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Audrey and Joe Ayres


December 21, 1922 – May 21, 2008



Audrey M. Ayres was born December 21, 1922 in St. Louis, MO. Mrs. Ayres was a graduate of Kirksville State Teachers College, {now Truman State University}, in Kirksville, MO, where she majored in Music. A resident of Naperville, IL since 1952, she was active in Wesley United Methodist Church where she directed the children’s choir for several years.


Mrs. Ayres was active in the Ecumenical Institute (EI) and its sister organization, the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) for over 33 years as an enthusiastic volunteer and consultant. She also served as the Secretary of the joint Board of Directors, a position she held for over a decade. EI and ICA are well known non-profit organizations devoted to work in community renewal in underprivileged communities, with a focus on local leadership development. Mrs. Ayres concentrated her work in the Fifth City community, located in the west side of Chicago. Fifth City became a model for community renewal that was replicated in other communities around the world. Mrs. Ayres was particularly devoted to the development and support of the Fifth City Preschool, which was established to facilitate childcare for working families. She took great pride and satisfaction in her 25 years of fund raising and development for the pre-school, and made many lasting friendships there.


Mrs. Ayres is survived by her husband, Joe G. Ayres; a daughter, Martha Garcia; three sons, Michael, Peter (Lioness), and John Ayres; two brothers, Edward (Norene), and Raymond (Joan) Grossmann, of the St. Louis area; and three grandchildren, Jeremiah (Carrie), Kerry, and Nicholas Ayres. She was preceded in death by her parents, Edward and Mary Grossmann.




The EI and the ICA join in the celebration of the completed life of Audrey Ayers. Audrey’s life was one of love, care and service to her family, friends, and the staff and colleagues of the EI and the ICA and to Fifty City Preschool. From 1973 she gave over 22,500 hours of direct volunteer service. Anyone who passed through the doors of the EI/ICA offices in Fifth City met Audrey.  She was always there to provide support, coordination, encouragement, and always a kind word. When the EI/ICA moved its offices to Uptown, Audrey continued to support the 5th City Preschool as well as continuing to volunteer at the ICA. Her focus was the Global Archives and any other areas that needed attention.



Audrey holds a special palce in our hearts. We were lifted up by her positive attitude, quick with, sense of humor and from commitment to mission. She was for many a beacon of hope in times of discouragement and doubt. Out prayers and condolences go to Joe Ayres and family. Her abundant life remains in the hearts and memory of all who were touched by her soul.

         ~~   EI/ICA Staff




What a fine spirit–one of the most astute theologians among us. She worked in 5th City tirelessly, driving in from her home in the western suburbs. She also gave of herself through her music. I remember her piano accompaniment as a group worked on an operetta (Stouthearted Men?) for presentation during Summer 73 She also worked with Lyn on the archives. Sensitive and Responsive, Steadfast and Faithful. We will miss her.
~~  Doris Hahn


Audrey Ayres met the Ecumenical Institute in 1967, taking a weeknight course in religious studies which EI taught in cooperation with many suburban churches in the late 60’s. She then decided to participate in EI’s work in Fifth City, the west side community development project in which EI’s campus was located. This volunteer adventure lasted 34 years. The westside location was far from Naperville, but in 1971 the ICA moved to the north side in Uptown, Chicago. It made Audrey’s commute longer, but she continued splitting her week between Fifth City and the offices in Uptown. By that time the not-for-profit was working in countries across the world, and depending on the Chicago operation to be a support and training center.


What did Audrey do all those years? She served on the Board of Directors and was their secretary for more than a decade. She supported the Fifth City Preschool for many years, helping in every imaginable way. On the north side she worked in a support role for the ICA’s national finance operations She helped document the years of Local School Improvement Planning in Chicago’s public schools. Audrey participated in the creation of Leadership Options, a two-week training in modern leadership methods. Just prior to the start of the first Leadership Options the director had heart surgery, so Audrey was part of a small group that made the program happen. She took part in ICA’s global meetings held every four years. The last one she attended was in ’96 in Cairo, Egypt. She was part of the Archives Angels, a group that drew together ICA archives from around the world and made sense of all that work. They produced a CD with select talks from our history. And the nature of what she could do changed – she helped the Conference Center vacuum and prepare for incoming groups; Audrey cared for the art work that covered all eight floors. And Audrey became known as the plant lady, taking tender care of plants on all the floors. In these days a few people began calling her ‘Saint Audrey’. At first she looked puzzled, then she smiled. She brought life to all of our space.


