Lois Jorgensen Kelshaw was born on May 26, 1926 in Morristown, NJ to Arthur and Mildred Jorgensen. Her younger brother Charlie was born six years after Lois in 1932.
Their Dad Arthur, the son of Danish emigrants, was a hardworking plumber, but times were hard and the family didn’t have much money. In a time in this country in which the races were usually segregated, the Jorgensen family lived in an integrated neighborhood in Morristown and Lois and her brother had African-American friends at whose houses they would have sleepovers. The family attended the Morristown Methodist church, where Lois started Sunday School at the age of four. Later she would sing in the choir. In high school Lois worked part time at Greenberger’s Department Store.
Lois graduated from Morristown High School in 1944 in the midst of World War II. She grieved for classmates who went off to war and never came back. Lois had considered going to nursing school, but instead went to work at Bell Labs in Berkley Heights, moving shortly afterwards to Ciba in Summit. The father of her dear friend Jean hired Lois to work alongside Jean in the office of his company called “Swain’s Automatic.” Sadly, Jean was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Lois faithfully visited her daily until the day she died.
After Jean’s death Lois continued to work for Jean’s father, as well as for Mr. Hamilton who had an electric company and shared office space with Swain’s Automatic.
Lois got married, but the marriage was a miserable one and lasted only four years. Divorced at a time when divorce was not so common, Lois felt quite alone and unhappy, and angry at God and she stopped attending church.
A young man by the name of Jack Kelshaw would call the office where Lois worked and say, “Hello, Chickadee!” They would chat, but they never met in person until Lois was surprised to discover that Jack was the best man in a wedding party in which she was a bridesmaid. Soon afterwards they began dating. Jack lived in Mt. Tabor with his parents. They dated for four years before marrying. They might have married earlier, but Jack was adamant that they had to find a church they could belong to — one in which Lois would feel comfortable.
So Jack and Lois visited many churches before ending up at the “little white church on the hill” — the Parsippany Methodist Church. Lois was deeply touched by the warm welcome she and Jack received there. They were finally married in Lois’ parents’ house on August 16, 1958 by Rev. Walton who personally embroidered their wedding license. Rev. Walton and his wife took a special affection towards Lois and Jack, “adopting” them as their own children.
And so it was through God’s grace, manifest first through Jack, and then through the good folks at the Parsippany Methodist Church, that Lois once more drew close to God. A month after their wedding, during worship on September 21st, 1958 Lois and Jack professed their faith in the Lord, becoming members of the church.
Though this might be surprising to most of us, by her own accounting as a young person Lois had been rather shy, but Jack — who was quite the warm-hearted extrovert — drew Lois out of her shell. With Jack’s example and the warm embrace of the extended family Lois found in the church, Lois learned how to be the outgoing and kind-hearted woman we all would come to know and love – the person who never failed to be the first person to greet every newcomer who ever walked into our church.
It is striking how, if we allow God, the Holy Spirit will work through our suffering and disappointment. The heartbreak of Lois’ first, short-lived marriage was certainly not how Lois would ever have chosen to begin her adult life, and it led her into a time of darkness for sure. But it seems to me that it led to two beautiful things about Lois: first, her deep gratitude for the life and love she found with Jack. So often in life we don’t appreciate the blessings we have been given without having some kind of experience of going without the blessing. Lois had a very grateful heart.
The second thing going through that time of darkness did for Lois was to give her a profound sensitivity to what it feels like to be alone in this world – to be the outsider – which in turn made it possible for her to be such a sincerely warm and welcoming presence to the strangers in our midst. She knew how it felt to be alone and left out of the circle.
Following their wedding, Lois and Jack moved into the house on Lake Shore Drive in Lake Parsippany that they would call “home” for essentially the rest of their lives. Lois took a job working for Dr. Marias, a dentist nearby as his bookkeeper and receptionist.
Lois and Jack had wanted to have children, but it wasn’t to be.
