Joan Louise Benson

September 20, 1925 - December 29, 2021


Joan Benson’s Life Story

Joan Louise was born to Emil and Medina Lewis Gustavson on September 20, 1925 in Seattle, Washington.  Unfortunately, her parents had some differences and Emil and Medina were divorced a few years after Joan’s birth.  Medina then married Herbert Johnson, a former suitor. She and Herb had three children who were Joan’s treasured siblings.  Their names were Charles, Anita and Brent. Joan considered Herb her father as he and her mother were the ones who raised her. At age 18 she went to court to be legally adopted by Herb and have her name officially changed to Joan Johnson. Over time  the family lived in three different houses at Three Tree Point and also for a time resided in Medina’s mother’s house on Capitol Hill when Grandma Lewis became elderly. The family also lived in California for a brief period where Anita was born during the Depression.  During her growing up years, Joan called herself a tomboy because she preferred being very active rather than playing with dolls which she described as not being very beautiful or lifelike. She enjoyed playing flag football with the boys, riding bikes, climbing trees and roller skating. She also did a lot of boating with her family on Puget Sound and in the San Juan Islands. Joan also loved music and dancing.  Her mother, Medina, had studied piano for many years.  One day Medina played a complicated piece with sheet music on her Steinway piano in the living room.  She went into the kitchen and much to her surprise heard the piece she had just played being played again!  She came out of the kitchen and saw Joan playing it!  She asked how in the world could she do that without lessons?!  Joan said, “ I don’t know.  I just hear it in my head.”  This was the beginning of playing the piano which she did throughout her life for all kinds of family events, gatherings, entertaining soldiers during the war, Christmas caroling, etc. It really was an amazing gift to be able to play by ear. Even though Joan didn’t study piano, she did take lessons for tap dancing and did so well that she was even asked to dance a solo on the Paramount stage.

  She attended Lake Burien School which at that time went through 8th grade and then graduated from Highline High School in 1943.  She received a special award for her beautiful penmanship and was the Girl’s Club Historian. She loved to read but didn’t care for math and really didn’t enjoy French class with Miss Harsh. When she started her senior year she had just turned 17 and by January she had enough credits to graduate early which was very unusual for that time period! While her schoolmates were still taking classes in order to graduate, Joan worked at Pacific Car and Foundry.  She went back in June to formally graduate with her class. Her parents wanted her to go on to college but Joan wanted to work and support the war effort.

Joan’s grandmother, Hannah Lewis, lived on Capitol Hill and as a young girl, Joan spent a lot of time with her. She learned about her Swedish roots as all four of her grandparents were either born in Sweden or their parents were. Hannah’s husband, Swan Lewis, owned several hotels during the Alaskan Gold Rush but had passed away in 1908 so Hannah was a widow. On Saturdays, Grandma Lewis and Joan would walk from Capitol Hill to downtown Seattle which was quite a long distance and go to the movies.  Sometimes they viewed as many as five in one day!  Her Grandma Hannah also took Joan to church on Sundays at Gethsemane Lutheran church on 9th and Stewart. At twelve years of age, Joan accepted Jesus Christ as her Saviour and asked to be baptized.  It was at church that Joan met the love of her life, Einar Anderson.  They attended confirmation class and played footsie under the table.  Einar was average size back then and there was a definite attraction between the two of them but they didn’t see each other for a couple of years. He and his family lived in Wallingford so he attended Seattle schools, graduating from Lincoln High School whereas Joan was in a different school district in the South end.. In reviewing her growing up years,  Joan had many fond memories of fun times with her grandma who baked homemade Anadama bread without a recipe,  introduced her to artichokes, one of Joan’s favorites, and taught her Swedish polkas in the Capitol Hill house’s ballroom. She also went on a train trip to Kansas with her grandma to spend time with Hannah’s sister, Kate, who had a big farm.

