Obituaries detail

Esther May (Johnson) Wright

 22 May 1931 to 26 August 2020


Esther May Wright, 89, of Overland Park, Kan., died peacefully in her home on August 26, 2020. She was born on May 22, 1931, in East Alton, Ill., to Charley Johnson and Eula Ree (Matthews) (Johnson) Estes. She is survived by three sisters: Doris Gross (Knoxville, Tenn.); Lois Ball (Knoxville, Tenn.); and Carol (Bill) Hulsey (Oak Ridge, Tenn.). She is also survived by Charles H. Wright, 97, of Overland Park, husband of 68 years. She leaves two sons: Kenton (Ann) Wright of Ozark, Mo.; Jeffrey (Sara) of Seattle, Wash.; and three daughters: Lynne Wright of Flagstaff, Ariz.; Sandra Wilson (Kim Petersen) of Bremerton, Wash.; and Janis Wright of Overland Park, as well as 14 grandchildren and many great grandchildren.


Esther was born prematurely while her mother lay hospitalized with a serious erysipelas infection, a skin disease usually caused by streptococcal bacteria. Because there were no antibiotics at that time, mother and child were not expected to survive. Since her father was also ill at the time, Esther was sent home with her Swedish grandmother who was told, “Do the best you can for her, but she may not survive.” Against the odds ‑ but reflecting Esther's sheer stubbornness and passion to live ‑ she did survive to enjoy a long and fulfilling life.


Esther grew up in East Alton, Ill., during the Great Depression and World War II. Although times were hard, she recalled a childhood filled with happy memories. As a rough-and-tumble tomboy, she enjoyed playing baseball and other sports, but most of all she loved her family and playing make-believe and other games with her sisters. While growing up she grew fascinated with photography and became a photojournalist during high school, when she met and photographed notable people including Eleanor Roosevelt. She thought of pursuing photography as a career but changed her mind after working in a photography studio for several years. At that time, rendering photographs in color meant tedious hand painting of black and white prints.


She next worked as a PBX operator, but she had further ambitions to become a female pioneer in medicine ‑ hoping to be a doctor rather than a nurse, and possibly a psychiatrist ‑ which prompted her to enroll at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. There she met Charles Wright, who was finishing a Ph.D. in chemistry, and they married on August 3, 1952. Their first child was born in the summer of 1953 but this did not stop her from finishing a B.A. degree in the spring of 1954. 


Later in 1954, Esther and Charles moved from Columbia to Berwick, Penn., where Charles accepted a position with U.S. Radium. Three more babies were born in Pennsylvania. In 1958 they relocated to Overland Park, Kan., where Charles accepted a position at the Spencer Chemical Laboratory. Their last child was born in Overland Park and, when this youngest started kindergarten, Esther's career ambitions re-ignited. With encouragement from her husband ‑ and a deal with her children that she would help pay for their college tuition later if they would step up their household duties now ‑ she finished a B.S. degree in pharmacy in 1969 at the University of Missouri ­Kansas City School of Pharmacy (UMKC).


Esther's high reputation in school led the UMKC faculty to invite her to teach pharmaceutical dispensing and compounding. She felt that to be a good teacher, she had to experience the various roles of a working pharmacist. To that end she also worked in the pharmacies at St. Mary's and St. Joseph’s hospitals, Kansas City, Mo., in addition to many local retail pharmacies, including Katz and its transition to Skaggs then Osco, as well as any other pharmacy in town needing help. She also volunteered for Little Sisters of the Poor.


Esther believed that everyone should have a good education and a strong work ethic. She subscribed to the motto, "Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and the better is best." She believed that people should work hard, and that hard work earns hard play. She also cherished her family roles and maintained close bonds with her parents and sisters throughout her life. Toward the end of her life, when she had become mostly blind and then completely blind, she often talked with sisters on a daily basis. She was very proud of her family.