But Lois and Jack took this disappointment and their desire to serve the Lord transformed it into something beautiful – the love they showered on so many others.
Jack took a job working as a custodian in the Parsippany School System, working in several different schools where through the years hundreds of school children would come to know him fondly as “Uncle Jack.” At Halloween hundreds of children would go out of their way to pay a visit to the home of Uncle Jack and Aunt Lois.
Lois and Jack became particularly appreciative of their nieces and nephews: of Mary Lou, Tim and Jane Marie – the three children of Lois’ brother Charlie and his wife Marion, and later their children and grandchildren as well: Jane, Greg, Caroline, Matthew, Anna, Christine, and Mary Kate, as well as to Jack’s nephew Alvie and niece Nancy, and Nancy’s grandchildren Franklin, Amy, Justin and Christal.
And of course, here at the church there were so many of us who found in Lois a second mother or grandmother, particularly those of us who had lost our mothers and grandmothers.
Lois and Jack adopted a puppy from a litter Lois’ brother Charlie had, and named her Daisy Mae. At some point Jack brought a stray cat home from school which they named Pumpkin. Daisy Mae and Pumpkin lived happily in the Kelshaw household for about thirteen years.
Doris and Tom Bradley and their daughter Barbara joined the church in 1966 and soon became the best of friends with Lois and Jack. Barbara was particularly fond of Daisy Mae. Lois, Doris, Jack, Tom and Barb were all innately joyful people, and together they shared many a good time with much laughter.
Sadly, Tom died suddenly of a heart attack in 1979, and it was Lois and Jack who went to break the news to Doris and Barb and to hold them in their time of grief.
Later, when Lois’s father died of emphysema, Lois’ mother asked if Jack and Lois would come live with her in her home in Morris Plains, and Jack said “absolutely.” So they rented out the house on Lake Shore Drive moved in with Lois’ mom so Lois and Jack could look after her mother.
It was there in 1989 that Jack suddenly died from a heart attack. Lois was moved by how many parents came with their school children to the funeral home to pay their respects to “Uncle Jack.”
Lois continued living in Morris Plains to care for her mother, who gradually required more and more attention. Over the course of thirteen years Lois would take her mother to the Presbyterian Church in Morris Plains where her mother was a member. During this time Lois missed seeing her church family, finding her mother’s church cold by comparison.
Throughout these years Doris and her mother Lee would come over and play Uno with Lois and her mother, and they had a lot of fun together.
Lois was also very close to Ken and Madeline Ormsbee and their children, Barry and Denise (White). She would go to their house each year for Easter dinner.
Lois lovingly nursed her mother when she got sick with cancer. When she died in 2002, Lois returned to the house in Lake Parsippany. When Jack had died, the companionship of her mother and the care she needed to some degree distracted Lois from her grief. Now she found herself feeling all alone. One Sunday morning, Lois sensed God saying to her: “Put on your clothes and go to back to your church home!” Lois was overjoyed by the reception she received upon her return. “Lois is back!” everybody cheered.
Over the course of 59 years of membership Lois’ involvements including pretty much everything. She sang in the choir and was active in the United Methodist Women. She taught Sunday school and took trips with the PUMAs. She helped out at fund raisers – Lois and Doris were always in charge of the dessert table at dinners. She played in the bell choir.
Lois was always up for fun – for instance, dressing up as Eve with Doris McDermott as Adam for a talent show, playing Sarah to Fred Coleman’s Sarah for a children’s sermon, dancing and lip synching as the “Cumberland Girls” with Doris, Marion Steen and Joy Frandsen. I even got Lois to act in one of my big Christmas plays just 3 ½ years ago at the age of 87. She stole the show essentially playing herself.
Lois attended Bible studies where some of us fondly remember her repeated exasperation with how the Bible can be so confusing and how people lose track of the basic message that God loves us and we should love one another – love everybody – like Jesus told us to do.
