Jane Eileen Helmers (née Stokke), 70, was welcomed to her Heavenly home on October 19, 2019, following a lengthy, hard-fought struggle against breast cancer. Jane's unwavering faith in God and His promise of everlasting life helped sustain her all her life, and especially in the nineteen months of her recent ordeal.
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Jane was born April 7, 1949, to Irene A. Stokke (née Ross) and John L. Stokke, in Janesville, WI. She graduated with the Class of 1967 from Janesville Senior High School.
Jane was united in marriage with Douglas A. Helmers, on March 25, 1972. He was literally "the boy next door," and the two fell in love while Doug was home on leave from Vietnam, where he served with the U.S. Marines. Always a team, their unending love saw them through countless happy times as well as challenges for over forty-seven years.
Family was the cornerstone of Jane's life as a dedicated mother, grandmother, daughter, sister-in-law, niece, and aunt. Jane was a loving wife and life partner as well as a devoted mother to her sons, Matthew (Jessica) and Andrew (Hannah Heinze Helmers). Jane adored her two granddaughters, Anezka and Brynja. Jane was pleased to welcome into our family, daughters-in-law Hannah and Jessica.
A steadfast daughter to her late mother, Irene Stokke, Jane was ever-present as her Mom's friend, confidant, "wheel pal," and companion, caring for Irene through her final years.
"Being a Grandma is the best job I ever had!" was no cliché for Jane. Often called Bestemor (Norwegian for "grandma") by granddaughters Anezka and Brynja, Jane thrived on their presence, taking immeasurable delight in their accomplishments in life, especially Anezka's achievements with theater and violin – playing on Jane's own violin. Jane was equally proud of Brynja's mastery of the flute and her participation in marching band.
Jane celebrated her sons' accomplishments too. She admired her Matthew and Andrew’s life experiences, from their achievement of the rank of Eagle Scout to Matthew's term of service in the U.S. Army to their respective college educations and subsequent professional careers. As well, she admired the development of their personal lives, especially their roles as loving husbands to Jessica and Hannah.
Jane earned a Bachelor of Arts in Education degree from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1971, having first attended the University of Wisconsin-Rock County campus in 1967-68. Possessing an incredible passion for education, Jane began her teaching career in 1971 at Jefferson Elementary School in Janesville. After five years of working with 5th Graders, Jane chose to be a stay-at-home-mom with her sons prior to returning to work in the early 1980s. Jane was especially proud to work with several very talented educators, crafting an outstanding English as a Second Language (ESL) curriculum, which became a model for surrounding school districts. Later on, in the 1990s, Jane earned her official certification as a teacher of ESL.
In her role as an ESL teacher, Jane served the community for 25 years, during which she worked with youth from more than twenty countries with varied ‘first language' backgrounds. Jane worked with children in Kindergarten all the way up to Seniors at Parker High School. Jane felt privileged and blessed when she would remark, "The world came to my door!" Serving in that significant role, Jane received the esteemed Kohl Teacher Fellowship Award for excellence and innovation in the field of education.
Jane felt God's presence in her life at an early age. Her deep, unquestioning faith guided and buoyed her through life's journey. Jane loved to share the story of her 14 years of Perfect Attendance at Sunday school! While in high school, Jane was active with her Luther League youth group, including a trip to Dallas, Texas, for its annual convention. As an adult, Jane was a committed member of First Lutheran Church. She and her husband Doug worked with Luther League youth group for several years and were Sunday school instructors. Her interests and talent saw her work with the Women's Circle and the Altar Guild, including one year as chairwoman. Jane put musical talents to use as a member of the church's Handbell Choir.