During high school Joan had many suitors but one day she looked out the window of her parents’ home at Three Tree Point and was shocked to see a tall, good looking, young man with a beautiful smile dressed in a v- neck sweater and white shirt walking up the driveway.  It turns out it was Einar!  He had shot up to 6 foot 5 and a half inches since she had last seen him.  They greeted each other and it was love at first sight! They started dating and attended each other’s high school dances, etc. There was a whole foot difference between their heights but that didn’t stop them from dancing.

Joan worked at several different jobs after Pacific Car and Foundry. She worked at the Bank of California and then at a doctor’s office taking x-rays and assisting in radiation treatments.  She went to business college and learned typing, shorthand, etc.  Eventually she ended up at McKesson and Robbins which was a drug company in Pioneer Square.  She had 17 salesmen that she did tabulations for their accounts.  On April 13, 1949 she was in the big vault when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit.  She said people were under their desks, lights were swinging, the stairs were moving, bricks were falling off the building and hitting cars. It was terrifying!  Joan worked there, the longest of any of her jobs until 3 weeks before the birth of her first child at age 25.

Meanwhile Einar started the University of Washington but was drafted into the army for World War Two.  Joan and Einar went through four years of separation and wrote letters back and forth.  It was a heartbreaking time as they never knew if they would be able to see each other again or if Einar would be injured, taken prisoner or killed.  Their letters and faith kept them going and they both dreamed of a day when they could finally be together.

The war ended and very soon after Einar returned from the Philippines in 1946, Joan invited him over for a home cooked meal. She dressed up and cooked him a delicious dinner. He proposed immediately after the meal and following a short engagement  they were married at Gethsemane Lutheran Church on March 23,1947. Joan was 21 and Einar was 22 years old. They had a brief honeymoon at Linger Longer Lodge at Lake Quinault and then Einar started back at the University of Washington on the GI Bill.  They didn’t own a car so they rode the bus to school and work and back to their tiny cabin at Three Tree Point.  It was a small garage on a lot on Maplewild Avenue that they had bought from Medina and Herb.  When not at school or work, Joan and Einar worked tirelessly on the “ cabin” using only hand tools.  Their only source of heat was a pink brick fireplace.  Joan described these years as some of the happiest of her life.

Their first child, Susan Joan Anderson, was born on August 17, 1950.  Joan said it was the only time she wondered if she had married the right man.  When they brought Susan home from the hospital, one wall was missing from their cabin as they were remodeling.  They had to hang up a blanket. Good thing it was summer!  Einar got the wall built in no time and Joan felt much better about being inside four walls with an infant.  Einar studied hard and graduated from the school of architecture, receiving honors.  Einar had signed up to be in the in the Reserves in order to have a little more money each month so when the Korean War started he was called up.  He wrote a letter describing his expertise and training and ended up being put in intelligence in Virginia instead of going overseas,  So,  the little family moved near Williamsburg, Virginia.  Einar’s parents gave them their old Buick and the family crossed the United States several times over the next couple of years taking in some famous sites along the way.  Once back in Seattle permanently, they settled back down in their cabin. Einar designed different projects for people and on September 20, 1954,  Todd Einar Anderson, was born on Joan’s 29th birthday! Joan said he was the best birthday present of her life! Around that time,  Einar became part of the architectural firm of Steinhardt, Theriault and Anderson on the East side of Lake Union. They were a successful firm that designed  many schools, Shoreline College, churches, private homes, Normandy Park Cove, the Swedish Club and the Swedish Pavilion during the 1962 World’s Fair.   Joan enjoyed being a mother to her two children.  She was the mom who made sandwiches and cookies for all the neighborhood kids, plus nieces and nephews. In fact, she was happiest when she could make someone something to eat even if they weren’t hungry! She always made homemade raspberry jam in the summer, kept a perfect household, had coffee time for her friends and neighbors, helped her mom, Medina, who had a form of multiple sclerosis, looked terrific in whatever she wore, double shifted the Ford station wagon, loved her siblings and their families, hosted holidays, was a wonderful cook, encourager to friends, sensed when others were in pain or trouble, and made perfect white mountain icing on angel food birthday cakes.  Joan was hardworking, very skilled at nursing someone ill or injured, was a regular blood donor, took the children to the beach at Medina’s house every day in the summer,  and even managed to always keep her white tennis shoes spotless even when gardening or doing other dirty work.  She was creative making something out of nothing. Later on in her life she even made protective faucet covers out of her old shoulder pads! She was the perfect homemaker in every way. The little cabin had turned into quite a nice home by this time and all four Andersons were very happy living there. They often had music nights with Joan playing the piano, Todd on the drums, Einar playing a comb with wax paper and Susan dancing. The family attended Gethsemane church as faith was the cornerstone of their life. Candlelight service on Christmas Eve was always special.

