After 3 decades in education, Janice McNelly focused her attention on voting rights
A Cubs fan, the "flower lady," husbands, wives, and more are part of the more than 1,400 Iowans lost COVID-19 as of early October 2020. Des Moines Register
Janice McNelly passed away in May after contracting COVID-19 in an Iowa nursing home. She was 79.
An English teacher and, later, school administrator, Janice McNelly spent much of her life as an early riser. But her deep love for a good mystery often kept her up until the wee hours of the morning.
Even after grading an 8-inch-thick stack of papers late into the night, sleep was of no consequence when she could get lost in the worlds of Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Stephen King and the other greats stacked up around her home. But she didn’t just enjoy reading: She analyzed, studied and wrote so much that by the time she ended her three-decade-long career, Janice had racked up some 150 continuing education credits, most in composition and literature.
And Janice used all that knowledge she spent years collecting to animate her classroom, creating young readers who no doubt blew through bedtime, flashlight in hand, getting lost in their own worlds.
“She just lived her life for others,” said her son, Trent McNelly. “She was not a selfish person, and whenever she could, she gave her time and money so that others would benefit.”
Janice died of COVID-19 at age 79 on May 8 in Cedar Falls. Battling Alzheimer’s disease for eight years, Janice lived in a care home where an outbreak struck quickly, Trent said.
Born in Ackley in 1941, Janice and her parents soon moved into town, where she graduated from Cedar Falls High School. She met and married her husband, Chester, in 1965 as she was studying teaching at the University of Northern Iowa.
After a few years raising her two children, Janice rejoined the workforce as a high school and special-education teacher in Minnesota. In 1978, the family moved to Alaska, where Janice continued to climb the educational ladder for 20 years, becoming vice president of North Pole Middle School and then the school district’s director of curriculum. Somehow, she also found time to be a cheerleading adviser and chaperone school sports trips.
"She managed my whole childhood, from second grade on,” Trent said. “She was always teaching in the same building where I was a student. I never had her as a teacher, but she was always right there keeping an eye on things.”
When Janice retired, she moved back to Iowa and searched for opportunities that would allow her to keep making a difference in her community.
A "staunch Democrat," according to her son, Janice became involved with the League of Women Voters and was passionate about returning voting rights to felons, among other causes.
When Trent had a child, his mom "latched right on to being a grandma,” he said.
"She was a genuine, warm person that cared about other people,” Trent said. She “went out of her way to help her friends whenever they needed anything.”
This story is part of the Iowa Mourns series, a collection of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at email@example.com.
Iowans lost to COVID-19
The following are deaths from COVID-19 added in the past week to our list of more than 300 Iowans who have died from the disease, found at DesMoinesRegister.com/IowaMourns.
Alonzo Adams II, 95, Davenport. Creator of the Slim Jim.
Phil Birk III, 83, Middle Amana. Loved trains and collecting railroad memorabilia.
Gilbert Bovard, 93, Clear Lake. Served on the Iowa District Court bench for 22 years.
Warren Coleman Bowlus, 90, Davenport. Served as athletic director for Davenport City Schools.
Milo Brokaw, 65, Monticello. Diehard fan of NASCAR's Kevin Harvick.
Ronnie Butler, 67, Montrose. Drove and competed in classic car shows.
Elmer Clausing, 96, Parkersburg. A lifelong farmer in Bremer County.
Alvin Darling, 88, Decorah. Worked as a maintenance man at Luther College and as a truck driver for Featherlite.
James Dixon, 93, Waterloo. Put himself through college working as a metallurgist at John Deere.
Shirley Doornbos, 85, Coralville. Was always lucky, especially when playing bingo.
Richard Duclos, 89, Muscatine. Rode a boat across the Mississippi River each day to attend grade school.
Marian Dyer, 87, Davenport. Worked as a secretary at Augustana College.
Jean Fuller, 96, Mount Pleasant. Raised show horses with her husband.
Marguerite Ganoe, 102, Stuart. Loved playing with her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
David Gierlus, 67, Iowa City. A doctor at the University of Iowa who taught respiratory therapy at Black Hawk College.
John Grzybowski, 76, Urbandale. Loved puttering with his bonsai trees and playing video games with his sons.
Larry Johnson, 83, Charles City. Was student council president at Harvard University.
Melvin Johnson, 84, Packwood. A gifted cattleman who farmed his whole life.
Louie Kopsas, 89, Doon. Took the train from Doon to Sioux Center on weekends to see movies as a child.
Jerry Lang, 74, Waterloo. Founded Lang's Home Maintenance.
Chester Franklin Lief Jr., 75, Wyoming. Enjoyed mushroom hunting.
Lucy Lorence, 96, Oskaloosa. Found time for PTA, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and raising money for the debate team while working two jobs.
John Marino, 68, Clear Lake. An avid rider of both bicycles and motorcycles.
Bart Mason, 52, Coralville. Came back every year to his hometown of Slater to help his dad with the Fourth of July Fireworks.
Harry McBride, 89, Anamosa. An active member of the Iowa Funeral Directors Association, directing funerals for more than 60 years.
Lyle Minnick, 86, Kellerton. Met his wife at the Mount Ayr skating rink when he was 16 years old.
Judy Minnick, 84, Kellerton. Drove go-carts and four-wheelers around the farm with her children and grandchildren.
Sister Marianne Nehus, 67, Johnston. Honored by Gov. Tom Vilsack for her service on the Disabilities Policy Council.
Dorothy Norton, 98, Iowa City. Worked for Great Western Railroad while her husband served in World War II.
Jean Smith Payne, 88, Mason City. Gave a handmade quilt to every family member.
Barbara Prenosil, 101, Nevada. Worked for the Department of Environmental Quality in Iowa.
Beverly Russell, 82, Newton. Loved chocolate Cokes from Bigelow’s restaurant.
Phillip Saunders, 80, Cedar Rapids. A firefighter for three decades.
Franklin Delano Seitzinger, 86, Sioux City. Known in the agriculture industry for wearing his "big deal boots."
Bill Smith, 90, Moulton. Served in an English medical base during the Korean War.
Judy Stevens, 77, Cedar Rapids. Won awards as a successful real estate agent.
Gary Stevens, 82, Cedar Rapids. Loved his 1970 Monte Carlo.
Nina Stull, 89, Centerville. Loved showing off her great-grandchildren to other residents in her nursing center.
Lisa Upah, 56, Keystone. Lived just a few houses away from her daughters and grandson.
Raymond Van Dyk, 91, Pella. Constructed handmade wooden toy cars for Indigenous children in dozens of countries.
June Welsch, 83, Muscatine. Could be found most days at local cafes visiting with friends.
Betty Winterfeld, 87, Hawarden. The quilts she and her friends made now warm people around the world.
Chuck Wyatt, 83, George. A veterinarian for many farm animals across Iowa.
June Zirkelbach, 96, Monticello. Played the organ at Scotch Grove Presbyterian Church.