Janet Berk-Johnson

Janet Berk-JohnsonFebruary 16, 1953 – July 13, 2022

Janet Berk-Johnson of Brighton, Michigan, passed away on July 13, at the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Ann Arbor at the age of 69.

Janet was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Irv and Judy Berk, and moved to East Lansing, Michigan, with her family when she was 16. She earned her bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a K-12 teaching certificate from Eastern Michigan University, where she met her husband, Kent Johnson. They married on May 30, 1976, in Lansing. She is survived by her husband Kent and her brother Ben Berk of Fair Hill Maryland plus many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. Her parents preceded her in death.

After graduating college, Janet taught art in the Ann Arbor area school system before pursuing a career in real estate. She became a licensed broker and quickly built a successful career in residential home sales before starting her own real estate appraisal company, Appraisals, Inc., which she operated for more than 30 years. Janet earned a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness throughout the community. In fact, the local attorneys and judges requested her expertise in a variety of cases.

Throughout her life, Janet was a progressive thinker. At the time of her marriage to Kent, she was among a very small minority of women who hyphenated their last names (despite the challenges of getting traditional institutions to record her name correctly in this pre-computer age). Refusing to be intimidated by a male-dominated network of appraisers, Janet was one of the first women to receive approval from the Veterans Administration to do residential appraisals, eventually becoming one of the VA office’s most valued resources.

Janet developed a keen interest in antiques, especially in vintage pottery and Currier and Ives prints. She loved attending auctions and estate sales, where she would buy just about every weird item a person could imagine. A businesswoman at heart with a willingness to try anything, she had booths in many antique stores in the Brighton area, participated in antique shows, started an estate sale company, operated an eBay listing of thousands of items and ran a pop-up antique store. She mentored many individuals in real estate and brokerage, including a young woman who became her dearest friend and now owns her own successful appraisal business.

Smart with a great sense of humor and capable of doing anything she chose, Janet lived an adventurous and fearless life, and improved every person’s life she touched. She always gave and never took. Even when she learned she had less than a year to live, she bravely accepted her fate and worried about loved ones and how they would manage without her.

She loved so many things: Auctions, pens, pottery, artwork, hot dogs and dogs — especially dogs. Her grave marker bears the inscription: ”There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who love dogs and those who don’t.” Most importantly, she loved her husband. Anyone who knew her also knew that he was the support and love of her life. She was forever thankful for him and highly valued their marriage all the days of her life.

Taken too soon and loved by so many.

She will be laid to rest at 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 19, in the Evergreen Cemetery, 2600 E. Mt. Hope Ave., Lansing, MI 48910. There will be a graveside service only.

For those who wish to make a charitable donation in her name, please consider Detroit Dog Rescue, a highly respected and well-managed dog rescue organization. Please — no flowers.

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21 Messages to “Janet Berk-Johnson

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Randee Adler
July 17, 2022 at 11:17 am

This is beautifully written and captures the sprit of Janet. She was my very dear friend. I will miss her for the rest of my life. I’d like to add that Janet never complained and even when she knew her days were numbered.

The two of us had some crazy adventures. We would laugh until we cried. My heart goes out to Kent. He was the love of her life, with total devotion.

Kent Johnson
July 17, 2022 at 3:21 pm

Thanks Randee.. hope to see you Tuesday..

Lauren Hunter
July 17, 2022 at 4:16 pm

Beautifully written. I have very happy memories of times we spent as young cousins
together. She will always hold a place in my heart.

Michael A. Schwartz
July 17, 2022 at 4:33 pm

I’m Janet’s first cousin. This is a wonderful obituary memorializing someone who led a wonderful life. I did not know Janet well as an adult but knew her as a child. She frequently visited our home. She stayed with us when her parents went out of town. At the time, she would only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This drove my mom to distraction since she was an excellent cook.

I spoke to Janet for about an hour a couple of months before she passed. Despite her illness, she was very upbeat and enthusiastically discussed her interests. She was enormously proud of Kent and his accomplishments as an engineer.

I regret not having stayed in closer contact with Janet

Donna Sulzer
July 17, 2022 at 6:47 pm

Again, like everyone else, I felt this obituary astoundingly well written. I, too, am her first cousin.
I remember her as a sweet girl. Even at a young age, she was not afraid to speak her mind.

I am very glad I had a chance to talk to her before she passed. So impressed with the woman she became!!
She looks exactly like her mother …. So beautiful.

Kate Johnson Addis
July 18, 2022 at 4:49 am

I am Kent’s sister. We were all young, poor students in Ann Arbor in the early 1970s.
Oh Janet, so many memories. The bell bottom jeans. Hip huggers. Her dogs. I remember her first dog, Slade. A large Weimaraner/lab mix. When Kent (or Mario as Janet called him) married Janet, Slade came along. It was a package deal. All Janet’s dogs were 90 pounders who thought they were French Poodles. Every one of them wanted nothing more than to climb into your lap!

The Wedding: Janet told her mom, “nothing from Fiddler on the Roof”! It was all Fiddler on the Roof. All Janet cared about was marrying Kent. She was ok with “Judy’s wedding.” Janet just rolled her eyes and laughed.

