Janice Ruth O’Keefe
Janice Ruth O’Keefe passed peacefully surrounded by friends and family on April 6, 2022. Janice was the sixth and youngest child of Frances and John O’Keefe; She was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on the first day of spring, March 21, 1938. Janice was a precocious child, always curious and interested in new topics. She learned to read as a young child and loved reading her entire life of her. Janice never married. She was a tremendous daughter, sister, aunt, great aunt, and a great friend.
She attended St. Joseph Academy high school three years behind her sister-in-law Jean, who remembers Janice as an excellent student, always reading a book. She graduated from St. Catherine University in St. Paul in 1960 and had a lifelong association with the college. After graduation, she worked briefly for her father de ella at the O’Keefe Construction Company. She then followed her mother’s path de ella and herself dedicated to teaching. Janice earned her master’s degree and studied for her PhD in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Her first teaching job was in English at Ely High School in 1968-70. She moved to St Paul to teach in the inaugural class at Inver Hills College in 1970. According to friend Sue Kattas, “The teachers who were there from the beginning applied the expression – “came with the bricks”. This was an honor that Jan could claim.” According to friend Nancy Rappaport, “she was a master college teacher, especially of William Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald, plus all the major poets. Her students admired her and loved her.” Janice wrote lyrical, thoughtful, and precise poetry.
While in Ely, Janice met and later lived with her great friend Helen Lemmer. Helen was a terrific athlete – Helen taught Janice to ski which she enjoyed for years. They lived together until Helen passed away in 1991. Janice lived in the same house in St. Paul for 50 years and decorated it with exquisite taste.
After Helen died, her children, the four Desotelle girls, “christened Janice as their honorary aunt” forming what they called the “sisterhood.” Judy, Diane, Beth and Sue along with cousin Marie Lemmer have fond memories of traveling in Europe, of Janice decorating her and their houses for her and of sharing many holidays and family celebrations. They say that Janice taught them to shop and have fun. Janice loved beautiful things and made every project an adventure.
At age 43, Janice made a career choice to go to law school at William Mitchell College of Law. After she graduated with honors in 1984, she clerked for Daniel F. Foley on the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Janice began practicing law with her friend Ella Alanna Moravetz on Grand Avenue in St. Paul and continued to teach English after law school for several years. She also taught legal writing at the University of Minnesota Law School into her 60’s. After retiring from the law, Janice hired an agent and did voice work for commercials. She was a renaissance woman with many talents.
Travel was a great passion. With her sister de ella Mary Stanton, Janice visited all points on the compass including trips to London and Stratford-on-Avon, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Thailand, China, Hong Kong and a trip to Japan which included Barbara Gillespie. She also traveled to Europe with the Desotelle sisters and to Mexico with Tom and Jean O’Keefe. Every trip was punctuated with great meals, museum visits, shopping and lifelong memories. Janice’s favorite trips combined travel with theater – she enjoyed plays in London, Stratford, Ashland, Spring Green and New York and she was a 50-year patron of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. In their final conversation, Sue Kattas remembers discussing “excursions” we had taken, and Janice said – “but now we are on an expedition – this isn’t an expedition for treasure, more like an expedition of discovery.”
Dogs were important in Janice’s life. She and Helen adopted yellow labs Muffin and Bailey. Later Janice adopted a foundling boxer puppy in 1994 and named her Georgia in honor of artist Georgia O’Keeffe. She steadily had boxers for the rest of her life including, Betty, Dillon, Hannah and Zoe. She is survived by Frankie for whom Janice arranged a home with her friend Martha Vest before she passed. Janice regularly walked her dogs at Macalester College a few blocks from her home de ella to the point that the college featured Janice walking with Zoe in a brochure. There is a bench at Macalester honoring Janice displaying one of her favorite quotes from the Little Prince in saying: “we become forever responsible for what we have tamed.”
Janice was a lifelong Green Bay Packer fan, proudly displaying her stock certificate. Janice regularly attended games with her father including the Ice Bowl game between the Packers and Cowboys on New Year’s Eve 1967. Janice was a fiercely loyal friend to those she met at St Catherine’s, Inver Hills, on travels and through her bridge and book clubs.
Janice was preceded in death by her parents, her sisters Mary and Colleen and her brothers Robert, Patrick and Thomas. She is survived by her sister-in-law Jean O’Keefe, nephews and nieces John Stanton, Colleen Schreiber, Rick O’Keefe, Kelly O’Keefe, Meghan Reynen, Danny O’Keefe, Billy O’Keefe, Donald O’ Keefe, James O’Keefe, Timothy O’Keefe and Maureen Norman, honorary nieces Judy Jernigan, Diane Desotelle, Beth Desotelle, Sue Mountain and Marie Lemmer, many great and great-great grand nieces and nephews and hundreds of good friends. A private person to the end, Janice asked that there be no memorial service, but her family asks that you toast and celebrate Janice in your own way, as Janice would say “anon.” Remembrances can be made to the Janice Ruth O’Keefe scholarship fund at Macalester College or to the St. Paul Humane Society.
Posted online on April 23, 2022
Published in Green Bay Press Gazette