When people become members of our church, they are invited to choose a sponsoring member to stand with them at the altar on the day they are received. I would estimate that over the years there have been at least twenty people who have requested Lois to stand with them. Nobody else comes close to that number. They wanted Lois because she was the first one to greet them and make them feel at home here in the circle of God’s love.
She would invite church members with no place to call home to come and live for a time in the upstairs apartment of her house.
Lois was a composer of clever poems, and the writer of countless thoughtful cards remembering birthdays and giving encouragement in times of need. She was a good and faithful friend.
Having experienced herself the pain of losing a husband, Lois would always be there for other women when they found themselves widowed. Betty Polen recalls how the morning after Ray died, Lois didn’t ask — she just left a message saying, “I’m on my way” — and then how comforting Lois’ presence was throughout Betty’s first day without her husband.
Hank and Myra Heitschel were also long time close friends of Lois going back fifty years. Like Lois and Jack, Hank and Myra had no children of their own, and felt a special bond with our church family. In her latter years, Myra suffered from severe diabetes which led to the amputation of her lower legs. Hank was so tenderly devoted to Myra, and she loved him so.
In 2001 a sudden, severe case of pancreatitis put Hank in the hospital. Lois went over to the house to stay with Myra and look after her. In the middle of his third night in the hospital the heartbreaking news arrived that Hank had died.
I will always remember what Lois did. She climbed in bed with Myra and cradled her in her arms as Myra quietly wept till the sun rose.
Afterwards with Doris’ help, Lois learned to drive Hank’s big van with the lift to take Myra to her doctor’s appointments. Myra only lasted three months without her beloved Hank, and throughout that time, Lois was continually there for Myra.
Lois’ heart was broken when her niece June Marie died in 2011, and then a year later June’s father — Lois’ little brother Charlie — also departed this world.
Her spirit stayed strong, but a couple of years back Lois’ body began to give out – hips broke that put her in the hospital, followed by stays at rehab centers. I remember Lois’ first stay in Troy Hills Center. It was like she was the nursing home’s volunteer chaplain, spending all her free time when she was doing physical therapy giving encouragement to the other residents and staff.
She had a roommate who had suffered a stroke, which in turn brought on depression. The woman was a beloved member of an Episcopal church up in Sparta, and would received visits from her priest. The priest was so moved by the tenderness with which Lois treated her parishioner that she sent Lois this beautiful letter marveling at how God had so lovingly used her to comfort and encourage her roommate.
It was a tough final year of Lois’ life when the reality sank in that her body wasn’t up to leaving the nursing home, and her body slowly got weaker and weaker.
Through it all, whenever I’d visit Lois was always so interested to hear about my family and about the church family, and she would remember details in our lives easily forgotten. And this I remember from the end of all our visits: I would grasp Lois’ hands and pray for her, and when I was done praying, she wouldn’t let go, instead she would begin to pray so sweetly, so thoughtfully for me.
I want to publicly express my appreciation for Lois’ niece Mary Lou for being so faithful to Lois in this last difficult stretch of her life. You were always there for your aunt. It wasn’t easy, but you were Lois’ rock.
Lois embodied the love of God that was revealed so wondrously when God drew near to us in Jesus. I don’t know that you could come up with a better image for the tender love of God than that of Lois in the middle of the night climbing into bed with broken hearted Myra, cradling her in her arms until the sun rose.
And so Lois’ sufferings are over – she has passed through the dark night to the sunrise of a new day. In the bright shining light of heaven she was met by her mother and her father, by Jack, and her brother Charlie, and her niece June Marie. Tom Bradley was there too, and Ken and Madeline, and Myra and Hank, and Ray, and Helen and Al and so many others.
It is special people like Lois who remind us that in the end we were put here on heart to love. Everything else really doesn’t matter, we are here to express God’s love. Love is the only thing that never ends; everything else passes away.
Lois loves us still, and one day we will meet together again on the far shore. Until that day, let us honor Lois’ life by trying as we can to love one another as she loved us – to share together the laughter and the tears that come our way – keeping our hearts open, and our spirits willing