SPIRIT LAKE - Ellen (Conway) Johnson, daughter of Ambrose and Josephine (Wycoff) Conway, was born in Estherville, Iowa, in 1925, where she lived most of her life. She was married to Kenneth Johnson in 1946. After Kenneth completed his degree at the Chicago School of Optometry, they returned to Estherville where Ellen was a stay-at-home mother of five, something she claimed to be her greatest accomplishment.
Ellen was dedicated to the Lord. She was active in her church as cantor, youth choir director, organist, guitarist, and as music director at St. Patrick's Parish for 29 years. In addition, she assisted in a variety of roles in three other parishes, St. Mary's in Spirit Lake, Iowa, and St. Justin and San Pedro parishes in Key Largo, Florida. She worshiped the Lord all through her life. At the age of five, Ellen first began using her spiritual gift of music by performing Ave Maria for her brother's First Communion; and as a finale sang the Ave Maria for her last solo at the Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland in 2008.
As her children entered college, so did Ellen. She received her A.A. Degree from Iowa Lakes Community College in 1970, her B.S. Degree in Elementary Education from Mankato State University in 1973, and her M.S. Degree in Special Education from Mankato State University in 1976. She developed the learning disabilities program, and worked with elementary and middle school students at Estherville Lincoln Central Community Schools, and then went on to work with students at Iowa Lakes Community College. She assisted students of all ages in their learning, and inspired lifelong learning in all who knew her.
Ellen gave back to her community and showed her caring in a variety of ways. She did volunteer work for the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and other local causes. She was a charter board member for the Estherville Meals on Wheels and continued for many years. She started the Ecumenical Choir in Estherville in 1978.
In 1980, at the age of 55, Ellen began oil painting and watercolor workshops, taking at least one workshop every summer at the Pearson Lakes Art Center, and workshops each winter in Key Largo, Florida. Less than three weeks before her death, the Arts on Grand Jury Committee in Spencer, Iowa selected and displayed 50 of Ellen's paintings at a Special Art Exhibition.
Ellen found joy in her church, music, art, education, nature (especially Spirit Lake), bird watching, reading, learning, technology (including her iPad), and especially her family.
Ellen is survived by her five children, Nancy (Bill) Sanderson of Spirit Lake, Gregory Johnson of Estherville, Constance Cloak of Denver, Colorado, Deb (Jim) Bastian of New Ulm, Minnesota, and Jeff Johnson of Louisville, Kentucky; sister, Pat (Don) Alcott of Belton, Missouri; nine grandchildren: Jen (Todd), Brad (Sheree), Jess (Matt), Cory, Nathan (Jenn), Kevin, Laura (Derek), Adam and Martha; and eight great-grandchildren: Alec, Jordyn, Ryer, Cail, Stella, Beckett, Sienna and Henry, and many nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents; her husband; brother, Clarence Conway; sister, Alice Koehler; grandson, Alyas Karem; and great-grandson, Gavin Donkersloot.
A funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, December 18, 2013, at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Spirit Lake. Visitation will be held Tuesday, from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m., with a Rosary at 4 p.m. and a Vigil for the Deceased at 7 p.m. at the Schuchert Funeral Home. Burial will be at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Estherville. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given to Iowa Lakes Community College or Estherville Lincoln Central Community Schools.