"She did all things well!" Jane loved to say about her Mom, Irene. That rang true of Jane, too. Excelling with the violin, Jane rose to the esteemed role of First Violin in Janesville High School orchestra, led by Jane's mentor, the late Mr. Gene Erickson. Later in life, she also played briefly with Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra. Jane's talents and energy moved her to lead her sons' Cub Scout den, assist with Boy Scouts, and lend ingenuity to the Janesville Literacy Council of Janesville's elementary schools. Jane was active in the early 1980s refugee resettlement effort through First Lutheran. She and Doug met many wonderful, lifelong friends from Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
Jane was a splendid homemaker, creating a place where family and friends always felt welcome and safe. Home decorating was a specialty, and she created magnificent seasonal and holiday displays, always making a point of setting up a Veterans Day display to honor Doug's time in the Marines and Vietnam. Her love of cooking (especially her lasagna) was passed on to both sons, who became excellent cooks. Jane was known for her love of photography and arranging flowers cut from her yard.
As the de facto family historian, Jane was blessed with an incredible memory, and she took pride in telling the oral history of both sides of her heritage. Our family will especially miss her special ability to accurately recite details of all manner of family events, large or small, recent or long past.
Love for her cultural legacies led Jane's artistic touch to heirloom stitchery and Hardanger embroidery projects, a craft from her Norwegian heritage. She enjoyed making Norwegian treats of lefse and krumkake, as well as Hungarian goulash from her mother's recipe, she delighted in sharing family oral traditions and helped to organize a major Ross family reunion. Jane's travels took her to visit both "homelands" of Norway and Hungary. A Danube River cruise out of Budapest, Hungary, was thrilling. When meeting strangers during her travels, Jane had a special knack for striking up conversations, frequently making new friends in the most unlikely places. Jane often created delightful photobooks to document these trips and many other happy memories.
Traveling was a primary passion, beginning during childhood travels in a tiny towed camper with her family around Wisconsin and discovering the nation. Jane and Doug delighted in travels as well, camping with their sons in their youth and enjoying several family road trips. Jane was proud to be able to say she traveled to all fifty of our states!
Jane is survived by her husband of over 47 years, Doug, and their two wonderful sons and their families: Matthew (Jessica) of Cross Plains, WI and their daughters, Anezka and Brynja; and Andrew (Hannah Heinze Helmers) of Roseville, MN. Dear brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Steve "Badger" and Carole Helmers of Winter, WI, and their children, Lisa (Paul) Podkomorski, Brent, and Jennifer (Mark) Froese. Jane is survived, too, by her beloved Springer spaniel, Maizie - a special friend, source of companionship, laughter, joy, and peace. She is also survived by sisters Mary Swander and Sally Olsen. She was blessed to have many special aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, and a host of wonderful cousins whom she thought of more as sisters and brothers! Jane was preceded in death by her parents, John and Irene Stokke.
Special thanks to Pastor Jim Johnson for his loving ministry during Jane's illness. So very many dear friends shared their love for Jane with gifts of their presence, cards, phone calls, and gifts of food to sustain her body.
Jane's family wishes to extend their gratitude for the superb care she received through the Oncology department at SSM/Dean in Janesville, Agrace Center for Hospice and Palliative Care, and especially that of Dr. Amit Sanyal. The nurses and professionals at both facilities are all truly Angels!
This memorial has been written by her adoring husband, Doug:
Jane confronted her breast cancer diagnosis head-on, never yielding her spirit to that evil disease. She truly gave every ounce of physical strength to enjoy as much time with her loved ones as possible. Jane's Christian Faith was ever-present; her personal character is an incredible testimony to my Lady's inner strength and soul! Courage. Grace. Dignity. Jane had it all.
Memorial Service for Jane will be held at First Lutheran Church, 612 N. Randall Ave., Janesville, WI on Saturday, November 9, 2019. Visitation will be held from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m., with funeral service to follow at 11:00 a.m. Pastor Jim Johnson, officiating. Interment at Oak Hill Cemetery, Janesville, will occur at a later date.
Expressions of love and remembrance may be made to Agrace Center for Hospice and Palliative Care (Janesville), Carbone Cancer Center, or to the Lutherdale Camp scholarship fund to encourage faithful learning in children.