Obituary: Iris House
Iris Elizabeth Taylor Ford House, 102, passed away on January 22, 2022, at the Friendly Village Nursing Home in Rhinelander, WI. Iris was born on April 10, 1919, at her family’s logging camp in Monico, Wisconsin. She was the oldest of seven children born to Lucius A. Taylor II and Lillian Mae Flannery Taylor.
In 1937, Iris graduated from Rhinelander High School and married Floyd Ford. Iris and Floyd had three daughters – Sandra, Carolee, and Jill. After Floyd’s passing, she married Millard House in 1972. During her lifetime, Iris was a devoted wife, loving mother and grandmother, active member of the Seventh-day Adventist church, entrepreneur, musician, published poet, author, world traveler, and lover of life.
As an entrepreneur she had a passion and determination to help the elderly, intellectually disabled and those less fortunate. In 1947, at a time when it was difficult and rare for a woman to succeed in business, she purchased the Oneida County Home (later to become the Ford Convalescent Home). Iris and Floyd later acquired the North Orchard Nursing Home in Rhinelander (1951-53), Dr. Cady Memorial Nursing Home in Birnamwood, WI (1953-71), the Golden Age Nursing Home in Rib Lake, WI (1956-61) and the Ford Chalet in Rhinelander (1965-77).
Despite having to overcome many financial obstacles, Iris persisted and went on to build the Friendly Village nursing home in 1966, the Jolly Fisherman Nursing Home (later Horizons Unlimited) in 1970, and Taylor Park Rehabilitation in 1981. One banker, who ultimately helped to finance the building projects, told Iris that he never knew anyone who had such a hard time hearing the word “no.” For Iris, this was God’s work and her passion. She was going to “pound the pavement” until she found the funding.
During the 1960’s and 70’s, she pushed the standards in the care of the intellectually disabled in Wisconsin, ever an advocate for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. Iris said it was her aim in life “to provide the kindest and best care for the aged and the intellectually disabled, this side of Heaven.” She worked with compassion toward that aim for almost 40 years.
Iris founded and hosted annual symposiums on aging and intellectual disabilities at Nicolet College from 1971-82. She was involved in many state, national, and international organizations, along with attending and presenting at numerous conventions and symposiums on gerontology and the care of the intellectually disabled, both in the U.S. and overseas.
In her “spare time” Iris dabbled in gift and antique shops in Rhinelander during the 1960’s and 70’s. Following the sale of the Friendly Village, Inc. in 1983, she owned and operated several gift stores throughout the Northwoods operating under the name “House of Gifts”, the “Golden Reindeer”, “Piccadilly” and “Irish House”.
Iris loved music! She was self-taught and played the piano, organ, vibraharp, sleigh bells, and cow bells, all by ear. In 1951, she purchased a full set of sleigh bells from a traveling evangelist and taught herself to play. She was accomplished enough that in the 1960’s Ringling Brother’s Circus offered her a position to travel and perform with them. Of course, she turned them down, as she wouldn’t leave her family or her work. In 1982, the television show Real People came to Rhinelander to do a segment on Iris called “The Sleigh Bell Lady” which aired as part of their Christmas show.
Above all else, Iris loved the Lord. She loved her church and her church family. Iris has left a legacy that will long be remembered. She touched thousands of people’s lives. She will be missed. Thank you, Iris…wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend…for giving your best. Now rest in peace and wait upon the Lord.
Iris was preceded in death by her parents, her husband Floyd Ford in 1971, her second husband Millard House in 1990; sisters Lillian LaBlonde, Rebecca Meacham and Joyce Guensburg; brothers John Taylor, Eugene Taylor, and L.A. Taylor III; sons-in-law Charles “Budge” Toms, Ellsworth “Teeny” Halverson, and Wayne Budde; granddaughter Theresa Toms Butler; grandson-in-law Collin Drews; and great-grandson Scott Toms.
Iris is survived by her daughters Sandra Halverson of Tok, Alaska, Carolee Ford of Connolly Springs, NC and Jill (James) Intrepidi of Rhinelander, WI; 11 grandchildren – Charles (Bertha) Toms IV of Rhinelander; Lisa (Wayne) Lucien of Tok, AK; Tony (Cathy) Toms of Edwardsburg, MI; Anne Drews of Rhinelander; Patti (David) Sorum of Tomahawk, WI; Van Josheff of Hudson, NC; Ray (Nikki) Josheff of Arden, NC; Paul (Heather) Josheff of Madison, WI; Iris Josheff of Baraboo, WI; Floyd Sickler of Bismarck, ND; Jill Ann (Stacy) Prince of Altamonte Springs, FL; 8 great-grandchildren and 8 great-great-grandchildren. Iris is further survived by nieces, nephews, other relatives, and friends.
In keeping with Iris’ commitment to the community and the health and safety of everyone, her funeral/memorial service will be postponed. It will be held at a later date at the Seventh-day Adventist church in Rhinelander.