Jeanne Thornton passed peacefully at home on October 27, 2021 surrounded by loved ones; four days shy of her 99th birthday.
Jeanne (born Margaret Jeanne Brenner) was born in Kansas City on October 31, 1922 to Edwin and Elizabeth Brenner. She was the only daughter and the youngest of four children. During the Great Depression, Jeanne’s family moved north to Alaska, following two of her brothers who had found work there as gold miners. Jeanne graduated from Seward High School then moved to Fairbanks to enroll at the University of Alaska. It was in Fairbanks that she met Harold Thornton, another Midwestern transplant, and they married on July 3, 1941, beginning a loving marriage that lasted 71 years until his death in 2012.
Harold and all three of Jeanne’s brothers served in World War II, during which Jeanne was evacuated out of Alaska. Towards the end of the war, Jeanne and Harold were reunited and remained in Alaska with their two young daughters, Alaska Jeannette, born in 1942, and Charlotte Joyce, born in 1946. They lived briefly in the tiny village of Hope before settling in the fishing town of Kenai. Life in Kenai was raw, rugged, and isolated which meant depending on other people and loving thy neighbor was a rule for survival. They learned to build a community and lived an adventurous life in America’s Last Frontier. Jeanne was a brave and adventurous dynamo. She became a Jill of all trades by necessity. In Kenai, she and Harold built a garage with a café attached and their family home on the second floor. Jeanne ran the café and raised their two young daughters while Harold set his entrepreneurial spirit in motion with Jeanne’s support. During her years in Alaska, Jeanne served as a town postmistress, learned to drive a dogsled team, and even had a handful of encounters with moose wandering through the town.
In 1953, seeking warmer weather and a respite from the pioneer life of Alaska, the family moved to Washington, where they welcomed their third daughter, Elizabeth Janell, in 1953. Finally, in 1964, Jeanne, Harold, Joyce, and Janell moved to Santa Barbara. Jeanne and Harold moved into their beautiful home on the hill in 1969, where they enjoyed the view for the rest of their lives. Their home was filled with joy, love, Jeanne’s art, and the smell of cookies in the oven. Active in social activities, even enjoying online bridge when she couldn’t go in person, Jeanne was always quick to volunteer her home for her bridge teams, book clubs, and social groups where home-cooked meals were served on her hand-painted plates.
A life-long learner and hobbyist, Jeanne kept her mind out of the mud when she took up china painting and quilting in her 40s. She made sure each grandchild had a set of china and a handmade quilt in their home. Jeanne’s china painting was so prolific a great-grandson once asked, “Did she paint Mongolia, too?” She was a talented artist, teacher, and mentor of her crafts. She enjoyed needlepointing, cooking, reading, story telling, singing hymns, and gardening. She shared her hobbies with those around her, encouraging others to nurture their creative talents. She was also a world traveler visiting dozens of countries with Harold and sharing her love of Alaska with her family throughout the years.
Jeanne both loved and was loved by her large family. She was proud of her 3 daughters, 8 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. Jeanne was eager to show those around her how much she cared about them, whether that was through letter writing, sharing a meal, offering cookies, or traveling together. Petite in height but big in presence, Jeanne made a lasting impression on those who knew her with her kindness, sweet laugh, and sparkling eyes.
Jeanne was grateful to live in beautiful Santa Barbara and cared deeply about the community. She enjoyed spending her time volunteering with PEO (Philanthropic Educational Organization), the Assistance League, Harding Elementary School, and Santa Barbara City College. Jeanne kept her wants simple, a conservationist at heart, she darned her socks, never wasted a drop of water, composted all her scraps, and hand fed the jays through her final days.
Jeanne is survived by beloved friends and family. As Jeanne said, “the flow of love has been exceptional and very much enjoyed.”
In lieu of flowers Jeanne would be happy to see you spread kindness or make a donation to P.E.O. Chapter HD, Santa Barbara, Attn: Joan Jamieson, 1708 Garden Street,Santa Barbara, CA 93101. She would be thrilled to hear that her memory inspired you to find a pen pal, spend time with your dearest dears, or do something for your community.