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Jean Ann (Kelley) Laughlin passed away peacefully at home on January 9, 2023, at the age of 77, after a valiant nine-year battle with Multiple Myeloma. Jean was an example to us all of how to serve others, love without ceasing, and gracefully and bravely face hardships with joy and reliance on Jesus.
Jean was born June 28,1945, in Leavenworth, Kansas to Virgil “Red” and Grace (Bickel) Kelley. Her family moved to Centralia, Kansas when she was six months old after her father completed his service in the US Army. She often reflected on how wonderful it was to grow up with her older brother, Ted, in such a wonderful small town, with loving parents who instilled values and lessons that shaped her life. Growing up, she enjoyed fun times with friends and was active in the Congregational Church, Girl Scouts, band, sports, and was both a Drum Major and Baton Twirler. Jean graduated from Centralia High School in 1963. She then attended Kansas State University where she earned her teaching credential in just three years and began her first teaching job as a 4th Grade teacher in Topeka, Kansas in 1966. She returned to school to earn her master’s degree in Special Education from the University of Kansas because of her desire to learn how to better meet her student’s individualized, special needs.
It was while moving into her first apartment, on May 26, 1967, that she met and fell in love with a young Air Force Captain, John Laughlin. Jean and John were engaged on October 28,1967 and married on December 29,1968 after John returned from a year-long, unaccompanied tour to Johnston Island. They enjoyed 54 years of marriage and created a loving home and wonderful life together. They were blessed with two daughters, Johnna and Kelley. Their life together took them all over the United States and overseas; they were a wonderful team. Jean touched the lives of many hundreds of students and families while teaching 4th grade in Kansas for six years, K-12 developmentally disabled students for the Department of Defense while in the Philippines for three years, and 7th and 8th grade special education at Rivera Middle School in Merced, California for 29 years.
Jean had a servant’s heart and went above and beyond to show love to others, while having fun and with a twinkle in her eye. Beyond teaching curriculum, she gave students experiences such as taking her 8th grade classes to the mountains and the beach because some had never seen snow or the ocean. She was a fixture chaperoning Rivera’s field trips and dances where she often taught the students all kinds of dances. She cared for her students and others by often providing needed clothing, meals, and transportation. She was both a mentor and a lead teacher for many years. She was active in many different groups including Church, Coffee Break Bible Study at Yosemite Church, Delta Kappa Gamma, American Legion Auxiliary, Officers’ Wives Club, Retired Officers’ Wives Club, and Merced City Retired Teachers’ Association. Jean always enjoyed special visits with her friends. She was known for hosting beautiful parties, being a wonderful cook, having grace under pressure, and caring for others with love and support. Jean loved being with her family more than anything else. She was a Girl Scout Leader for both of her daughters, participated in Band Boosters for them, and was a regular at their band and sporting events. She created a loving environment at home where their daughters’ friends became family, were always welcome, and wanted to stay for her amazing dinners and desserts. Jean retired from teaching in 2009 so she could devote her time to her four grandsons, whom she adored, purposefully teaching them the same values that had been instilled in her and helping to prepare them for the rest of their lives. She enjoyed attending their sports, scouting, and band events and creating wonderful memories for and with them.
Jean is preceded in death by her parents, “Red” and Grace Kelley; her in-laws Gordon and Roberta Laughlin; and her brother-in-law Bruce Laughlin. She is survived by her husband, John, of Atwater; daughter Johnna Robinson of Modesto; daughter Kelley Holland and her husband Brian of Rancho Cucamonga; grandsons Nathan, Jordan, Tyler, and Dylan; brother Ted Kelley and his wife Betty Ann of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; in-laws Brian and Susan Laughlin of Clatskanie, Oregon, and Steve and Lynn Pierce of Tualatin, Oregon. There are also many cousins, nieces, nephews, and countless special friends whom she loved dearly.
A private burial will take place at San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella. A Celebration of Life will be held honoring Jean at 1:00 PM, on Friday, January 27, 2023, at Yosemite Church, 2230 East Yosemite Avenue, Merced, CA. Gifts of remembrance may be made, in Jean’s memory, to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, PO Box 414238, Boston, MA 02241-4238. Arrangements by Ivers & Alcorn Funeral Home, 901 W Main Street, Merced, CA 95340.