Jeanne L Jeffers
April 30, 1924 – November 28, 2020
Jeanne Ardith Lesh Jeffers
Jeanne Jeffers died at age 96 on November 28, 2020 at her home in Newcastle, Washington, with her husband and other family members beside her. She was nurturing, determined, and adventurous. She served her country in World War II. She traveled alone from Chicago to Fairbanks, Alaska in January of 1947 to attend the University of Alaska. She met her future husband there, a sandy-haired kid from Montana, and honeymooned with him for 71 years. She raised four boys who turned out pretty good, and she welcomed and loved her sons’ wives as though they were her own girls. She traveled with her siblings and their spouses through France, Norway, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and many destinations in North America. She loved to read. After losing her sight to macular degeneration she continued to enjoy books on tape throughout her years. She loved to talk in person and by phone with visitors and family spread around the country. She was a great listener. Early Life
Jeanne was born Jean Ardith Lesh on April 30, 1924 at home, 3328 Euclid Avenue in Berwyn, Illinois, the second of four children, to Hertha (Hattie) Caroline Krase and Harold Jesse (Jack) Lesh. Her father worked as a printer and the family lived in comfortable neighborhoods in Berwyn and Oak Park where she and her sister, Ruth, and two brothers, Jack and Don, grew up and went to high school in the years leading up to World War II.
Growing up on the west side of Chicago during the Prohibition years, the family would lock the car doors and roll up the windows when driving through certain neighborhoods out of fear of Al Capone’s mobsters. Walking to school on cold winter days led to chapped and bleeding calves where the wind and the icy hem of her skirt rasped her bare legs. Riding the “EL,” Chicago’s elevated rail system, around the city was an exciting thing to do. She liked learning French and retained that interest all her life. As a young woman, she changed her name to “Jeanne” because she preferred the French spelling, and she didn’t want four letters in both her first and last names.
When she graduated from high school in 1942 she wanted to become a nurse, but had to wait 9 months to start the program. That delay set her on a different path: she attended college in Minnesota and trained for engineering support and mechanical drawing. To support the war effort at home, she enlisted in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). She was transferred to Washington, D.C. where she used her skills preparing architectural and mechanical drawings for U.S. Government installations until she was discharged at the war’s end.
After the war, she and a friend planned to travel to Fairbanks to attend the University of Alaska. But when the friend’s parents forbade her to go, Jeanne decided to go alone. She traveled from Chicago to Seattle, where she boarded a flight to Fairbanks. The plane stopped at intermediate towns, including Juneau and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to refuel and assess the weather ahead. The flight was delayed three days in Whitehorse due to ice fog in Fairbanks. When the flight arrived in Fairbanks on the fourth day, ice fog was still present, but the ground crew and the pilot managed to get the plane on the ground safely.
College and Young Family
At Jeanne’s very first dinner in the university’s family-style dining hall, she was seated beside Jefferson Chowning Jeffers, an Army veteran studying on the GI Bill, and was enamored by his comment “Pretty tough meat, huh?” From that time on, dinners became an opportunity for them to talk. She and Jeff got to know each other better during chance meetings on campus and on the steps outside the women’s dorm, where many other young couples went to talk. Jeanne studied Anthropology and worked part-time in the library, including during summer breaks, over the next two and a half years. Jeanne and Jeff were married in a double ceremony on June 3, 1949 at St. Matthews Episcopal Church on the banks of the Chena River in Fairbanks. After the wedding, they made their home in Cathlamet, WA, where Jeff took a teaching position. In Cathlamet they were close to Jeff’s sister Jane and her husband Henry “Hank” Rybus and their three children. They later lived in Maupin, OR, and Longview, WA. During those years they made many lifelong friends and their four boys, Scott, Rand, Jeff, and Duff, were born.
Jeanne and her family moved to Juneau in 1963 when Jeff took a position with the Alaska Department of Education. They drove from Longview to Prince Rupert, B.C., towing a trailer, and boarded the Alaska ferry Matanuska for the three-day trip to Juneau. The family was greeted at the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal by Jeanne’s brother Jack Lesh and his wife, Sally, who graciously hosted them in their Starr Hill home while they took on the dual tasks of starting a new job and finding a house. The Lesh family’s hospitality extended further by putting up the Jeffers boys in their “wanigan” in Gustavus under their son Jon’s care. The boys had a summer to remember with their cousins while Jeanne and Jeff tried to find a home in a tight housing market. They selected a house on the “Flats” near where the Federal Building would soon be constructed. A few years later they built a home on Foster Avenue in West Juneau.
Jeanne remained a homemaker until her younger sons were old enough to be wrangled after school by a high school-aged sitter. Around 1965, she began working as a cartographer in the Mapping Section for the Alaska Department of Highways, at that time located in Douglas. When she was passed over for a promotion that went to a person she considered less qualified, she quit that job and soon took a position with the Department of Education, where she ran the teacher certification desk until she retired in 1982.
Travel and Sibling Safaris
Jeanne traveled with Jeff and her siblings and their spouses on a number of foreign and domestic trips, which she dubbed “Sibling Safaris.” Jeanne and Jeff, along with Jack and Sally Lesh, Ruth and Andre Deglon, and Don and Wencke Lesh barged through France on its system of old transportation canals. They rented a converted “barge” which slept eight and moseyed through the countryside. Each morning one or more of them would bike to a nearby town for that day’s food and wine. Brother-in-law Andre, Swiss by birth, provided translation skills and the rest practiced their French. On another such trip, sister-in-law Wencke served as the guide to her homeland and scenic hometown of Bergen, Norway located among fjords off the North Sea. Another Sibling Safari took the group to Brazil where they ventured off the usual tourist routes and away from urban centers to visit a commune for learning Esperanto, the international auxiliary language. Other domestic travels explored recent and distant familial roots of the Lesh and Jeffers heritage.
After retiring from the State of Alaska, Jeanne and Jeff sold their West Juneau home and relocated to Bellevue, WA, where they lived for over 30 years. They purchased a home near the home of their second son Rand and his wife Renia. They were very happy to be handy for grandparent duty and became friends with Rand and Renia’s circle of Polish and American friends, and with the families in their neighborhood. They enjoyed celebrating “wigilia” (pronounced vi 'gē lia) on Christmas Eve and were present for many birthdays and graduations.
They also traveled regularly to Columbus, MS, to visit the family of their youngest son Duff and his wife Beth and their two children. While they were not able to visit as often as they wished, they managed to travel every year, even road tripping at least once. She wanted to be sure all their grandchildren knew them and had a positive personal relationship with their grandparents. She succeeded.
Jeanne is predeceased by her parents Hattie and Jack Lesh, and her sister Ruth Lesh Deglon, brother-in-law Andre Deglon, sister-in-law Sally Lesh, nephew Peter Lesh, sister-in-law Wencke Lesh, sister-in-law Jane Jeffers Rybus, and brother-in-law Hank Rybus. She is survived by her husband Jeff, her elder brother Jack Lesh of Gustavus, AK, and younger brother Don Lesh and his wife Diane of Tempe, AZ. Jeanne is also survived by her four sons: Scott (Connie) of Juneau, AK, Rand (Renia) of Renton, WA, Jeff (Kathy) of Douglas, AK, and Duff (Beth) of Columbus, MS, as well as 8 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, 2 great-great-grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.
The family will schedule a private celebration of Jeanne’s life in the future, which will be certain to feature Jeanne’s favorite wine, Chardonnay.