By Anne Hassler Heidel
For more than 24 years, Shelly Wiggins greeted customers at Neighbors Café with a smile and a personalized greeting that made you always feel welcome. For many, she was a stalwart friend and confidante who could bolster your spirit even on the toughest of days. Shelly did everything big—from her platter-sized cinnamon rolls to her bullhorn announcements wishing a patron a happy birthday. Her curly hair and raspy laugh were as much her trademark as her love for her Kansas City Chiefs.
Wiggins passed away last Friday at the hospital in Hays, Kan. She was waiting to be transferred to an open bed at KU Medical Center in Kansas City. She left behind her husband, Cameron Wiggins, and a multitude of friends and family.
What do you say when a one-of-a-kind local icon passes away? Their departure leaves a hole in the community that is hard to fill. She was the best of us, and there will never be another one like her. The best we can do is honor her and remember how much joy she brought us all.
I personally have fond memories of Shelly and the staff at Neighbors Café. I remember one time when a mouse ran out from a cabinet by the counter towards a packed house of diners in the booths. Several squeals and screams went up from the diners, and some even jumped up on their seats, and everyone shared in a big laugh. Afterwards, Shelly asked me not to put that in the newspaper. Up until now, I hadn’t, but I couldn’t resist sharing it now.
The News-Ledger asked readers to share their favorite Shelly stories with us. Here are a few we’d like to pass along.
Staci Schmid, who was a close friend of Shelly’s and considered her to be her “second momma,” shared these thoughts with us:
“Shelly didn’t know a stranger. She gave people second chances and we called her “second chance Shelly” […] especially at the cafe, as she gave people a job when others wouldn’t. Shelly was a caregiver, as she spent a lot of years caring for the elderly and for her husband, Cameron. Shelly loved the Chiefs and enjoyed her weekends in K.C. with family and friends, cheering them on. She loved to tailgate with good food and loved sharing her apple pie drink. She would bring her band hat to lead the K.C. marching band in the parking lot. She loved All Schools Day, where she also got a chance to put on her band hat and uniform and lead the marching band in the parade.
“Shelly loved to host parties at her house. We would sit out back for hours, eating, drinking and listening to music. She loved hosting after hours at Neighbors Cafe, and we called those Hootie Hoo’s.
“Shelly loved to get on the bull horn at Neighbor’s Cafe and give people a shout out for their birthday or just heckle them.
“Shelly was the life of the party. She lit up a room with her smile, and people were naturally drawn to her. Her laugh was contagious. There were a few times we would start laughing and we couldn’t stop […] we literally laughed for an hour straight at a hotel casino, and security came to our room to warn us about noise. But that didn’t stop us!
“Shelly was my ‘second momma’ […] my best friend for 26 years. She told everyone I was the daughter she never had, and she treated me like that.
“I miss her so much, and I lost a big piece of my heart. If I couldn’t see Shelly, we spoke or face-timed. I cannot remember a day over the last 26 years that we didn’t communicate one way or another.
“Shelly loved dogs, especially wiener dogs (dachsunds) and had several over the years.
“Shelly loved Jesus and had a strong faith.
“Shelly loved to watch the ‘Price is Right,’ ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ and the ‘Ellen DeGeneres Show’ as well as the K.C. Chiefs if she wasn’t at the game.
“Shelly loved to dance and crash parties […] I drove her places multiple times to do this.
“Shelly’s cousin, Julie, said she lived big, loved big and gave big […] which sums it up perfectly.
“I could go on and on, but these are a few memories, thoughts I had.”
Ericka Schroeder, who worked with Shelly at Neighbor’s Café shared:
“She was definitely a bright star in this world. There are so many memories I have with Shelly over the past 22 years—some I probably shouldn’t share. I will never forget my first day working at Neighbors. I had never worked in the restaurant industry; at the end of the day, Shelly told me I had to turn in my tips. Not knowing what that meant, I reluctantly handed her my stack of tips, thinking that was what she meant. She laughed so hard and told me that I just had to write it down, not give it to her. She repeatedly told that story throughout my time working or helping out at the café, much to my chagrin. Another typical Shelly memory was the time she and I had to cook on a Saturday. We were cooking away when, all of the sudden, she dropped the poacher pan in the deep fryer. The fryer bubbled like crazy, her eyes got huge, as did mine and everyone sitting at the counter. Needless to say, we could have burned the place down; we scared ourselves and the customers that day and then just laughed and laughed. It always stunned me that no matter what time of day the Chiefs played at home and Shelly was going to the game, as soon as her feet hit the floor, she would yell out, ‘What day is it?’ […] my typical response was, ‘It’s game day and 5:30 a.m.; go back to sleep.’ Shelly was one of the sweetest, funniest people I have met and am honored to have so many memories with her and Cameron and will treasure them always.”
Keith Banman shared a story about the time his family went to a Kansas City Chiefs game with Shelly and her husband, Cameron Wiggins. The couple enjoyed a few chocolate martinis during dinner. When the group went back to their hotel for the night, Banman’s children, Kyle and Ashley, wanted to tell Shelly and Cameron goodbye before heading back to school at KSU. Shelly, thinking it was Cameron who had just left to get ice, answered the door in her moo moo and her pants around her ankles.
Steve Lolling shared on the Glidden Ediger Funeral Home website:
“Shelly was always ready to talk Chiefs football. She also kept track of high school sports. I remember when Craig, my youngest son, was playing high school football, Tim, my other son, and I would be in Neighbors on Friday mornings for breakfast, and she would make sure we had the same breakfast so not to break the win streak they had going—not that either of us had any superstitions. Will miss you dearly, sweet friend.”
Rhonda Rogers-Coker shared on Facebook:
“Shelly always greeted everyone with that beautiful smile of hers, and I will never forget the very first time I tried her German chocolate cake…OMG. It was absolutely AMAZING!!! After that day, every time I called, Shelly knew exactly what I wanted, plus it had to be out of the middle, ALSO!!! And Shelly NEVER forgot!!! She was the best.”
Margaret Smith shared on Facebook:
“I will always remember her being a great leader of the band for the May Day parade with her bull horn and will never be able to go into Neighbors without thinking about her.”
Richard Inman shared on Facebook:
“Shelly will be missed. Her hearty laugh, her lack of a filter (if she thought it, she said it), and of course, her outgoing, friendly personality. Biggest Chiefs fan ever.”
Samantha Shaver shared on Facebook:
“My FIL, Louie Bate, is a Raiders fan, and they would go to the Chiefs/Raiders game together.
“Shelly had local businesses advertised on her tables. He replaced one of the logos on his business card to a raiders symbol without telling Shelly. My other half said it took a long time for her to notice.”
If you would like to contribute to Shelly and Cameron Wiggins’s medical and memorial fund, please go to https://gofund.me/badc4cce.