That’s the way it was for Janet. Always a sense of humor. You can see it in her eyes in the photo. I’m sure she was thinking, “what am I doing all dressed up like an adult”.

I’m sure she is somewhere, playing with her beloved dogs. And wondering why we are all silly and sad. L’Chaim!

Beth Massa
July 18, 2022 at 5:05 am

I am Janet’s niece-by-marriage. Kent and my mother are siblings. I am 52 years old and some of my most magical memories from childhood include time spent with Kent and Janet.

She was one of my favorite people growing up. There was no one else like her in my life. As a child, she talked to me like an adult, yet she was gentle and loving.

Over and over people will speak of her sense of humor and I have my stories as well. Her dry sense of humor was unparalleled. She could do the littlest thing that would have me crying with laughter as a kid: like pulling on “Mario’s” ear while he was driving, never letting go of it…for the whole car ride.

I have a very strong memory of her hands. They were small, but her mannerisms and they way she talked with them are a vivid part of the images that come to mind when I think of Janet.

I used to study her—to see if I could be funny and cool like she was.

I used to take the AmTrak up to Ann Arbor to spend weekends with Kent and Janet. Probably my last solo train trip I was 14. I wanted to be so adult and sophisticated. We went to a restaurant, and I ordered cold avocado soup. It made me ill and I was horribly sick all weekend.

I remember thinking “This for sure is NOT what Kent and Janet signed up for.” I remember Janet trying to get me to just eat a saltine cracker. I don’t know why I feel the need to record this small detail. I guess only to say I cherished my weekends with them so much, I remember all of it, which I can’t say for huge swaths of my life.

For the last few decades I didn’t see or hear much from Janet. But when we did talk on the phone, it was always as if we may have talked regularly. Her voice, her way of speaking and expressing herself—it’s the best part of her I’ll never forget.

The last exchanges we had were over social media when I announced the adoption of our two dogs. Janet was so happy for me. We all know why.

-Beth Massa

Randi Cone
July 18, 2022 at 11:29 am

I am Janet’s first cousin. I am so extremely sad to hear about her passing. What a lovely obituary about a life well lived. We were not in touch in many years, but I have fond memories of Janet from my childhood..her sense of humor stands out. My deepest condolences to Kent.

Susan Cone Porges
July 18, 2022 at 12:41 pm

What beautiful words memorializing Janet. I’m another first cousin from Cleveland. I always remember how nice Janet was to me at family get togethers when we were kids. Being the youngest of the cousins, I always knew Janet made a point to talk to me, and was always so sweet and funny. Although we wanted to get together with the family for many years as adults, it just never happened. But I’m so glad we were able to connect over the phone and share stories and laugh. Janet had a great personality, and I know she’ll be missed by so many.

David Loring
July 18, 2022 at 5:39 pm

I first met Janet about 50 years ago when she was living with two other women in college, Joyce and Shelli. Way, way too many stories. I remember well when Mar (whom everyone foolishly refers to as “Kent”) came into her life and remained a fixture forever after. Janet and Mar…….and the dogs. I’m glad someone mentioned Slade above.
Even though we didn’t keep up on a frequent basis over the years, it always seemed like when we did talk, nothing had changed. We talked about meeting up in different parts of the country, but we were never able to pull it off. So, I was so saddened to hear of Janet’s passing. She was so full of life. I will always think of her and remember her smile and her laughter.
Love you Janet.

Cheryl s Lyman
July 18, 2022 at 8:38 pm

I’ve know Janet since I was 15 years. She, another friend Ruth Shumacher were inseperable
for our high school years. we had so much fun it should have been illegal! We were definitely PICs-Partners in Crime.
Janet helped me learn how to drive on her Mustang with the Hang Ten foot pedal.
We went through periods where we didn’t communicate however, our friend Ruth started us on a Zoom journey with her and Mar as well as some other people we paled around with in high school. No matter the length of time that had gone by we all fell right back into the groove.
Janet was hysterically funny with that droll sense of humor. As others have reported her love of Mario and dogs was paramount. It warmed my heart to know they were true soul mates in life-truly a gift. She was such a generous, passionate, loving and helpful person. Knowing she is gone simply leaves a hole in my heart. I know I am certainly not the only person who feels this way.
What I am thankful for is that she not in pain anymore. I will never think of her in the past tense.
Janet, I love you and Mario we are here for you as you begin the journey of grieving.
Blessings, Love, and light always.

