521 East Main Street | Niles, MI | 49120
Obituary of Janet Personette
Janet Anne Personette
September 24, 1945 – October 6, 2018
Janet Anne Personette, 73, of Niles, passed away peacefully at her daughter, Pauline Hyatt’s, home on Saturday, October 6, 2018, with her family by her side.
Jan was born on September 24, 1945, in New York City and at the age of about 6 months, she was adopted by Paul and Pauline (Hefner) Steele. When Jan was about 9 years old she and her parents moved from South Bend, Indiana to the Twin Lakes area in Dowagiac, Michigan. She graduated from Dowagiac Union High School in 1964. She moved to Chicago in her early 20’s, living there only a few years. Moving back to Dowagiac in 1966. Jan went on to wed Joseph “Ted” Kella and raised two children, Teddi and Reeni. The two later divorced and Jan wed Richard Personette and the couple had one son, Trenton Andrew Personette.
She remained there, raising her two daughters. She was a school bus driver for Dowagiac Schools for 18 years and a member of the Twin Lakes Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary. In 1986 Jan moved to Long Island, New York with her son, where she lived until 1990. Jan and her son then moved to Huntington, Indiana, but they did not remain there long. Just two years later, in October 1992 Jan moved to Niles, to live with her daughter, Teddi, and her love of Niles began! She worked at WNIL part-time up until about 6 months before her death.
Anyone who knew Jan knew she was unpretentious and loved the color purple. I am sure she is in Heaven campaigning to have purple wings. You would instantly know this because she most likely would be wearing the color from head to toe, literally, every single day. She was affectionately known as the “Purple Lady”. Many would say that you could tell Jan was a community activist because within a few minutes, of meeting her, she would have probably tried to recruit you for a cause. She is most likely up in Heaven already asking someone to help with a cause or asking them for a donation sporting her purple coat and purple hat. You could also tell that she was a passionate, unconventional, woman who had a fire in her soul. Jan was a champion for Niles and the south county area. Her family said Jan would tell them, “You should watch the news at six tonight.” And they would tune in and find out she was being interviewed about something. She attended any meeting she could, she put everything she had into her little town. Yet, no one knows the extent of every activity she did, because she was never one to brag or boast about the wonderful things she had accomplished.
Jan’s love of history drew her to become an early member of the local interest group, Support the Fort, Inc., which helped sponsor a major archaeological excavation on the Fort St. Joseph site, which began in 2002. Jan volunteered at many of the Fort Saint Joseph archaeological events, open houses, and outdoor museums. She was also an active participant in Rendezvous events as a re-enactor, dressing as an 18th-century woman, and she participated in the living history village. Her son, Trenton, would participate with her. Gradually Jan’s interests and volunteerism spread to a number of groups, organizations, and causes in the Niles community. We really don’t know when she slept… Since 1992 she has been an active force in the community. She was a board member for the Ferry Street Resource Center, a member for the past 8 years of the Niles Optimist Club—a board member and even becoming president of the Niles Optimist Club in Oct 2017 but she had step down due to her illness in March 2018, Four Flag Area Chamber of Commerce—Where Jan was a 2015 Volunteer of the Year Nominee and received the 2015 Niles Voice of Care Award, Berrien HRN, Berrien County Democratic Women’s Group, Downtown Development Authority, Elder Care Alliance, Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery—She was one of the early members where she spent countless hours photographing headstones, transcribing obituaries, and helping the public with searches, Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Project—she was responsible for getting the new, larger, granite monument near the Fort Saint Joseph archaeological site erected and donors to pay for it. Hunter Ice Festival, Niles Community Development—where she passionately worked to someday have “tiny houses” made available in Niles, Niles Community Gardens, Niles History Center/Fort St. Joseph Museum, Friends of Niles District Library—where Jan was credited with the idea for the Historical Marker postcard set with QR codes on them to lead to a map of the historical marker’s location, Niles-Buchanan YMCA, Niles Salvation Army, South County Democrats, and the United Way—Where Jan received an award that recognized her efforts to serve the Niles community.
When it came to speaking up for the Niles community Jan was a self-proclaimed “squeaky wheel” and challenged city and state leaders to do more for the constituents. She would call and write legislators and attend meetings when possible to get her point across. In 2016 she influenced the county treasurer to open up an office in the south county courthouse for better access to Berrien County residents in the Niles area of the county. Jan was also a well-known advocate to State Senator John Proos. She attended Niles City Council meetings for many years and worked at voting locations during elections. Her family affectionately called her the “mini mayor” because she always knew what was going on in town. The real mayor, Nick Shelton said, "I was told early on, 'You need to have the Purple Lady on your side!' And that's when I met Jan."
Throughout her life, she had many other passions, along with her purple passion. When she needed a blood transfusion in September she stated that she donated 11 gallons of blood throughout her lifetime. She was a talented artist—she loved to make unique homemade presents. She loved to read and was a member of the Foodies Book Club. She had an acting bug and participated in local plays. She adored her grandkids—even the ones she didn’t see often. She loved family history and she was an active member of FindAGrave.com. She was a Chicago Cubs fan, had been to a number of games, and yelled at the TV too many times to remember! GO CUBBIES!
She was preceded in death by her parents; sister, Mary Rose Steele; her dogs, Cookie, Dandelion, and Tess; and good friend, Theadora Esther Neumann, whom she named her oldest daughter after.
Jan is survived by her children, Theadora “Teddi” (Albert Fuller) Kella of Niles, Pauline “Reeni” (Larry) Hyatt of Niles, and Trenton (Sandie Kohltfarber) Personette of Coeur’ d'Alene, Idaho; grandchildren, Taylor, Alexi Fuller, Dale, Cloey, Aaren, and Kaleb; granddogs, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Shady, and Dudley; brother, John (Janice DeRosa) Steele of Mineola, New York; close personal friends, Pat Rockhill and Gloria “Jean” Watson as well as many extended family members and friends.
To show support of Jan and her purple passion, everyone is encouraged to wear purple to Jan’s visitation and funeral. Visitation will be on Wednesday, October 10, 2018, at Brown Funeral Home from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. Funeral service and celebration of Jan’s life will be held on Thursday, October 11th at Brown Funeral Home at 11:00 a.m.
A funeral fund has been set up to help Jan’s children and in lieu of flowers donations may be made by calling the funeral home, mail a donation to 521 East Main Street, Niles or by visiting https://fundthefuneral.com/jan-personette
A potlock luncheon will be held immediately after the service at the Niles Public Library.
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