She helped with the gardening in the parking lot when the lot was repaved. The ICA received funding from the city and the state for recreating the lot as a model green space, using special bricks which allow rain water to go down to the water table. At the time of the dedication of the new lot, we presented Audrey with a brick engraved with her name in celebration of her many efforts to care for that space. One day while she was out working on the space around the lot, two small boys passed her by and then stopped to have an argument. They came back to Audrey and asked her if she was doing community service? Of course, she responded in the affirmative. The boys moved off again, but were in an even bigger argument before they got to the corner. They finally came back to ask her, “What do you do?” By sharing an image that you could choose to do community service (it didn’t have to be court ordered), that you could joyfully volunteer (it didn’t have to be punishment), undoubtedly changed the imagination of both of those young boys forever.


I would like to formally thank her family for sharing her with us for all those years. I want to share three things I can imagine Audrey enjoying. First, from a t-shirt – “If you aren’t living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”  Second – Just remember, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything and the wrong way is to keep trying to make everybody else do it the right way. — From Colonel Potter in M*A*S*H* (Audrey came to watch MASH with me and my husband for a while.). And third, I don’t know where this came from – Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely In a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming, “Wow, what a ride!!!”

          ~~  Carol Pierce

My experience goes back to Audrey. In the fall of ’68 as an intern, I taught a week-night 8 (?) session RSI with Audrey in Naperville. For 8 weeks, each Tuesday, I drove from the West Side to Naperville. She was a woman of formidable integrity. It was a felicitous experience teaching with her as 1st teacher. A woman with grace – ever saintly. Gratefully,

          ~~  Ken Fisher


Audrey was a dedicated fixture in the Town Meeting days on the West Side,  an expert in writing grants for the 5th City Preschool, attended many overseas conferences and some HDP projects, and in her later years, one of the tenacious members of the Archives team, driving into Chicago each day from Naperville, well into her senior years.    Even after her death, Joe continued to help finance the work of the archives in her memory.  What a team!   When we moved to Galax, they included Galax as a stop over heading back to Naperville after a trip to their St. Louis relatives. They even helped with a sidewalk sale from our Men’s Shop during the annual Old Time Fiddlers Convention.  Their pre-teen granddaughter accompanied them.    On several trips to Chicago to work in the Archives, I was privileged to visit Joe and family in Naperville.

          ~~  Lynda Cock






August 9, 1923 – September 1, 2021



Joe G. Ayres, a resident of Naperville Illinois since 1952, died peacefully at the home where he raised his family in unincorporated Indian Hill Woods. He was born on a farm near Atlanta Missouri where he helped tend the farm with his parents and two sisters growing corn and beans and a few head of cattle. Joe was a long time member of Wesley United Methodist Church in Naperville and held various positions. He was a member of the VFW and the Telephone Pioneers of America. He spent his entire career of 38 years with the Bell System, primarily Illinois Bell Telephone Company. He always spoke highly of the company feeling that employees were treated well and paid adequately for their services.


While growing up in Northeast Missouri, Joe became an avid fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. He retained that loyalty the rest of his life despite moving to Naperville, which was considered Cubs or Sox territory. He always wore his St. Louis hat on outings or going to see the doctors and would often get a cheer from a nurse or doctor who were fans. Joe served his country honorably in World War II with the 35th Infantry Division. He received a Bronze Star and three Battle Stars including the Battle of the Bulge.


Joe is preceded in death by his wife Audrey {Grossmann}, and his two sisters, Martha Ayres and Amy Ayres Rosbery. He is survived by his daughter Martha Garcia, his three sons, Michael J. Ayres, Peter J. {Lioness} Ayres, and John E. {Lisa} Ayres. He has three grandchildren, Jeremiah M. Ayres, Kerry L. {Bill Fritz}, and Nicholas S. Ayres, and one great-grandchild, Lena Fritz. He managed to survive World War II, The Battle of the Bulge, and the Covid-19 pandemic.



