Norma Jean Willsher was born on September 4, 1922, to Alfred Norman and Vera Malinda (Davis) Jacobson in Jackson County, MN. Throughout her life, she was known to many as Jean or Jeanie. Her father and mother farmed near Windom, MN, where they raised two children, Lawrence and Jean. Jean attended country schools at District 70 in Delafield Township and Ewington Consolidated School, before entering high school in Okabena, MN. In 1938, she attended Worthington High School in Worthington, MN and graduated in 1940.
After World War II began, Jean wanted to help with the war effort. When she graduated in 1940, her dad took her to Omaha, NE, where she attended school to prepare herself for working in the new airline industry. Following completion, she moved to Dayton, OH, and began working for Trans World Airlines (TWA) as a teletype operator at Wrightfield Air Base and Air Service Command from 1941-1943. She then moved to Vandalia, OH and continued working for TWA, as a secretary to the assistant station manager until 1945. She loved her work and the time she spent in Ohio. Jean lived with several other women who were working for the airline industry, and they became lifelong friends.
During WWII, Jean wrote letters to Charles “Charlie” Willsher, a man she met while she was in high school, who worked for Lewis Drug in Windom, MN. After the war was over, Charlie returned to Windom. On January 25, 1946, Jean married Charlie, and they lived in a local apartment house. While raising one daughter, Janelle Kaye, Jean worked as a bookkeeper in several local businesses to help pay for the new home that she and Charlie purchased and renovated. Her first job during her married life was with Dr. Sogge and Dr. Stratte. She took 4-year-old Janelle with her to work, gave her a coloring book and crayons to play with, and proceeded to do her bookkeeping work for the doctors. The doctors were very accepting of this arrangement and were kind and welcoming to Janelle. The same arrangement was made when Jean worked at Cranes Furniture Store, as day care did not exist for children in the 1950s. However, there was kindergarten as far back as 1950, and that helped to relieve some of the mothers of their watchful duties.
Janelle was the light of Jean’s life, and she spent a great deal of time teaching Janelle how to be independent and take care of herself. They loved to play together. Many hours were spent playing cards and board games, as well as making doll clothes. Jean saw to it that as an only child, Janelle had many friends and outlets. Jean became a co-leader of the Brownie Scouts and took all the Brownies on their first train ride from Windom to Worthington. Children were always welcome in the Willsher household, and the house, yard, neighborhood, and area west of Highway 60, were the playground. Jean and other moms collectively looked out for the roaming children.
Throughout her life, Jean enjoyed the homemaking arts. She excelled in sewing, knitting, ceramics, and Hardanger embroidery. She gifted many others with her handwork and was often found with a needle in hand. She enjoyed exchanging recipes with friends and trying out new recipes for her family. In her later years, she could be found at home working on a puzzle or riding around the countryside with her daughter, while searching for wildlife and drinking a caramel latte.
Jean was a member of the United Methodist Church, the VFW, and the American Legion Auxiliary. After retirement, she and Charlie were involved in several community service organizations including the Telephone Pioneers and Meals on Wheels. She and Charlie, along with other Pioneers, made teddy bears to give to the local sheriff’s department for kids who were in accidents.
Jean resided at the Good Samaritan Society-Sogge Memorial in Windom since 2016. She passed away peacefully at the age of 100 years old on December 20, 2022.
Jean is survived by her loving daughter, Janelle Kaye. She was preceded in death by her husband, Charles; her father; her brother, Lawrence; and her mother who lived to be 101 years old.
Jean’s life was one of service to her country and to her family, friends, and community. Blessed be the memory of Jean Willsher.
Services for Jean will be held at a later date.
“I dream of a society at peace with its conscience because it respects and lives in harmony with all life forms.”