Sylvia was born Sylvia Mae Thierry to Ella Mae Miles of Helena, Arkansas, and Clyde Vincent Thierry (D’Avy by birth) of Chataigner, Louisiana, on November 28, 1936, in Kansas City, Kansas. She was the second of seven girls and one boy of this union. After Ella Mae’s death, Clyde had another daughter, Sylvia’s youngest sister.
Sylvia attended Dunbar Elementary School, Northeast Junior High, and Sumner High School. She was in the majorettes and played violin and viola in the orchestra. She would often talk, fondly and proudly, of the well-dressed, role model teachers and excellent education she received in the then-segregated Kansas City Schools.
Sylvia enjoyed her siblings and there was always plenty of action and energy, music, and literature, in the household. Discretionary funds were minimal; however, the Thierry children were reared with upper middle-class traditions and values of higher education, discipline, music appreciation, character, religious training, and refinement.
Sylvia was a curious, determined student, but would lament that it had always taken her a long time to complete her schoolwork. The wise and ever-empathic Ella Mae advised her to simply take the time that was needed. After high school and working and paying for her own education as scholarships were not available, Sylvia attended Kansas City Kansas Junior College. She then enrolled in the University of Kansas -”KU” as it was affectionately called, Go Jayhawks! - where she attained her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She and another classmate were the second and third “Negro” students to attend KU’s nursing program, with the first having matriculated just the previous year. Sylvia’s first employment as a nurse was at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas.
The Thierry family faithfully attended Strangers Rest Baptist Church under the leadership of the late Rev. C.A. Pugh. In 1957, Sylvia married Abel Sykes, son of Abel Sykes, Sr., and Grace Buchanan, at Strangers Rest. The families hailed from the same community - Grace, Ella Mae, and Abel Jr., had also attended Sumner High school at different times. Daughter Dawn was born the following year. The family then moved to San Diego, California. In 1959, Sylvia’s dearly beloved mother, Ella Mae, died. It would be the first and most profound loss of her life. Daughters Daphne and Leslie were born in 1963 and 1965, respectively.
As an adult, Sylvia later diagnosed herself with ADD, to which she attributed her persistent challenges with time management. Back then, not much was known of the condition; notwithstanding, Sylvia, out of sheer intellect, discipline, and determination, accomplished her educational goals. As one of the older sisters in birth order, Sylvia could be counted on to impart sage advice to family members in times of crises and distress. She enjoyed a close relationship with all of her siblings.
While in San Diego, she and Abel made great, lifelong friends at Golden Hill Presbyterian Church. She joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, enthusiastically serving the organization for 58 years through chapters in San Diego, Fresno, Fairfield and Orange County, California, and Lansing, Michigan. She was also an active member of The Links, Incorporated, in Michigan and California.
From San Diego, the family moved to Compton, California, for Abel to assume the presidency of Compton Community College in 1970. The family attended Redeemer Presbyterian Church where Sylvia sang with the all-female Choraliers and taught kindergarten in the church’s newly established school. She later worked as a nurse at Martin Luther King Hospital in Watts and as a school nurse for various school districts in Central California and in the Lansing, Michigan, area.
With a penchant for culture, art and music, Sylvia served as a member of the Compton Cultural Commission. For a while, she and Abel were diligent practitioners of transcendental meditation. Sylvia even held yoga classes in her living room for a few women friends who lived in the neighborhood. Sylvia was extremely creative with skills of sewing, drawing, crafts, oil painting and imagination. She once revealed that her dream career would have been to be an architect, an author, or an artist. She had a keen eye for detail, proportion, color, textiles, and design. She delighted in all things sewing - from Raggedy Ann and Suzie Sunshine themed outfits for the “birthday girl,” to witches and pumpkin costumes, to graduation dresses and wedding gowns. Her home was always well-appointed, warm, and inviting. Holidays at home were formal dinners with traditional fare served on bone china with cloth napkins and beautiful table settings.
Reserved, friendly and self-effacing in nature, Sylvia wasn't a big water nor nature person, but she encouraged her daughters to swim, ride horses and bicycles and unicycles and skateboards, embracing the great outdoors, as well as to learn ballet and music and baking and languages. Family vacations were often camping. Several were road trips from California to Kansas for Thierry Family reunions. Once she and Abel (mostly Abel!) drove the family 9000 miles around the United States.
Her love and trust of, admiration for, Abel was absolute and unwavering. Notoriously anxious about flying on commercial airlines, she would venture out with Abel on his private plane as they flew up and down the California coastline. When he acquired a sailboat, she would tell of their adventures on Muskegon Lake. Abel’s work took them to the Far East several times. Sylvia’s favorite destination was Japan. Her daughters always joked that mom must have been an upper-class Asian woman in a previous life!
While in Fairfield, mom joined a community orchestra as a violinist while daddy played saxophone in a local, amateur band. They enjoyed parties and other events through Abel’s membership in Boule and Sylvia’s in her service organizations. Sylvia became a widow in 2012, which she courageously endured with the deepest of sorrow. It would be the ultimate loss of her life.
Most recently, Sylvia was an enthusiastic member of Second Baptist Church, South Campus, under the ministerial leadership of Reverend Ivan S. Pitts, where she attended church and Bible study regularly and made friends with church members. While in Orange County, she seldom turned down an invitation to attend sacred choral concerts, festivals, scout programs, jiu-jitsu practices, piano recitals and family brunches, dinners, and birthday celebrations.
She leaves to mourn her passing daughters, Dawn Carol Sykes; Daphne Grace Sykes; and Leslie Sykes Spann (Patrick Sr.); grandsons, Kevin Scott Williams; Patrick Warren Spann, Jr.; and Adam Vincent Scott, Jr.; granddaughter, Kendall Dawn Sykes Williams; sisters, Daphne Thierry Payne; Sonja Thierry Holbert; Sharon Thierry Buckner; the late Rose Marie Thierry Sims (Nathaniel “Nate”); Melanie Thierry Prince; Stephanie Thierry McIntosh (Larry Sr.); Sondra Thierry Solish (Jon); brother, John Claudius Thierry; and a host of relatives and friends.
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