Judy Urban
July 19, 2022 at 9:13 am

Hi Mar I love you and bless you! I have been Janet’s friend since the early 1980s. I loved Janet and am so sorry I will not be able to talk and laugh with her, just one more time. We sure did have a lot fun, just goofing off and laughing. We were polar opposites in some regards but were sisters in a deep loving friendship. We went on a trip to Washington DC, Williamsburg Va. and saw the studio’s and campus of CBN university. Also, our trips to Charlevoix and Las Vegas were wonderful. Every Christmas/ Hanukkah we would start our song… “ In the window you can see the light for my menorah on newly fallen snow…”. To say I will miss her, is an understatement! We always ended our conversations with…. I love you Janet…. I love you Judy. Rest in God my dearest friend.
Love, Judy

Joyce Lefco
July 19, 2022 at 12:51 pm

Janet and I were roommates in College and best of friends. We haven’t seen each other in many years but when we spoke on the phone, it was as if no time had passed. Reading all of these posts brings back fond memories of my witty friend.
Condolences to Mario and your family. May her memory be a blessing.
Joyce Lefco

Judy Shumacher Safirstein
July 19, 2022 at 5:18 pm

Hi Mario- I’m Judy (Ruth’s sister)-your obituary is just beautiful and shows your love and devotion
I remember Janet as the 15 year old in bell bottoms and a long coat that she would never take off. Our mom always asked her but she just wouldn’t! The things the girls did together are probably better left unsaid.
At your wedding it was all about what Judy Berk wanted but Janet and you went along with it. She was so happy to marry you – it was a special day.
Hopefully over time you will be comforted by her good memories.

Ilana Facter
July 19, 2022 at 5:22 pm

I am also one of Janets cousins. Over recent years Janet reached out to me after she first became ill . We had funny childhood memories and she saved things like her autograph book from when she was ten. She had the funniest personality and even when she only had a short time to live, we had so much fun talking. While we didn’t see her often, she really cared a lot about her cousins! Kent, you have memorialized Janet so beautifully. She really lead a successful and interesting life! I am so sorry that we were unable to see her more in our adult years. May all our memories of our cousin Janet, be a blessing!

Karen Courville
July 19, 2022 at 8:32 pm

What a beautiful obituary- So many good memories from back in the day when life was so carefree – I was one of Janet’s suite mates in college – what a great time in our life!

Sending you lots of love
Karen Bleeman Courville

Ruth Shumacher Petit
July 19, 2022 at 9:28 pm

Janet & I became instant friends when she moved to East Lansing in 1968.
She moved from Cleveland, the “big city” and she was very advanced – and I loved it!
We all spent a lot of time together, especially in our youth group with Cheryl & many others.

She was slightly older, so she could drive first and had a 1965 Mustang. With Janet’s sense of adventure, we did a lot of exploring in that car!
She was a very picky eater her whole life. One funny thing that Janet always did was order a McDonald’s hamburger (as is) but insist that I take the pickle off – she couldn’t touch it!
As an adult she would tell you of all the foods she’d never tried and it was a long list!

Janet had a fantastic sense of humor & was one of the funniest people I have ever met.
Our families had many Passover seders together, while growing up & later on with spouses.
We always had fun drinking the 4 glasses of wine and sipping it very surreptitiously when we weren’t supposed to be drinking – although our giggles gave it away!

I followed in many of her footsteps. Randomly, I had a couple of her high school text books assigned to me a year later. We both attended EMU for Fine Arts and very randomly I ended up in the same dorm room that was Janet’s 1 year earlier!
We definitely knew we had a forever connection.

So glad to have had this tremendous, loving, fantastic individual in my life.
“Our song” is Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum – she is truly my Spirit in the Sky!

Barbara Smith Foss
July 20, 2022 at 8:28 pm

I met Janet when she moved to East Lansing, we became fast friends and had many adventures together! The two I remember the most were firsts for me…she invited me to Passover at her house and being a Catholic I had no clue what it was but my mother insisted I go, it would expand my horizons..boy did it! Janet’s father and the Rabbi thought it was hilarious to give me as much wine as I wanted…I finished the night passed out on the bed! The second was my first bus trip…she invited me to go to Shaker Heights and visit a friend or maybe a cousin. We stayed in the biggest house I had ever seen…I remember having a wonderful time…but I knew I would never take a bus anywhere again! Rest in Peace Janet and to Kent I hope your memories will bring you peace.
“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.”

Robin Bornor Price
July 21, 2022 at 11:16 am

Why are the good taken first? We need them! I am a former high school classmate of Janet’s and will always remember her lovely face and smile, her kindness, friendship and sense of humor. Janet had a unique way of looking at experiences and people, which I highly reguard. Rest in peace Janet, with family, friends and paw-mates!!

Barb Boyd
July 21, 2022 at 10:42 pm

I wish I had some specific memories of my high school friendship with Janet but I can recall that we had fun times and some crazy classes together at East Lansing High School. We had a few exchanges on FB over the years, even chatting about Fiesta ware and how happy it made both of us. I regret not keeping in better touch in recent years, but will look forward to seeing her again some day and perhaps we can share a meal on beautiful Fiesta ware. Rest in wholeness and complete health my friend.

Yvette Whiteside
July 26, 2022 at 10:54 pm

Janet… my prior boss, peer (as you insisted), mother from another brother, sister from another mother, life mentor, dear dear friend… I will sure miss you. Thank you for all you have given and poured into my life. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your guidance. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your sense of humor in good and bad times. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me. Thank you for ALWAYS being there for me… it hasn’t gone unnoticed and won’t be forgotten. Thank you for accepting me and loving me with our many similarities and few differences. You are and always will be one of my dearest best friends to be held very closely to my heart. It won’t be the same without your physical presence, but I am grateful for your impact on my life and for your forever presence in my heart. Thank you Janet. I love you.


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