Janet Louise (Olson) Benner passed away on February 29, 2020 at the House of the Dove Hospice in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Born on September 13, 1918, she was 101 years old. Janet was delivered by her father in the home of her parents, Edwin Olson and Signe (Carlson) Olson, in the Township of Lynn, Clark County, Wisconsin. Signe and Edwin were Swedish immigrants and Janet’s Swedish heritage was very important to her.
She had incredible clarity until the final days of her long life. Not one to hold back her opinions, whether solicited or not, she didn’t want her obituary to be “too long” or “mushy”. So we share the highlights she identified followed by some thoughts of our own.
Janet attended Goldenrod Elementary School while living on the homestead. Her family moved to Milwaukee when she was in sixth grade. There she attended the Milwaukee Girls’ Trade and Technical School, graduating at the top of her 9th grade class. The family then moved to Racine where she attended Racine Park High School. During her senior year, her mother was gravely ill with cancer and Janet assisted her father in caring for her mother and younger siblings until her mother’s passing. Although she had been interested in attending art school, after this experience she felt called to become a nurse. She pursued a course through Milwaukee’s Bureau of Home Nursing to become a Licensed Practical Nurse and graduated in 1938. She then worked for Misericordia Hospital in Milwaukee, doing new baby visits and in-home care.
On September 13,1941, Janet married her former “neighbor boy” from Lindsey, Wisconsin, Paul Ludwig Benner. Theirs was a great love story. Six years Janet’s senior, Paul knew when they were young that this was the woman he would marry. He waited for her. They reconnected on one of his visits to Milwaukee then dated for two years, long distance between Milwaukee and Lindsey. The courtship included long walks and dancing, often at the Silver Dome ballroom near Neillsville. Their son Paul Benner Jr. was born in 1943. Janet began raising him alone as her husband served in World War II.
When the war ended, Janet and Paul moved back to Central Wisconsin to begin farming. Though this meant leaving her career behind, Janet had pledged that if Paul returned, she would go with him back to the countryside that he loved. Many years of hard work on farms followed. So did the births of three daughters: Dianne, Nancy and Susan. Janet was proud of the fact that all four of her children graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She returned to health care in the 1960’s and 70’s, working for St. Joseph’s Hospital, Marshfield.
Janet had a strong faith that continued in her later years with Bible reading, prayer and discussion. Janet was an open-minded Christian, never claiming that one person or one faith tradition held all the answers. She admired many aspects of Native American culture and beliefs and held a sage bundle to her chest in her final weeks, a reminder of the healing power of connection with others and God’s creation. She was greatly blessed by the pastoral care from ministers of Faith Lutheran Church in Marshfield – previous pastor and long-time friend Rev. Peter Muschinske, and the Rev. Gisele Berninghaus.
Janet was a private person but not shy. She loved children and connected with them, playfully and immediately. She was candid, especially in her last two decades. One never needed to wonder what she thought. Strong and extremely hard working, she was an excellent judge of character and was truly interested in the stories and wellbeing of others. She was a loyal friend, an excellent mother, grandmother and great grandmother. Janet was open to learning new things until the end of her life, had a sneaky sense of humor, and was optimistic through all life’s trials. She was one of a kind.
Janet was preceded in death by her parents, her husband Paul (February 7, 1979), her brothers Walter and Edwin Olson, and her sisters Linea Zimmerman, Lillian Laubenheimer, and Elsie Corso. Remaining to cherish her memory are her children Paul (Paula) Benner of Eagan MN, Dianne Benner of Portage, WI, Nancy Young of rural Pittsville, WI, and Susan Benner of Portland, OR. Her grandchildren will undoubtedly share many “Nonnie” stories with their children. They are: Anne (Matt) Storlie and children Jonah and Kate of Eagan; Eric (Stefania) Benner, Zachary and Austin of Highlands Ranch, CO and Dustin (Sierra) Young and Audra of Middleton, WI.
Janet will be cremated and did not wish to have a memorial service. We want to thank other dear relatives and friends whose constancy buoyed her spirits and continued to enrich her life to the last. You know who you are! Thank you also to Dr. Frank Guzowski and Dr. Kristin Polga of Marshfield Clinic. The wonderful staff of Ministry Home Hospice helped make it possible for her to live in her sunlit home on Cary Bluff until she entered the House of the Dove, where she received loving care and joined in (and generated) much laughter.
In Janet’s words, “I had a hard life but a good life.” She would want those who knew her to rejoice now in her freedom!