It’s not everyone who gets to tell their life story, and certainly not everyone who waits until they’re 100 to do so. But that’s exactly what Joyce Kane did in the last year of her life. She related her life story to a writer who turned it into a short book, before she passed away peacefully in her sleep on April 29, 45 days after her 100th birthday, which she celebrated last March 15. As she put it: “It’s been a long hard road!” Some of the highlights:
Helen Joyce McNorton Kane was born to Elbert and Ora (Gibson) McNorton on a farm outside Valley Falls, Kansas, a farm without electricity, running water, or even an outhouse (until Joyce’s mother insisted that her father build one!). She grew up with her two sisters, Betty and Doris. Joyce attended Westward School, a one-room schoolhouse that had one teacher for all 8 grades. There was a wood burning stove in the middle and water had to be brought in by bucket.
She experienced several hardships early on: her family house and barn burning completely down, killing all the livestock; her sister Doris becoming ill as a young child, falling into a coma, and requiring constant care at home until passing away at age 27; and growing up in the Great Depression.
Joyce started Valley Falls High School in 1931; her graduating class in 1935 had 30 students. She met her future husband during high school, at age 16. John Kane came from Rock Creek, Kansas, where he went to Rock Creek High School, and his parents ran the general store, JJ Kane General Merchandise. After high school, she thought about becoming a teacher, but tuition was too expensive at K-State, where John went. She learned that she could attend Kansas State Teacher’s College at Emporia for $32 a semester, and get a teaching certificate there. To support herself through college, she worked as a live-in cook and cleaner at a boarding house.
After getting her teaching certificate, she taught at three county schools around Valley Falls, where her duties included more than teaching: “We still had to haul in our water every day. We had to build and tend to fires in the stove to keep the school room warm.” Some of the school children were driven to school on the “kiddie wagon,” a horse-drawn open-aired wagon that they would heat in the winter with warm bricks left near the fireplace. Joyce would occasionally ride on the wagon, which was driven by Don Weaver, who later would marry Mary Marie, sister of John Kane.
In 1939, Joyce traveled by train to California to visit relatives who lived there. When John Kane learned of this, he borrowed money from his father, bought an engagement ring, and got hired to drive a car to California as a way to get there. He met up with Joyce in Los Angeles, and took a cruise on the SS Rex, a gambling ship, from the Santa Monica pier. While in international waters, he proposed to her, and she accepted. Their wedding took place on August 4th, 1940 at her parent’s home in Swabville, Kansas.
After John finished college in 1941, they lived and worked in Ann Arbor, Michigan (where they moved to earn an extra $5 a week in salary). But they soon moved back to Kansas, and into an apartment on December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. During the war, Joyce taught school and worked at Forbes Air Force Base, and John served in the Army Air Corps, and then the infantry. They also had their first daughter, Linda. John eventually shipped off to the European front, landing on May 6, 1945. Germany surrendered the next day. As 6-foot-1 John put it: “They heard Big John was coming.” John stayed on in Europe for post-war assignments, sending Joyce presents of Bavarian china and a gold bracelet from Paris, and returning home to Kansas with a bottle of French champagne to celebrate his reunion with Joyce, which they spent at the President Hotel in downtown Kansas City.
After the war, Joyce and John settled in Topeka. John worked as the auditor for the Hotel Jayhawk, the pre-eminent hotel in Topeka. He worked there 30 years and eventually became manager. Life was good, but not without difficulties, such as the great flood of 1951 that devastated Topeka, especially North Topeka. Joyce’s parents’ home there had six feet of mud that took months to clear. Like many older Topekans, Joyce and John lived through the tornado of 1966 that leveled large parts of the city.
Joyce and John’s family grew, adding Larry and Pattie. Larry initially had difficulty learning to read. Joyce put her teaching skills to work, and spent many hours teaching him to read phonetically. That turned the corner for Larry, who eventually earned two master’s degrees in business and finance, and became a very successful banker. Linda went on to become a nurse, and Pattie got a degree in social work from Washburn University. She has been part of a group working to restore the historic Jayhawk Theater.
Joyce and John were longtime members of the Central Congregational Church, and later the First Congregational Church. “We made some of our very best friends there. These were friendships that lasted a lifetime.”
In 1974, at the age of 56, Joyce decided to open her own business, Kane Alteration, located in a corner shop of the Hotel Jayhawk, which she successfully ran for nearly 25 years! More recently, 2013 was a tough year for Joyce; John died suddenly on March 15—Joyce’s 95 birthday, just short of his 95th birthday, between the KU and K-State basketballs games they were watching during March Madness. Larry died 3 months later, following a battle with colon cancer.
After that, Joyce continued to live at home until late last year, when she fell, broke her hip, and eventually moved into Oakley Place Adult Care. There, she celebrated her 100th birthday on March 15 with family and friends, including being interviewed for the evening news on channel 13, WIBW: http://www.wibw.com/content/news/Topekan-Joyce-Kane-celebrates-100th-birthday-477190113.html. When the reporter asked how she got to live so long, she replied, “Day by day.” Words to live by.
Joyce is survived by two children: Linda Siwek and Patricia Kane, and is predeceased by her son Larry Kane. She leaves seven grandchildren: David Williams, Mark Williams, Meredith Kane, Jenny Kane, Sarah Morgan, Thomas Morgan, and Sally Dorrell; six great-grandchildren: Calvin Williams, Clara Williams, Madelyn Williams, Shelby Evans, Patsy Morgan, and Rosalee Morgan; and many other family members, far and wide.
The family will receive friends during a visitation from 10:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 12, 2018 at Mount Hope Cemetery & Funeral Chapel, 4700 SW 17th Street, Topeka. A funeral service will be held at 11:00 a.m. Burial will follow in Mount Hope Cemetery.
Penwell-Gabel Mid-Town Chapel is assisting the family. To leave a special message for the family please click the "Share Memories" button above.