CLAIRE JOHNSON KANNEGIESER
July 6, 1934 to June 4, 2016
A feisty, independent thinker
In vital ways, Claire Johnson Kannegieser represented a time when friendship—like marriage—was for life. A vivacious Boston girl, whose universe was defined by her adored family and the friends she made in kindergarten, Claire was also a feisty, independent thinker, who, at age fourteen, rejected her parents’ extremely conservative religious views—no dancing, cards or movies—preferring a less “narrow path” to being a good Christian. She never regretted joining the Quincy Baptist Church. Nor did she regret marrying a Catholic, Frank Kannegieser, a handsome investment banker who insisted they wed in a Catholic ceremony.
In the end, she became a Lutheran.
A mind of her own
Wife, mother, sister and cherished friend, Claire Kannegieser—who lavished love and acceptance wherever she went—died, ironically, from the results of Alzheimer’s disease in Hingham, MA on Saturday, June 4, 2016. She was 82.
Born July 6, 1934, to Harry G. Johnson, an insurance salesman, and Ebba Peterson, a homemaker, Claire was the fifth of six children. Raised in a small bungalow in Milton, MA, she had to negotiate her place among two sisters and three brothers, graduating from Milton High School, in 1951. There Claire’s story departs from most, in that the friends she graduated with—girls she had met in kindergarten—remained thick as thieves until the end.
As adults, the friends called their regular get-togethers “Club.” Whether at a fine Boston restaurant, or at the South Shore Plaza Food Court, meetings involved lively discussions about husbands, children, issues of the day—and gossip. Claire loved to gossip. Although, according to son John Kannegieser of Los Angeles, CA, “it was never malicious.”
Many of those girlhood chums, including Janet Walsh, Elinor Stein and Marilyn Harris, brought Claire precious companionship and cheer during good times and bad, including when her beloved husband of fifty-two years died of cancer, in 2010. And soon after, when her infectious personality and strong identity began to deteriorate from Alzheimer’s. Her childhood friends would appear at her assisted-living home, and voila! A smile of recognition.
Lucy and Ethel
Claire’s sister, Dorothy Flett of Hingham, MA, was another fiercely devoted mainstay; the two loved to shop, antique hunt and plan dinner parties. Claire’s son John labeled the pair “Lucy and Ethel” after the madcap friends in the I Love Lucy TV show. He thought of his Aunt Dorothy as Lucy, and his mom as Ethel. “They’d fight occasionally but always got over it,” he said.
John’s gratitude to his Aunt Dorothy, who faithfully visited her sister in the last difficult years and reached across the miles to console and, knows no bounds.
In 1954, Claire was swept off her feet by Frank Kannegieser at a dance in Norwood. Ironically, when Claire first met Frank at the bank where both worked, she thought him a nerd. But that night in Norwood, when he asked her to dance, everything changed. She was in love!
Due to Frank’s Catholicism, Claire’s parents were strenuously opposed to their marriage. Claire’s father was so outraged that he refused to attend the wedding. Harry deigned to show up at the reception, however, but never apologized for not walking his daughter down the aisle.
True to character, Claire never blamed him or held a grudge. “It was a different time,” she would say. Still, Claire let it be known, in her wry fashion, that she didn’t appreciate the way some religious individuals judged people and “knew who was going to heaven and who wasn’t.”
Quick to forgive
Claire and Frank had two children: Joan, born in 1960, and, eleven years later in, 1971, a son, John. The personification of unconditional love, Claire spoiled both kids, yet she recognized the need for discipline. She spared no expense on her children’s clothes, presents and birthday parties. Holidays meant huge formal dinners and the best china. The kids would tease, “So this is why we have a dining room!” A perfectionist, she was scrupulous that everything be served piping hot.
The kids almost always had pets: a German Shephard, Tasha, and a Basset Hound, Roscoe, plus two cats, Rudy and Granny. John will never forget the mutt Claire rescued from the animal shelter after Roscoe died. “He pooped all over her oriental rugs, so she brought [the dog] back to the ASPCA before we woke up. I don’t think I talked to her for a week.”
Although Frank and Claire retired to a condo in the last years, the family lived in a succession of increasingly nicer homes in Hanover while the kids were growing up. They spent summers (from 1977 to 2001) at their summer cottage in Cape Cod, magical times spent entertaining guests and feasting on lobster and barbecue dinners. An enthusiastic tour guide, Claire reveled in showing out-of-town family members and friends around Boston and the Cape. She marveled at the beauty of historic Route 6-A on the Cape (The Old King’s Highway) and loved the architecture and beauty of Boston.
