Eileen Jeanette Barnett passed into heavenly peace on January 24, 2024, surrounded by her loving family at Mainstreet Village Retirement Home in Richfield, Minnesota. Jeanette, “JJ” was born August 2, 1933, to Sydney and Grace Johnston. A preacher’s daughter and the youngest of three sisters, Jeanette’s childhood included moving around to new church homes and visiting her mother’s family farm in Yamhill, Oregon. She wrote about her happy childhood and beloved family in her autobiography, “Shouting Glory, Glory, Glory! Memoirs of a Narcoleptic P.K.” Jeanette was proud of her Oregon ancestry. Her great-grandmother was a child on a wagon train through the ill-fated Meek’s Cutoff trail in 1845. It was that pioneer spirit that allowed her to be strong throughout her life; her Christian faith and foundation did not falter. She was a long-time member of Halls Ferry Christian Church in Black Jack, Missouri.
After graduation from Merrillville high school in 1951, Jeanette attended Lincoln Bible Institute in Illinois. This was not her plan, but her father’s, and as much as she enjoyed her time there, her dream was to be a writer. Jeanette wrote many stories and poems well into her eighties. Her dark humor and love of scary movies worked to her advantage when she landed a job at KMOX-TV St. Louis working as a production assistant for Vincent Price. She once lunched with Walter Cronkite, who was impressed that she had taught herself to drive an Austin-Healey Sprite. JJ loved chauffeuring Vincent all around St. Louis in her sports car during their time working together. KMOX was also where she met her husband Jack, who was working as a commercial artist. Jeanette and Jack married in 1965 and had two daughters. During her years as a stay-at-home mom, she completed college courses through the University of Missouri’s college-at-home program. Being a mother and grandmother was her greatest joy.
Jeanette positively impacted everyone she met, especially working as a teacher assistant for Ferguson-Florissant Special School District for over twenty years. Her creative imagination, knowledge, and caring presence made her a standout educator. Always generous and accepting of others, she knew how to get an interesting conversation going. Those who knew JJ remember her razor-sharp wit and penchant for the unusual in films, art, and books. Jeanette was a voracious reader and sage storyteller. In her late seventies, Jeanette had an Opinion Shaper column in the St. Louis Suburban Journal. Sharing wisdom and humor, she wrote about topics like having the right outlook when things go wrong.
Jeanette became a tenacious advocate in the 2000s. Her five years of research and a claim to the Department of Labor led to the federal government’s decision in 2009 to compensate a special class of employees exposed to nuclear radioactive waste who worked at Tyson Valley Powder Farm between 1946-1948. Jeanette’s research and dedication to this cause made its way to Congress because she demanded justice for her father-in-law, Clete, who died of cancer in 1955. As an advocate for her family, she was always supportive, taking an active interest in their lives and encouraging them to pursue their talents.
JJ wrote, “If a memory is pleasing, think of it often; and if you’re fortunate, it will never leave you.” JJ will never leave our hearts. She will be remembered often through her wise words, humor, sweet smile, and strong spirit.
Jeanette is survived by her children, Joli (Patrick) Helm of Richfield, MN; Jessica (Jeff) DeCuir of Belleville, IL; granddaughters Sydney, Abby, and Isabel; nieces and nephews, great-nieces and nephews, dear friends, and devoted caregivers.
She is preceded in death by her husband of fifty-six years, Jack, her cherished sisters, Maurine and Dorothy, her beloved parents, Sydney and Grace, and her life-long friends, Kay Porter and David Stetzel.
Jeanette’s wishes were to be cremated. A family memorial gathering will be held later.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to The Alzheimer’s Association: https://www.alz.org/
A Memorial Tree was planted for Eileen
We are deeply sorry for your loss ~ the staff at Cremation Society Of Minnesota | Edina