In 1963 Einar and Joan bought beachfront property a block away at Three Tree Point. They tore down the old house except for the fireplace and Einar designed a custom house for them.  It was a contemporary design with high ceilings on the beachside , lots of wood, natural slate floors, a raised boardwalk to the double front doors, shoji screens, solid teak kitchen cabinets, recessed lighting, floating stairs, etc.  The next years were full of sharing beach life with loved ones, meals on the deck, boating in the  Boston Whaler, watching the kids water ski and just enjoying the simple pleasures of life on the beach. There were all of Todd’s sports and Susan’s dancing and theater activities to attend as well.  Einar was compromised with his health as he was diagnosed with emphysema at age thirty five.  This condition was attributed to his service years in the army when cigarettes were part of the rations. Even so, the Andersons were very happy and enjoyed this special time in their lives. Joan took up sculpture and did some very interesting pieces using air drying clay.   Einar encouraged her and supported her in every way. She also started learning about the stock market and was part of a women’s investment group. Joan was an excellent knitter and made about 20 handknit wool hats for the extended family one Christmas. It was quite a sight seeing everyone on Christmas Eve in Joan and Einar’s home wearing their new hats!

On March 6, 1970 the happy life of the Andersons suddenly stopped.  Einar suffered a cerebral hemorrhage at home and died 12 hours later at age 45 years. At forty four years old, Joan was a widow with two kids, age 19 and 15.  Joan lost her soulmate, the love of her life. They had endured so much separation and now there was a final parting.  This was a devastating period for Joan and her teen children.  A bright spot was that her birth father, Emil Gustavson, came into their lives. He had not been allowed to spend much time with her as she grew up so they didn’t really know each other.  He had read Einar’s obituary, called and asked if he could be of any help.  He had recently lost his wife too.  So, this started another chapter for Joan which was all about getting to know her birth father. It was wonderful for her as well as for Susan and Todd to have this new relationship.  Emil enjoyed it too as Joan was his only child and he never had any other grandchildren.

There was another chapter that happened shortly after.  A former childhood friend appeared and even though Joan was still grieving, he was persistent. He took her skiing, fishing, to art galleries, etc. and they both rediscovered their love of dance roller skating.

Joan felt her life had ended when Einar had died.   She felt she had nothing to lose so obviously she wasn’t thinking clearly. She was naive and vulnerable. She married Rodger Benson in 1972.  However, it was nothing like the relationship she had with Einar.  They did travel, went on cruises, fished, learned about Northwest artists,  skated and had adventures but it was nothing like her first marriage.  Grandchildren were born to their children from their former spouses which they did both enjoy. Over time it was apparent that Rodger and Joan had very different values and interests but they stayed married.  During this period Susan decided to do an annual Mother/ Daughter trip with Joan to bring more joy into her life.  They traveled over Mother’s Day for 23 years and had all kinds of fun adventures such as camel riding, hot air ballooning, walking under water in glass helmets with air hoses in the Great Barrier Reef, etc.  They visited places all over Europe, China, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Tahiti, St John, USVI, Hawaii, and in the USA. Joan kept the journals and Susan took the photos. In addition to these trips,  Joan really enjoyed family get-togethers, holidays, birthdays, graduations, etc. with both of her children and their families not only at their houses but also when the whole family went to Todd and Kathy’s Lake Ohop property, bike riding and skiing at Sunriver, camping on Blake Island, staying at her daughter- in- law’s family cabin in the snow, and Disneyland. Susan and Dennis moved in next door to Joan in 1977 so she enjoyed seeing her two oldest grandsons almost daily as they grew up. Todd and Kathy lived in Normandy Park so they were not that far away and Joan could easily see their children frequently as well.  Todd and Kathy moved to Three Tree Point in 2006 and Joan now had both her children living on the same block! The heart of Joan was always her family who she loved so much and would do anything to help any one of them.

