IN MEMORY OF JANET WATSON O’NEIL
May 4, 1944 – September 8, 2023
Janet Watson O’Neil was not a spectator in life – she was a full “all in” participant. She was smart and she was wise. She was energetic, focused, adventuresome, caring and inclusive. She focused her life on people and causes in which she believed. She was always there for her family, friends, students, and colleagues. She always, always kept confidences.
Jan was a lifelong learner. She learned in the classroom and on her own. She graduated near the top of her high school class and was a member of the National Honor Society. In college at Lawrence University, in Appleton Wisconsin, she majored in Spanish and English graduating Cum Laude and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Mortar Board. She earned a Master’s degree in Counseling from UMSL with a 4.0 average and took additional courses to become a Licensed Professional Counselor and a National Board-Certified Counselor. Her focus was on learning; the grades followed.
Jan always had a book or two or three going. She read everything from the selections of the book clubs of which she was a member to others on topics such as psychology, philosophy and social justice. A central focus was theology. She took classes from Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggmann; delved into process theology with Rev. Arthur McNulty and Celtic spirituality with Rev. Jack Fleming and had wide ranging conversation with Fr. Ralph Wright a monk at the Priory. Having read all of his books she relished the several opportunities she had to have conversations with contemporary theologian Brian McClaren.
Jan was adventuresome and athletic. Having moved to a lake in middle school she became an excellent slalom water skier and ski boat driver. She skied well into her 60’s. She was a solid snow skier adept at cruising the blue trails and managing the moguls of the black trails. She and Mike skied for years in the mountains of Colorado and Utah, often rising early after fresh snow fell overnight in order to make multiple runs in untracked powder. Jan loved tennis and played in leagues and for club teams. She loved her women’s tennis groups and played until her cancer did not allow it. In retirement, she took up biking and kayaking during her summers in northern Wisconsin.
A true joy in her life was the opportunity to follow her interest in other cultures and foreign languages. She spent a high school summer in Brazil as an AFS Exchange Student learning Portuguese. She studied in Spain and traveled through Europe during college. Jan traveled to over 20 countries, including 19 with Mike, going to a number of them multiple times. At her initiation they did not travel as “sightseers” but rather to “experience” the people and their culture. Never a bus tour. Never a cruise. They did not skip the big sights but they set their own itineraries, rented cars, found their own lodging and ate with the locals. There were memorable highlights on both foreign and domestic trips including hiking high above Machu Pichu in the dark to watch the sun come over the Andes and bathe the ruins in sunlight; watching the sun go down as the only two people present at Stonehenge; kayaking in Glacier Bay Alaska among groups of seals, sea otters, and a pod of whales. A highlight for Jan was the invitation by the head of the Aberdeen Cathedral (with whom she had struck up a conversation on the street) to join him in leading Evensong in this Scotch cathedral where Bishop Seabury, the first Episcopal Bishop in America was consecrated. Jan also made sure to take in more sobering experiences such as spending a day at Auschwitz; visiting the Normandy D Day cemetery and hiking the landing beaches; walking the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma Alabama and following the trail to Montgomery.
Jan and Mike met in college, married in 1966, and set off to St. Louis. She began building the life that is now being remembered. She taught high school Spanish and English before staying home with our kids. She supported them as room mother, scout leader and taught Sunday School. She became an active community volunteer always working for the betterment of the community. She led a Junior League committee that established the original “Pay Back” program in the juvenile court system. She was appointed to the Citizen Advisory Committee for the court ordered city/suburban school desegregation program. She served two terms on the Parkway School Board including as vice president and president.
She was chosen by “Focus St. Louis” to participate in their yearlong development program for community leaders.
After the death of our son, she began to reinvent herself. Determined to put her life experiences towards helping others she returned to teaching at Parkway North H. S., earned her Master’s degree in counseling and became a high school counselor. She moved to Parkway West H.S. as chair of the counseling department. She was twice recognized as Secondary Counselor of the Year by the Suburban School Districts Counseling Association.
In May of 2007 Jan arrived at her place of “true calling” when she was ordained a Deacon in the Episcopal Church. Her strong desire was to devote her time to serve her church community and her wider community. She worked as a Chaplain at Barnes Hospital. She tutored at an inner- city school. She worked at International House resettling refugees. She focused her parish work on pastoral care and on community outreach. She had frequent opportunities to preach on Sunday and to deliver her core belief that: “God is Love. That God loves all people without reservation. That all of us are called to spread God’s Love into the world in our daily life.”
She had numerous opportunities to celebrate and mourn with parish families and others; having often been asked to officiate or participate at baptisms, weddings, and funerals. This request frequently came from people from other Christian denominations, those with a non-Christian faith, and the unchurched. Jan was a fully inclusive person.
Well before becoming a Deacon Jan rose to the occasion when a call would come from someone who suddenly lost a spouse or child or a young woman suffered a miscarriage. She sat with friends as they died. She listened to and provided comfort and advice to parents worried about their child. She inspired others with her wisdom, strength, caring, and positive approach to life. During the five-year journey fighting Glioblastoma Jan was an incredible example of strength, determination, resilience, and faith. Jan taught the O’Neil family that hugs were not only acceptable but were required.
Jan loved her garden. Jan loved shelling on the beach on Marco Island. Jan loved evening boat rides with family, friends, and a glass of wine on lakes in the Northwoods. Jan loved having guests to her home. Jan loved family reunions. Jan loved teaching her kids and grandkids to swim and water ski. Jan loved to dance to old-time rock and roll. Jan loved her family first, last and always.
Jan will be missed beyond words.
Services: Visitation and funeral service will be held Saturday, September 23 at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, 808 N. Mason Rd. Visitation at 10 a.m. with the service to follow at 11:30 a.m. Reception to follow. More information about Jan and Celebration of her life can be found at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church www.saint-tims.org. In lieu of flowers, Jan has asked for contributions to St. Timothy’s Church, the Rasey-O’Neil Memorial Scholarship, Lawrence University – Advancement, 711 East Boldt Way, Appleton, WI 54911 give online at https://go.lawrence.edu/give-online or a charity of your choice.