Janet Irene Johnson, née McIlquham, 84, passed away on April 16, 2023, almost a year to the day after her husband of 56 years, Larry Johnson. Janet lived with dementia for almost a decade, the last three years of which she spent living with her daughter's family and in memory care. Two weeks before her death, she entered the same residential hospice that cared for Larry during his final days. Her daughter, Amy, was present as she took her last breaths.
Janet was born in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, on August 27, 1938, the first of Irene Ruth Bateman and Robert Allen McIlquham's four children. She grew up surrounded by relatives; her father was one of nine, and her mother one of six. She loved going to her maternal grandparents' farm and her Aunt Elsie and Uncle John's apple orchard, something she talked about long after the dementia erased other memories. She was a talented piano player, eventually landing a job as accompanist for her sister's ballet teacher, who paid her fifteen cents an hour to play during lessons.
Upon graduation from high school, Janet left home to study nursing at Ancker Hospital in St. Paul. Despite her apprehension about leaving home, Janet adored her time at Ancker, and told many stories about her adventures there, from dorm room pranks to the formidable Ms. Tofte, who rapped students over the knuckles if they didn't wash their hands properly. In her senior year, a classmate invited Janet on a double date, and she met Larry, a grad student in the hospital administration program at the University of Minnesota. Their courtship would last many years and cover many states, though Janet decided early on that Larry was the one for her.
After graduation, at a time when a registered nurse could walk into any hospital and get hired on the spot, Janet worked around the country, from Denver to California to Washington, D.C., Boise, Missoula, and finally St. Paul. She loved nursing and was very proud of her training and her work.
Janet and Larry were married on New Year's Eve, 1965, in St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Boise, Idaho. In what was perhaps the fastest decision he ever made in his life, Larry proposed to her over their lunch break at the back door of the clinic she worked at, and Janet went back to work and asked the doctor if she could have the next afternoon off to get her hair done for her wedding. After the wedding, when they called home to tell their folks, Janet's mother exclaimed, "Why so soon!?!" even though the couple had been dating for seven years!
Janet and Larry honeymooned in Sun Valley, Idaho, during a snowstorm that dropped four feet of snow and caused the fireplace where a romantic fire was burning to plug up and fill their condo with smoke. She loved looking at pictures of their wedding and chuckling at those memories.
Janet and Larry eventually returned to St. Paul, where they settled down and bought a house on Highland Parkway, not far from Larry's job at Midway Hospital. Janet continued nursing until their daughter, Amy, was born. When her maternity leave was up, she couldn't bring herself to go back to work, so she retired from nursing to raise her children. Erik was born three years later. While she did return to various nursing and other jobs when her children got older, taking care of the family was her true calling, and what she did best.
Janet, or "Jan," as anyone who met her after nurse's training called her, was the quintessential wife and mother, mastering so many of the skills a woman of her time was encouraged to refine. She was a talented seamstress who could sew everything from pillowcases to haute couture. When she no longer had as much time to sew, she turned her skills towards making dozens of costumes for Halloween and the many plays presented by the neighborhood kids' theater group, "The Pinehurst Players." She was an excellent cook, serving three homemade meals every single day. Apple pies were a specialty and a family badge of honor.
She loved flowers, cardinals, musicals, waltzes and dancing (although she lamented Larry's two left feet). She volunteered, did countless art projects, played board games, did puzzles, and planned birthday parties with elaborate cakes for her children. She delighted in the many enthusiastic and boisterous dual Anniversary and New Year's Eve parties that kept the teenagers safe and close to home during the high school years.
Though she did not do it often, she loved traveling, whether to Europe and Hawaii with Larry, France and Winnipeg with Amy, Estes Park and Cheyenne with Amy and Tony, or Bismarck to see Erik's family.
Janet provided her family a life filled with humor, an even temper, love, comfort, and safety. She was humble, gentle, patient, and selfless. She was a devoted daughter who helped both her father and mother navigate health concerns and growing old, even though they lived miles apart. She was a caring, cheerful, and supportive friend. She stood by Larry through thick and thin. She was over the moon when her grandchildren were born.
The last decade of Janet's life was marked by the ravages of dementia. As her mind shifted and failed, daily life changed forever. And although she lost certain memories and abilities, the essence of who she was remained. She never forgot Amy or Erik. She didn't remember exactly who Larry was, but knew she liked him ("What a guy!") and missed him terribly when he died. Her sense of humor and love of music were saving graces; she could still laugh at the world and herself long after she had lost the ability to speak or walk. An Andre Rieu video or musical could almost always restore her mood when she was upset, and she was happily tapping along to her favorite Ethiopian song, Dishta Gina, less than an hour before she died.
Janet is survived by her brother Michael (Barb) McIlquham, sister Karen (Miro) Medved, daughter Amy (Tony) Perkins; son Erik (Sarah) Johnson, and five grandchildren: Kaitlin Johnson, Christopher Johnson, Hannah Johnson, Kelenn Perkins, and Coralie Perkins. Janet's parents, her brother, Marshall McIlquham, and her husband, Larry Johnson, preceded her in death.
Janet will be buried on Arbor Day 2023; her husband, Larry, was buried on Earth Day 2022. In their honor, the family will be planting one or more trees on the property of Presbyterian Church of the Way. The church lost 19 ash trees last summer, and Janet and Larry's memorial will be part of the landscaping project that will unfold in the months to come. Donations can be made to PCOTW or directly to the family.
Memorial service at 1:30 pm, Friday, April 28, 2023, at Presbyterian Church of the Way, 3382 Lexington Ave N, Shoreview, MN 55126. Visitation thirty minutes prior, and interment of ashes at Roselawn Cemetery to follow.