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Jo has gone home.
She was born in Baudette, Minnesota, to Joseph and Angnes (Lee) Bourgeois. Growing up during the Depression on a remote farm taught Jo and her six siblings about hard times, hard work and self-reliance.
Jo joined the U.S. Navy Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service during World War II, working as an aviation machinist's mate through December 1945.
She then earned her teaching credentials and taught first grade in Holdingford, Minnesota, a farming community. There, she met Vern Soltis (1923-2007), a local man who was attending college and pitching baseball in the minor leagues.
Jo and Vern married August 1, 1950, and moved to Cold Spring, Minnesota, where they started their family. Jo set up housekeeping as Vern taught high school and continued to pitch ball. Baseball games at the local stadium were the center of their entertainment and social world.
They later moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota, until 1964, when, to the astonishment of their families and friends, they packed up their seven children in an old Ford station wagon and moved to Huntington Beach, California.
When the youngest child started school, Jo returned to the workforce as a teacher's aide and then as school librarian until retiring in 1982.
Jo loved social activities with friends — cards (especially bridge), golf, bowling and dancing. She also enjoyed sewing, gardening and finding great buys at secondhand stores and antique shops.
Jo and Vern loved camping with their children and friends, from local weekend trips to all-summer excursions to Minnesota. Upon retirement, they bought a motorhome and spent many happy years traveling and camping in the U.S. and Canada.
Jo's fifth child, Mark, born with Down syndrome, brought forth a special kind of love and dedication. She advocated for what educational and living opportunities were available at a time when mainstreaming was not the norm. She volunteered at his school, adult activities and Special Olympics, ensuring quality of life for Mark until his passing in 1993. He is her special angel.
Jo's spiritual life revolved around the Catholic faith. After retirement, she volunteered at her church, spending most mornings with her friends coordinating funerals and other functions. She became a Eucharistic minister, loved attending retreats and made the pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Bosnia.
Her faith in the love of God, family and friends was her foundation. By example, she taught her children kindness, compassion and self-reliance. Jo was a wonderful mother and friend.
She valued her friendships most, forming lifelong bonds she happily maintained with visits, phone calls and letters. She traveled back to Minnesota every year to see her family and friends.
In 2005, again astonishing friends, Jo and Vern at age 82 moved to Sequim for the beauty and peaceful living of a smaller community. After 57 years of marriage, Vern passed away two years later.
Jo had been an avid walker throughout her life. Constantly energized and optimistic by nature, she enjoyed good health for 89 years. During the challenges of her last two years, she amazed me with her courage, her fortitude and her faith. She always felt and expressed gratitude for the help and kindness received from so many people.
She passed on at the age of 91. She was loved well and will be dearly missed.
She leaves behind sister Amy Klappenbach of Chaska, Minnesota, three half sisters and a half brother; sons Jim of Palmer, Alaska, and Patrick of Anchorage, Alaska; daughters Louise (David)Tiedeman of Soldotna, Alaska, Laurel (Willie) VanNostrand of Sequim and Mary Beth (Douglas) Laurell of Anchorage; four grandchildren; and countless nieces and nephews.
Going before her was daughter and son-in-law Linda and Bob Henricksen of Issaquah, Washington; son Mark of Huntington Beach; brothers Emery and Francis; and sisters Pearl, Violet and Mary, all of Minnesota.
A celebration-of-life service will be held at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, 121 East Maple Street in Sequim, on Monday, April 14, 2014, at 11 a.m. The rosary will recited beforehand at 10:30 a.m. A luncheon reception will follow to share stories, pictures and memories.
Published in The Peninsula Daily News on Apr. 9, 2014