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Johna McNeill Henningsen '45

Johna Henningsen passed away peacefully in her sleep on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013. Johna was born in 1922, the first child of Naomi and George McNeill; she and her brother Ken grew up in Rochester, N.Y. In 1940, Johna enrolled at Antioch College, a progressive work-study college in Ohio, planning to pursue a medical career. It was during this time that the tall, slender platinum blonde met the wildly handsome Frederick Henningsen '46 from Butte, MT. Both families were curious and not a little worried about the instant attraction between the elegant, reserved Easterner and the rakish cowboy (who had to trade the Army Air Corps for college after a badly broken leg, thanks to an ornery horse). When World War II effectively shut down Antioch College, Johna decided to eschew further formal education and throw in her lot with Fred. And what a lot it was! After marrying in 1943, they worked on a ranch in Montana before moving to Seattle, where Fred built B-29s at Boeing. After the war they returned to Montana, where Fred got a graduate degree at UM and joined the business faculty there. The family (which grew to three kids: Ken, Christopher and Wendy) enjoyed living in faculty housing at Fort Missoula for four years until they scraped up enough money to make a down payment on a house next to the university. Although 801 E. Beckwith would be “home” for more than 50 years, no sooner had they bought it in 1956 than they upped stakes when Fred took a teaching job in Karachi, Pakistan. Both Johna and Fred enjoyed traveling, and the family's five years in Pakistan included two trips with many stops around the world, extensive travels through Pakistan, India and Kashmir, and two month-long camping adventures in Europe. They returned to Missoula in 1962 and settled down once more to UM faculty life for a decade before the traveling bug bit again and they were off to another overseas teaching stint in Wellington, New Zealand, for two years. Johna took up spinning and weaving during this sojourn and produced many lovely pieces. Wendy joined them and finished college in Wellington, subsequently marrying Kiwi Ian Blackman and emigrating permanently to New Zealand. After Fred retired in 1984, he and Johna became the ultimate snowbirds - usually packing up at the first hint of Montana winter and heading for New Zealand summer. They based themselves in Rotorua, Wendy and Ian's hometown, but spent weeks at a time traveling New Zealand in a camper van they dubbed The Sow's Ear. Johna and Fred were avid readers and bridge players, and they whiled away many pleasant hours on those pursuits. Johna also had a green thumb, and her summer garden was ablaze with lovely blooms, the patio overflowed with petunias, and morning glories climbed the stucco walls. The very private backyard of 801 was a favorite spot, with Fred's lush lawn, Johna's lovely flowers and Mt. Sentinel rising in the background. It was a great setting for many family meals out on the patio, with the sprinklers on for “air conditioning.” When Fred died in 2007, Johna moved to The Springs at Missoula, where her cozy independent apartment was well-decorated with memorabilia from her life and travels with Fred and family. Besides tending her deck garden, she continued to indulge her passion for reading and bridge. Always something of a technophobe, she nonetheless learned how to use a computer and kept in touch with her far-flung family by email and Skype. Johna was an involved and enlightened mother; her children always knew they were thoroughly loved. Each of her kids inherited her Scots ways, but she trumped them all. When moving from 801 to The Springs, Wendy remembers battling with her about moving a tiny jar from her home freezer to her (much smaller) Springs freezer. The contents? A quarter of an egg white. “It might be useful for glazing something,” she argued. To be fair, she was a fantastic cook, and no one can make “Grandma's rolls” quite like she did. Johna leaves behind three loving children and their families: Ken and Jean of Apple Valley, Minn., (and grandchildren Eric and Ingrid); Christopher and Mary Ellen of Missoula (and grandchildren Megan and Bromley); and Wendy and Ian Blackman of Rotorua, New Zealand (and grandchildren Sam and Elsie). She also lived to greet seven great-grandchildren. She will be sorely missed by her whole family. A memorial gathering is planned for next summer, when Johna's ashes will join her beloved Frederick's at a favorite spot near Butte. It's been six long years since Johna has seen her handsome cowboy. Time to ride off into the sunset for yet another adventure with him.