 1999), On 174th Street: The World of Willie Mittleman (2014), Viva Puccini (2021) and The Crown of Sammuramat (2022). The production of his play Cry, Tiger! (2008) was a big success with local audiences.

After sharing 45 loving years with Mel, Isabelle passed away in 1993. She had myotonic muscular dystrophy, as did their sons. Darin passed away in 1998, and Brenn in 2017.

Mel is survived by his second wife, playwright Joni Browne-Walders (married in 2006) for another loving marriage of 17 years. Together they wrote and produced the play A Tiny Piece of Land.

Mel was a remarkable man; gifted, caring, generous, and full of energy, wit, and optimism. He was a dedicated husband and father who was loved and admired by family, friends, co-workers, and his students. He will not be forgotten.

In lieu of flowers, feel free to make donations in memory of Melvin Weiser to Hospice of the Valley, a truly worthwhile organization: 1510 East Flower St., Phoenix, AZ 85014.