CHICAGO — For 51 years, Dennis and Barbara Johnsen were inseparable. In the end, they only had to be apart for 12 hours. Dennis, 75, died Nov. 18 after suffering a massive stroke. Barbara, 69, who lived with cancer for eight years, took her last breath Nov. 19.

“My mother said a lot of times that she didn’t want to leave dad alone,” the couple’s son, Jason Johnsen, told Patch. “We are all of the mindset that she took comfort knowing that she wasn’t going to be leaving him behind.”

Dennis grew up in Chicago on 72nd Street. As a boy, he spent most of his time outdoors. When he graduated from Harper High School during the Vietnam era, he joined the Navy. He was a hospital corpsman who took care of wounded service members as they were taken out of Vietnam. When he returned home, he attended Moraine Valley Community College and became politically active.

Find out what's happening in Beverly-MtGreenwoodwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

Barbara was raised in Oak Lawn, where she graduated from Richards High School. She was a Girl Scout and played the French horn. She was active in Job’s Daughters. When she was a teen, she became a candy striper, inspiring a lifetime of volunteer service. She liked to dance and often regaled her children with stories of going to see the Beatles at Comiskey Park.

“My mother was kind, gentle and the sweetest woman ever born,” said their daughter Jillian Johnsen. “She will be sorely missed.”

Find out what's happening in Beverly-MtGreenwoodwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

Their legendary love affair began in 1971. Dennis and Barbara met volunteering at a peer intervention program. They were immediately over the moon for each other. Their courtship was swift, and they got married the next year on Valentine’s Day. Eventually they settled in Beverly, where they raised five remarkable children.

Dennis and Barbara at the beginning of their legendary love affair

As their family grew, Dennis and Barbara worked split shifts so that one of them was always home with the children. Dennis picked up whatever jobs he could find. He delivered fresh eggs for a farmer and Dolley Madison Snack Cakes to supermarkets. He was a campaign manager for local candidates and a precinct captain. Eventually he landed a good job as a mechanical engineer at the Bridgeview Courthouse until his retirement.

Barbara worked 43 years at Jewel-Osco. By the time she retired, she managed the front end of the store. She managed to coerce/trick two of her children into dressing up as an elf, leprechaun or Easter Bunny, greeting customers and passing out free samples.

“I always think of the Jewel on 103rd Street and Cicero as Mom’s Jewel,” Jason Johnsen told Patch. “When chicken was introduced in the deli, my younger brother stood out in front of the store in a chicken costume.”

As their children grew, Dennis and Barbara worked hard to provide for their family, yet they still found time to coach their kids’ baseball teams or drive them to birthday parties in blizzards. They took their children on epic vacations, made them laugh, and gave great advice.

“Some of our favorite memories come from all those adventures,” Jillian told Patch. “The best vacation was a multi-week road trip adventure across the U.S., all seven of us in a van, towing a popup camper and without a solid itinerary. Just sort of going where the adventure took us. We hit national parks, visited extended family in California, camped and made the best memories. My dad took my older brothers on a wild, unescorted white water rafting trip down the Snake River.”

They spent weeks in the upper peninsula in Michigan at a family cabin on Duck Lake, swimming, fishing and canoeing.

“Our parents really instilled in us a love of nature, and slowing down and enjoying family time by just being together and finding our own adventures,” Jillian said. “One time a bat got into the cabin and my brothers and Dad put mosquito nets over their heads and tried to catch it in a garbage bag.”

Through the years, Dennis and Barbara lived by example, creating a home filled with warmth and laughter. Their children absorbed the lessons of commitment to family, faith and hard work through osmosis. They watched their parents take care of elderly relatives, bringing groceries and helping them pay bills, until Dennis and Barbara needed caretakers themselves.

“Mom kept her faith, always going to church and volunteering for the community,” Jillian said. “Even after she got sick, she still showed up at Mt. Zion Lutheran Church to make sandwiches for the homeless. They took us with them when they brought Christmas gifts to families that were having a hard time. Our parents instilled values of service and generosity while teaching us compassion and empathy.”

Barbara and Dennis at their 50th anniversary vow renewal on Feb. 14, 2022.

After retirement, Dennis and Barbara lived it up, going on cruises with friends, trips to Vegas and road trips around the country with grandchildren. Dennis liked to take pictures of snow and of Barbara’s beautiful Christmas decorations in recent years. When Barbara became sick, Dennis spent his last years caring for her.

“He worked so hard to keep her here with us,” Jillian said.

On their 50th wedding anniversary, Dennis and Barbara renewed their vows, an experience Dennis described in a Facebook post as “intense.”

“They were romantic,” Jillian said. “As we are going through their pictures and papers, we’ve uncovered dozens of flower cards with handwritten poems from my father. They kept little souvenirs from their dates throughout the years, ticket stubs, playbills, mints from anniversary Valentine dinners at White Castle.”

On Nov. 4, Dennis suffered a stroke and remained in a coma until he died two weeks later. Their children returned home from far-flung places to be with their parents: Cambodia, Vermont, Arizona and those who remained in the Chicago area. As their parents’ lives came to an end, watching them was inspirational.

“While we are just in the beginning stages of grieving them, the memories and stories that we are gathering from friends and family and sharing between us kids, and the fact that they are now together in heaven is helping to lessen the enormous blow of losing them both so quickly,” Jillian said.

Dennis and Barbara are survived by their five children: Joshua (Margaret), Jason, Jill, Zeke, and Zoe (Illias) Katsivalis, and nine cherished grandchildren: Halley May, Jacob, Mia, Sophia, Nina May, George, Leo, Fritz and Telly. Dennis is also survived by his brother James Johnsen, and Barbara by her siblings Kenneth Felton (Laurie), Melinda Alekna (Paul) and Deborah Lorden (Gary). They leave a legion of nieces, nephews, cousins and dear friends.

A celebration of Dennis and Barbara’s lives, and their incredible love for each other, will be held on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, at the Beverly Ridge Funeral Home, 10415 S. Kedzie, Chicago, from 3 to 8 p.m., with a service at 7 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, 10400 S. Kostner Ave., Oak Lawn, IL 60453 or BEDS Plus Care.

Get more local news delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for free Patch newsletters and alerts.

Click Here: