Obituary of Janice Ruth O’Keefe | Tribune of the Stars


O’Keefe, Janice Ruth died peacefully surrounded by friends and family on April 6, 2022. Janice was the sixth and youngest child of Frances and John O’Keefe; 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 subjects. She learned to read at an early age and loved reading all her life. Janice never married. She was a wonderful daughter, sister, aunt, great aunt and great friend. She attended St. Joseph Academy high school three years after her sister-in-law Jean, who remembers Janice as an excellent student, always reading a book. She graduated from St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul in 1960 and was a lifelong associate of the college. After graduating, she worked briefly for her father at the O’Keefe Construction Company. She then followed her mother’s path and devoted herself to teaching. Janice earned her master’s degree and studied for her doctorate 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 the inaugural class of Inver Hills College in 1970. According to her friend Sue Kattas, “The teachers who were there from the start applied the phrase – ‘came with the bricks’. It was an honor Jan could claim.” According to her friend Nancy Rappaport, “she was a master teacher in college, especially of William Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and of all the great poets. Her students admired and loved her.” Janice wrote lyrical, thoughtful and accurate poetry. While at Ely, Janice met and later lived with her great friend Helen Lemmer. Helen was a wonderful athlete – Helen taught Janice to ski, which she enjoyed for years.They lived together until Helen’s death in 1991. Janice lived in the same house in St. Paul for 50 years and decorated it with exquisite taste. After Helen’s death, her nieces, the four Desotelle daughters, “baptized Janice as their honorary aunt” forming what they called the “fraternity.” Judy, Diane, Beth and Sue as well as cousin Marie Lemmer have fond memories of traveling to Europe, of Janice decorating her and their homes and sharing many family vacations and celebrations. They say Janice taught them how to shop and have fun. Janice loved beautiful things and made every project an adventure. At 43, Janice made a choice career path to go to law school at William Mitchell College of Law. After graduating with honors in 1984, she clerked for Daniel F. Foley on the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Janice began practicing law with her friend 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 until her 60s. After retiring from law, Janice hired an agent and did voice acting for commercials. She was a Renaissance woman of many talents. Traveling was a great passion. Together with her sister Mary Stanton, Janice has visited all the cardinal points, including trips to London and Stratford-on-Avon, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Thailand, China, Hong Kong and a trip to Japan with Barbara Gillespie. She also traveled to Europe with the Desotelle sisters and to Mexico with Tom and Jean O’Keefe. Each trip was punctuated with good meals, visits to museums, shopping and unforgettable memories. Janice’s favorite trips combined travel and theatre. She enjoyed plays in London, Stratford, Ashland, Spring Green and New York and was patron of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis for 50 years. In their last conversation, Sue Kattas remembers discussing the “excursions” we had been on, and Janice said – “but now we’re on an expedition – it’s not 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 boxer puppy she found in 1994 and named her Georgia after artist Georgia O’Keeffe. She regularly 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 her death. Janice regularly walked her dogs at Macalester College a few blocks from her home, to the point that the college featured Janice walking with Zoe in a pamphlet. There’s a bench in Macalester honoring Janice displaying one of her favorite quotes from The Little Prince saying ‘we forever become 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, during travels and through its bridge and book clubs. Janice was predeceased 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, numerous great and great-great-grandnieces and nephews and hundreds of good friends. A private person to the very end, Janice has requested that there be no memorial service, but her family asks that you raise a toast and celebrate Janice in your own way, as Janice would say “anon.” Souvenirs may be directed to the Janice Ruth O’Keefe Scholarship Fund at Macalester College or the St. Paul Humane Society.

Posted May 1, 2022


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