Over my years working in the Chicago metro, my encounters with Joe were many. I have two words that come to mind: steadfast and kind. No matter the time of day or night, the weather or the day of the week, I grew to count on Joe for support.  He would help change your tire,  share his home, pick you up at the train, or tell you about the book he was reading or what was happening at their church or brag about his children.  We had many a great bbq and outdoor parties in his well kept beautiful  yard.


Kindness was generously expressed in his eyes and his smile.   I would travel from Chicago to fulfill my assignments and my reunions with both Audrey and Joe were always met with warmth and that kindness. Martha, Michael, Peter, John and all your family, celebrate the gift he was to you and grieve your loss.  His star in the sky above shines bright. Grace & Peace

          ~~  Paula Philbrook


With heartfelt sympathy I am remembering Joe Ayres, and celebrating the greatness of his life – well-lived and long-lived. One of my major roles at the ICA these days is working in the archives to put past experiences on a website. You may remember that your mother, Audrey, was one of those who called themselves the Archive Angels. I think of her and the other angels often as I follow in their footsteps.


On behalf of the ICA I would like to say that we are grateful for the many roles both your parents played over the years in giving personal and organizational support that has enabled the ICA to be of service in the world. I wish your family the best as you embody being the family leader in caring for those you serve.  Peace,

          ~~  Karen Snyder Troxel


My memories of them both are rich with times of support to each other and to us as Order friends.  I remember some lively Guardian celebrations where they were present, early on. Audrey was a strong and often quiet worker, and Joe was loyal and encouraging to me. Their lives are examples of how to live a fulfilled life with grace and solidarity. Grace and peace to you with love,

          ~~  Isobel Bishop


Joe Ayres, a true Archive Angel, has completed his life at 98 years old. Many of you  mostly knew his wife Audrey, but those of us in the Chicago metro knew Joe and Audrey very well.  Their home in Naperville with its wide open spaces was the source of many Religious House picnics and celebrations where we all enjoyed their generous hospitality and a chance to experience green grass and shade trees and badmitton and other yard games, plus winter snowmen and such.   During the time of overseas deployments, the Ayres attic became a regular storage place for treasured items.   Bless them for that loving gesture of care.

          ~~  Lynda Cock

More on Audrey –


There was no limit to the adventures of Saint Audrey.  I had the privilege of spending most of a quarter (remember? that was once three months) with Audrey doing town meeting circuits here in Iowa.  WE matched upwith Kit Krauss in Des Moines, and I could tell stories for hours about that great campaign.  When Audrey could no longer traverse the space between home and 5th City and Kemper safely, family made arrangements for her to spend two or three days exclusively at Kemper.  In addition to work on the archives, she worked to care for the space around the parking lot, both when in was outside the fence and when it was reconstructed to be inside the fence.


At the time of the dedication of the new parking lot, we presented Audrey with a brick engraved with her name in celebration of her many efforts to care for that space.  One day while she was out working on the space around the lot, two small boys passed her buy and then stopped to have an argument.  They came back to Audrey and asked her if she was doing community service?  Of course, she responded in the affirmative.  The boys moved off again, but were in an even bigger argument before they got to the corner.  They finally came back to ask her, “What did you do?”  Simply by sharing an image that you could choose to do community service (it didn’t have to be court ordered), that you could joyfully volunteer (it didn’t have to be punishment), undoubtedly change the lives of both of those young boys forever.


I too enjoyed the relaxation of badminton and volleyball at the Ayers house. I traveled for several months with Audrey on Town Meeting Iowa and every great story brings laughter to my heart and mind.  Perhaps all of our guardians were angels we were not yet ready to recognize in their fullness.  We have been so blessed.


Through my tears, I celebrate the joy that having Audrey in my life has been and will move forward relying on the promise of comfort for those who mourn.  We have been and are blessed,

      ~~  Margaret Aiseayew