TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Ann Mitchell of Tyler is nothing short of remarkable. The Alabama native was the youngest of five and was raised by a single mother who taught her much about strength and faith. It was her mother who taught her to stand up for herself, to be independent and to hold conservative values.
Mitchell carried these qualities throughout her life and her marriage. She and her husband John lived in Washington D.C. where John studied at George Washington University, and Ann worked on Capitol Hill. She said, “I got a job working for my congressman Tom Abernethy, and I was blessed to have that opportunity.”
After graduation, John went into the Navy, and the two love birds moved around the country until they settled in Hawaii for about three years. It was in the Aloha state that their first venture as business-owners began.
“Our first business was John and Ann’s Ice cream. John probably gives me more credit than I deserve because it probably was really his idea, but I’m probably the one who did all the work,” said Mitchell.
Together, the couple bought orders of ice cream and then drove their Cushman vehicle around the military base with a music box and sold the cold treats. Their business was very successful and even extended out to hiring employees to help out. When their first daughter Malia was born they were ready to move back to the continental United States. The three ended up settling in the Piney Woods. “We just really kind of fell in love with Tyler. It was beautiful,” said Mitchell.
East Texas is where her next business venture began. It was called Little Things by Ann. She designed and handmade different infant novelty products for mothers in the area. The couple sold locally, then began bringing different products to market, until Little Things by Ann became a known household name. She sold pamper bags, buntings, and much more to help fellow mothers.
“It was a great adventure for me. I enjoyed that opportunity to be creative. And it was kind of like a service to all the mothers to find something that was usable and not too expensive,” said Mitchell.
She eventually sold her business and focused on being a mother. The mom of three served on multiple parent- teacher associations for over 15 years. In 1987, she served as president for the PTA State School of the year. Ann says she enjoyed working for the school systems because it allowed her to be a part of Tyler ISD as well as make a difference for the children.
Ann Mitchell is a devoted mother and a determined businesswoman, but nothing compares to her role as a committed wife. That role was tested in 1990 during a trip back to Hawaii when her husband suffered a severe injury.
“The phone rang, and it wasn’t John. It was the operator at the hotel and she said you’ve gotten a call from Queens Hospital and you need to get over there immediately. Your husband’s been involved in a serious accident,” said Mitchell.
John was crushed down to the ocean floor by a wave while teaching their sons how to surf. This incident broke his neck and crushed his spinal cord. He spent days in the ICU, underwent surgeries, and the entire family had an extended stay in Honolulu. Their vacation began on Thanksgiving, and they did not leave Hawaii until January.
After months of struggling to figure out how to get John home, he was flown home on a medical military flight to a VA hospital in San Antonio then the VA in Houston. Ann went back and forth from Houston to Tyler for seven months while also balancing her job and her children. She then took on the role of her husband’s primary caregiver.
Instead of letting this tragedy bring her down, she and her family learned a life lesson. She said that this incident made them realize that, “All the things that used to be so important to me aren’t so important anymore.” She said, “You learn a lot when you go through hard things of what’s really important.”
They took this experience and decided to turn it into something good and help others who are part of the disabled community. She and John started Wheelers and Walkers, a nonprofit program to allow everyone despite their disabilities to be included. The group takes part in many events like the wheelchair games, bowling nights, and holiday parties.
When asked why Ann devotes her time to helping others with disabilities, she said she does it all because the need exists and if she didn’t commit to helping then no one would. This thought process is what led the Mitchells to start their newest business ‘Wheelchair Accessible Vans.” The company allows Texans with accessibility problems to rent a wheelchair van from them to get around.
“So many people have just thanked us for making it possible for them to take their grandmother to church or to Walmart or whatever it is just to get them out of their house,” said Mitchell.
Through all of the hardships, Ann and the entire Mitchell Family have embraced the journey.
“It’s not just in spite of what happened,” said Mitchell. “But maybe because of it that life has been so much more meaningful.” She also hopes to continue helping others all around.