In 2007, Joan decided she wanted to do a big trip with the whole family before anyone married and the family got bigger!  Joan treated the family to a very special gift. She, her children and their families , nine of us in total, flew to Europe to board a river boat which cruised through Germany and Austria,  The boat stopped at festive Christmas markets along the way and we even had snow! It was a lovely trip and one we will all remember.

Joan was blessed with very good health. She did undergo some surgeries, cancer and radiation but always managed to bounce back. She dance skated three times a week which she really loved! She skated until age 79 when she decided to hang up her skates as she didn’t want to risk falling. A favorite story is while on the way to China, Joan  stood in the tail of the plane to stretch her legs and asked the flight attendant if she knew she could do high kicks.  The flight attendant said no and then Joan proceeded to demonstrate, kicking her leg way over her shoulder!  It was hilarious and Joan was applauded for being so limber in her late seventies. After her skating chapter, she remained disciplined and rode her exercise bike faithfully every day for thirty minutes into her nineties while doing a whole routine with her arms. She was inspirational!

As Joan aged, she still enjoyed sitting out on her deck, watching the changing sea and sky, keeping track of boats on the buoys, family visits, having daily tea in the late afternoon with Susan, visiting with family and neighbors, going to Costco, checking out all the beautiful plants at Swanson’s Nursery, watching Charles Stanley and Through the Bible with Les Feldick on TV, chats with her brother, Charles, who lived 2 doors away, boat rides, going to lunch, especially Burgermaster where one time she consumed 2 huge containers of French fries along with a giant burger and chocolate shake. She had a good appetite but somehow always managed to keep her figure.

In her later years she waited each day for daily visits from her children, Susan and Todd, daughter- in- law, Kathy, and son in law, Dennis, to hear about her grandchildren, Tyson, Toby, Molly and Patrick and their interesting lives for each of them are explorer/adventurers in their own way. She attended two of her grandsons’ weddings and welcomed their new brides, Anna and Madelyn into the family. She loved seeing her three great- granddaughters, Alice, Violet and Clara and was thrilled to see photos of her new great -grandson, Foster. The mail would arrive and Joan would faithfully support charities she had a heart to support, especially those for veterans, sharing the Gospel and children in need. Her physical world became much smaller but her core love for others continued on.

Joan lived an amazing life of 96 years!  She ended up living in five different houses in one block on Three Tree Point which is pretty unusual.  She remained in her home all the way to the end, being cared for by her wonderful caregivers.  She saw her children every day and the rest of her close family frequently. Most importantly, she was a born-again Christian who trusted what the Bible says that the only way to heaven is to admit one is a sinner and trust only on Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross.  We know for sure she is in Heaven with Jesus and all her loved ones who were also believers. We will miss her but are thankful for who she was, her talents and gifts, her deep unconditional love, her laugh, her sparkling personality. She was a gift!  Thank you, dear Lord, for Joan.

A private graveside service will be held with a celebration of life to be scheduled at a later date.

Please revisit this web site in the future to see more photographs.

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Lonnie Miller
Lonnie Miller
4 months ago

Joan was one of the loveliest persons I ever met. Miss her already.

Janet Hogan
Janet Hogan
3 months ago

Joan was an inspiration to me. She was full of life and fun. I loved Joan.