Mrs. Butterworth syrup bottles
Her homes reflected her tastes, wonderful combinations of Ethan-Allen-type furniture, oriental rugs, antiques, and lots of Nantucket baskets. She collected Hummel figurines, Lladros, even Mrs. Butterworth syrup bottles. It always cracked John up when she excused the amber-glass collection by saying, “They may be worth something someday.” Comfort was the objective, especially the TV room, where she and Frank watched All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore and Lawrence Welk. She loved to curl up with a Danielle Steel novel, or read her slew of newspapers: the Boston Globe, Patriot Ledger, Cape Codder, and the Hanover Mariner.
Although she wasn’t into politics, Claire could be described as a RINO, her son said, meaning “Republican in Name Only … and more on the economic side than social issues.” John, a “hard-core Democrat”, used to “banter” with his mother over politics, he said, only to be shocked, if proud, when both parents voted for Barack Obama, in 2008.
After high school, Claire couldn’t wait to get a job so she could buy nice clothes. She worked at the Massachusetts Banker’s Association in Boston until her first child came along, returning to the Association as an Administrative Assistant twenty-five years later, in 1985, and retiring in 1994. Eternally responsible and on-time, she was proud of her job and universally adored at the bank.
A social butterfly, Claire loved parties, but never with a drink in her hand. That Baptist Evangelicals “frowned upon alcohol” was something she admired about her Baptist roots. Whether bird-watching in Maine, or sightseeing in Europe, her way was to live in the moment and fashion a world where everyone was enthusiastically celebrated and welcomed—her husband, children, parents, sisters, brothers and friends treasured above all else.
Accepting of herself as she was of others
Small of stature, only 5-foot-1, Claire tended toward plumpness, her self-image never the slightest bit tarnished by extra weight. She was as accepting of herself as she was of others. Her Swedish/Danish ancestry reflected in her blond hair and bright blue eyes, she spoke with a strong Boston accent, which gave extra punch to wry asides, as well as compliments. A conservative dresser, she wore gold jewelry and especially treasured her diamond-and blue-sapphire wedding ring. She wouldn’t leave the house without her red lipstick on.
Travel was another passion. The Kannegiesers, who often vacationed in Florida, explored the US, as well as Hawaii, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and England. Claire visited her son in California as often as possible, and the two would go to movies and concerts. Her favorite trip was when she and Frank celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in California. They flew to the Bay Area and drove down the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles, visiting along the way Solvang (Claire loved the replica Danish town), Santa Barbara, and Hearst Castle. They had a top-notch dinner at Maestro’s Steakhouse on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
The epitome of thoughtfulness, Claire went so far as to visit her neighbor’s parents in nursing homes, wanting to make sure they knew they were loved and not forgotten. The Kannegiesers sponsored a girl in Korea for years, and Claire also devoted time to the Lutheran Church Parsonage Committee, the Hanover Garden Club and a short stint with the Sheep Pond Beach Association, for which she once orchestrated a bizarre to raise money to pay for private roads and beach maintenance.
If she was disappointed at never having experienced grandchildren, she never held it against her kids. “She would have been a terrific grandmother,” John said. Instead, she lavished her attention on lots of nieces and nephews. She was especially close to her sister Dorothy’s children, including Jane, Janet (Bambi), Billy and John. The kids will never forget how they loved coming over to Claire’s house when they were young and their trips with her to the Cape.
Claire is survived by her daughter, Joan Kannegieser of Marshfield, MA and son, John Kannegieser of Los Angeles, CA; sisters Dorothy J. Flett of Hingham and Elaine Donica of Spring, TX; brothers Paul Johnson (and his wife Margaret) of Lewiston, ME and David Johnson (and his wife, Gail) of Milton, MA. She is predeceased by husband Frank Kannegieser; also her brother, H. Gilbert Johnson of Portland, OR, and her parents, Harry G. Johnson and Ebba P. Johnson.
A celebration of life was held at the House of Prayer Lutheran Church in Hingham, MA, followed by a reception at the Links Club in Quincy, MA.
The family requests that donations may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, in the name of Claire Kannegieser.