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Sylvia S. (Stauffer) Ulm

July 5, 1943 ~ May 10, 2022 (age 78)


Sylvia Sue Stauffer was born July 5, 1943, in Spring Valley, Illinois to Mary Alice (Tyre) Stauffer and Reverend Eugene Stauffer. She completed the family Gene and Mary Alice started when Sylvia’s brother, Robert, was born in 1940.

Sylvia’s father, Gene, was a United Methodist minister, which made Sylvia a “preacher’s kid” or PK for short. This meant Sylvia was always part of a big church family wherever she went. It also meant moving to a new town each time her father was called to serve with a new congregation, so Sylvia grew up in Marshall, Lincoln, Galesburg, and La Grange, Illinois.

Gene loved car travel, and the Stauffers visited all 48 contiguous states when Sylvia was growing up. Among her best travel stories was a visit to the Hollywood set of Perry Mason, where she met the inimitable Della Street (actress Barbara Hale).

When Sylvia’s family moved to Galesburg in 1957, she met Phil Ulm in ninth grade typing class at Churchill Junior High. By January 1958, they were an item. Upon graduation from Galesburg High School in 1961, Sylvia began her studies at the University of Illinois, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. During this time, Sylvia was also a proud member of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority, where she met many lifelong friends.

On July 10, 1965, Sylvia married Phil at the First United Methodist Church La Grange. The couple moved to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, where Sylvia taught third grade at Van Allen Elementary School. Two years later, they moved to Iowa City, where Sylvia continued to teach while Phil completed his graduate studies. In 1968, the expectant parents moved to Toledo, Ohio, where they welcomed their daughter, Kerry, three days before Christmas. In February 1971, their family was complete with the arrival of their son, Tony.

In April 1971, the family moved back to Galesburg, and in 1972, Phil and Sylvia built their own home in Henderson, Illinois. Throughout the 1970s, Sylvia cared for her young children, built friendships in the community and served in various capacities at Emmanuel United Methodist Church. Most notably, she founded a children’s choir at Emmanuel. Under her direction, this group of young children, known as the Sonshine Choir, performed a number of challenging pieces, including a cantata. Sylvia’s work ethic, musicality and extraordinary rapport with children were gifts she shared with this choir and others throughout her life.

In 1979, Sylvia embarked on her nearly 30-year tenure as an Adult Basic Education teacher at Carl Sandburg College. Many of Sylvia’s students, some of whom were with her for decades, were like family to her. Not content to repeat the same lesson plans year after year, Sylvia constantly innovated, developing games and other fun ways for students to engage. Sylvia’s inspired work with adult learners touched many lives and is one of her most meaningful legacies.

While she worked at Sandburg, Sylvia continued to minister to her community as a Sunday School teacher, youth group leader, and musician, serving as an interim Chancel Choir Director at Covenant Church in Galesburg, where she was a member from 1984-2004. She and Phil also joined Choral Dynamics in 1989, co-producing shows in the 1990s and 2000s.

Throughout, Sylvia was there for her kids in every way that mattered. She attended countless games, meets, plays, concerts, performances and recitals. Despite her well-known distaste for driving, she did early morning drop-offs and late-night pickups without complaint. She was the best listener, cheerleader, advisor, and friend a kid could have.

As empty nesters, Phil and Sylvia traveled around the US and throughout Europe, especially enjoying visits with Kerry and her family while they lived overseas.

An avid listener and shameless punster, Sylvia was beloved by many. She had special affection for friends who became disabled and homebound and was endlessly curious about the lives of others. She was an adoring grandmother to Ivan and Evelyn, sharing humorous personal stories and solid dating advice with them until the end. 

When her time came, Sylvia passed peacefully in her sleep in her own home, surrounded by Phil, Kerry and Tony.

Funeral Services are scheduled for 11:00 am Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at First United Methodist Church with the Rev. Vince Rohn officiating. Visitation will be from 5:00-7:00 pm, Tuesday, May 17, 202,2 at Hinchliff-Pearson-West Funeral Directors and Cremation Services Galesburg Chapel. Burial will be in Henderson Cemetery. Those unable to attend may watch virtually at 11:00 am Wednesday via  Memorials may be made to the First United Methodist Church, Choral Dynamics of Galesburg or OSF Hospice. Online condolences may be made at

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Sylvia S. (Stauffer) Ulm, please visit our floral store.


May 17, 2022

5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Hinchliff-Pearson-West, Inc.
1070 West Fremont St.
Galesburg, IL 61401

Funeral Service
May 18, 2022

11:00 AM
First United Methodist Church
120 N. Kellogg St.
Galesburg, IL 61401

Video is available for this event

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