Janis Howell Schoenberg
Aug 21, 1939 – Jun 27, 2016
“I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love.”
― Alice Walker, The Color Purple
Janis Benson Howell was born in South Carolina on August 21, 1939. Her parents, Connor Reeves Patrick and William Benson Howell, both came from large families in a small town, but she was an only child. Her beloved mother’s mother, known to her as Gran, lived next door and Bennie, as she was known in her home town, frequently overnighted there as she was growing up. She was close to her many aunts and uncles, especially Buster, who took her out and about with him when he went on dates. When she was just four or five years old he died in the Pacific, and his final letter, which was received by Jan’s mother after the family had already received notice of his death, was a cherished possession that passed onto Jan when her mother died in 1980, and now passes on to those of us who remain. One request in her final weeks was that her beloved photographs of Buster as well her father’s sister Aunt Tallulah always be displayed. They will be.
She attended St. George High School, graduating in 1957. In her senior year she was Editor of the yearbook, Head Cheerleader, Vice President of the senior class, Miss Hi-Miss, Miss Senior Class, the Best All-Around, and more. Afterwards she moved to Charleston and lived in an apartment with girlfriends while working at CNS Bank. Along the way she met a young Air Force Second Lieutenant named Ron Schoenberg, and in September 1965 they were married. Their marriage lasted through 50 years, three children, seven grandchildren, five states at different corners of the country—South Carolina, New Jersey, Washington, Arizona, and Maryland—at least fifteen residences, and uncountable vacations, dinner parties, and celebrations. They enjoyed Nogales and Rocky Point when they were in Arizona. They picnicked in Rock Creek Park and visited friends in New York City when they lived in Maryland. In Seattle they spent hours at the Arboretum, attended the Seattle Symphony, and were frequent patrons at the restaurants of Belltown. Later in life they had the opportunity to go abroad to the South of France and Rome. This past October they belatedly celebrated their fiftieth anniversary with their children at a beachfront house on the Pacific Ocean near Westport, Washington.
Jan’s eldest daughter, Lisa Patrick Schoenberg, was born in South Carolina in 1966 and the twins Jennifer Tallulah and Joel Benson were born in New Jersey in 1968. The children began school in the early seventies in Seattle and continued in Tucson, Arizona. As they grew older Jan began working again, first Lawyer’s Title at Tucson, Arizona, then Mason County Title in Shelton, Washington, then Booz Allen and Hamilton in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and finally Dames and Moore/URS in Seattle, Washington. She enjoyed the challenge and was highly valued everywhere she worked. Outside of the workplace and in retirement she enjoyed so many activities and interests it is difficult to do justice to them all. She loved reading. Among her favorite writers were Alice Walker, Larry McMurtry, Mary Gordon, Anne Tyler, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy, and Barbara Kingsolver. When her children were little she brought them to the library weekly; they were allowed to borrow one book for each year of age. The excitement this induced had the effect of making the appreciation of literature a central part of Lisa’s and Jennifer’s lives. She was gifted with great talent in craft, most especially knitting. In addition to the countless scarves, mittens, hats, sweaters, baby blankets, ponchos, Christmas stockings,and throws she made for family and friends, there were her freeform shawls, which were works of art. Jennifer, a gifted knitter in her own right, aspires to her accomplishment. Jan also enjoyed gardening, and counted among her favorite flowers hydrangeas, daisies, and peonies. She loved all sorts of games and puzzles, backgammon and bridge and logic puzzles and acrostics, and for decades she and Ron would do the New York Times crossword puzzle together every Sunday. Only the final two Sundays of her life did she miss that weekly ritual. She was a huge sports fan, all different sports, from Wimbledon to the Olympics to football and baseball. She loved the Seahawks and the Mariners (but was always concerned for family and friends from far away who preferred the PhiladelphiaEagles, or some other team!) In her last week she watched several Mariners games, and was concerned about their recent losing streak. This love of sports continues on in Joel. She enjoyed baking, and along with Ron was a mid-1970s convert to gourmet cooking. Her beloved Julia Childs are dusted with flour and speckled with oil, the odd recipe secreted amongst the pages. Ron remembers making Floating Island and Bavarian Cream. And lots of ice cream. In a letter to her father all the way back in 1965, she described her boyfriend Ron from “Washington State” as an “ice cream fanatic.” “I would love for him to taste some of that homemade one we used to make,” she told her father. In her final days, she remembered ice cream again, along with her wonderful cinnamon rolls, which she made from scratch and doled out over weeks from the freezer. “I know I’m not making sense,” she said to Lisa and Joel last Sunday morning. “I’m thinking of cinnamon rolls. And peach ice cream. I can taste them.” I know I’m not making sense. But she was making sense. She always made sense. Always. Those details of life, the little pleasures, the tiny pink pebble she discovered on the beach at Grapeview and held out for Lisa to see, the stunning colors of an Arizona sunset, the precise shade of orange she picked to paint the dining room wall, the fuzziness of a particular yarn, the very texture of life from day to day, these were things she appreciated not only for herself, but in doing so made others appreciate them too. As with the quote from one of her favorite books, The Color Purple, it had to do with the little and the large, but she already, always knew the large was to be appreciated through the littlest of things, the tiny moment that reveals the deepest beauties of the universe, the many little acts of caring and kindness that embody love.
And that brings us to her grandchildren. Seven of them, Sam and Charlotte and Miles and Juliet and Violet and Lucas and Carly in order of birth, all welcomed into this world with the softest of handmade baby blankets. She loved to play games with them, hear everything about them, their achievements, their personalities, the things that made each one uniquely particular. Her grandchildren describe her (in their own words) as warmhearted and gentle and loving and caring and generous and sweet. A mentor of kindness. When they think of her they think of sweets, the smell of lotion, of knitted things. Her children add her warmth, her supportiveness and encouragement, her piercing intelligence, her curiosity, her empathy, her sense of humor, her sympathetic joy.
Finally, she would want us to thank—she could not bear it if we did not thank—the many, many people who have supported her over the years, and most especially for the last several years. The people who took her to doctor’s appointments, who sent her cards—so many cards, more than one a day for two years!—and in a myriad of little ways showed their love for her. Her book club friends, her knitting club friends, her work friends, her childhood friends. Those who cared for her. There are too many to list here by name, but know what all of you meant to her. As we said to her at the end, when she wanted to speak, when she wanted to express what she felt for all of us, when she wanted to speak of her appreciation and love and concern for those of us that remain behind, we know. We know.
This obituary is provided by Bonney-Watson, providing caring and compassionate funeral, cremation and cemetery services since 1868. We have a professional staff, four funeral homes, two cremation facilities and one of the largest cemeteries south of Seattle, as well as a comprehensive grief support program.