Esther also had a great wanderlust. She loved to drive and, before there were posted speed limits, she admitted to driving at quite a clip when on an open highway. She said that, as a child, she and her grandmother would sit on the front porch and pretend they were driving places together. Esther and Charles began their life together with a honeymoon camping trip from Missouri to Colorado to Wyoming, Montana, Canada and back. They slept under a simple tarp tent and cookware was one iron skillet. After the children came, she would sometimes place them in a row on the kitchen floor to play “choo - choo train” while pretending to take trips. As soon as they were able, they would take the children on camping trips, even if that meant placing a baby in a basket to bounce around in the old Country Squire station wagon.


Later they began taking the family on four- to six-week long excursions to the Pacific Northwest, Canada, and the Southwest. Teton National Park was a favorite stop and they visited this destination every other year from 1962 until 1972. They often brought along canoes and backpacks for extended trips into the backcountry. Although you might say Esther's camp duties for seven people were exhaustive ‑ she did most of the driving, cooking, laundry, and dishes ‑ she relished the hikes and other adventures in a high-energy way. Although the camping accommodations eventually progressed from tarps to tents, then a tent trailer, a pickup truck camper and finally an RV, no matter the level of luxury, Esther's love of travel, adventure, nature and family was always at the core. Her crown achievement in camping was a trip along the Alaskan highway and through Alaska in their pickup truck and camper in 1995.


Esther’s faith has also been a major part of her life and she made sure all her children attended church and Sunday school. She grew up in the Methodist faith but joined the Catholic Church later in life as she shifted her spiritual path. She said many times she looked forward to being with the Lord someday. Easter and Christmas were major events for family ‑ Esther would often say in her best Swedish lilt, “I yust go nuts at Christmas!”


Esther was known for her happiness and joy in life. She enjoyed music and danced the jitterbug in her younger days. She played saxophone in her high school days and much later in life picked up the horn again for a local religious music group who called themselves the "Sounds of Joy." She liked to have fun and loved to play games, and she knew how to play lots of them ‑ from marbles and tiddlywinks to bridge and pinochle.


As part of her legacy, she passed along this passion of life to her children. She encouraged imaginative play and believed children should have freedom to explore the world. They were allowed to built forts and climb trees and explore the physical properties of the world undaunted. She had a special empathy for animals and allowed pets of all kinds in the house, even turtles, snakes, lizards, spider and mice, in addition to kittens and puppies. Dogs and babies had a special affinity for her.


She also believed in holding onto dreams, and from her example and encouragement, led her children to pursue their dreams. Kenton (the Inventor) retired as a metallurgical engineer and is now an active tree farmer. Jeffrey (the Pied Piper) inherited her special ways with children and retired as a pediatrician and academician. Lynne (the Creator) became an artist in multiple media and retired as a college-level art instructor. Sandra (the Viking) supervised and worked as a design mechanical engineer as a civilian for the Department of the Navy, and Janis (the Observer) became a medical journal editor and ultimately the parents' caregiver.


As Esther's health declined over the past few years, she still maintained her optimism and kept a smile on her face. She spent some months at the Forum of Overland Park, where she enchanted staff with her enduring smile. She was grateful for their care. She was also grateful for her longtime friends, including Jimmie Lee Farmer, and Christine Blase, among many others. She was surrounded by her loving daughters at home when life finally slipped away.


In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas



Linnea Korinek Aug 30 ,2020

former employee and friend ,Buckner ,Missouri

Dear Janis, I hope you and your family find peace. The death of a mother has long-reaching effects, I have found. Your mother was fortunate in having a daughter as good-hearted as you to help care for her. She must have thought an angel was there, every time you entered her room. I know your siblings are there for you now, and Evan. With deep affection and sorrow, Linnea

Violet Clark Sep 01 ,2020

cousin ,Wood River ,Illinois

Our deepest condolences to the family from Violet Clark and family.

Christine Blase Sep 02 ,2020

My dearest friend ,Springfield ,Illinois

Janis, Jeff, Lynne, Sandra, Kenton, I cannot begin to tell you all that is in my heart. Esther was and is the best friend I could ever have, and over the years Charlie became a special friend, too. You all were a second family to me; I enjoyed watching each of you mature into adults and grow families of your own. It is only because of the special joy that I know is in Esther’s heart now as she walks home with Jesus to our Father’s house that I can rejoice with her. May each of you find your own special ways of rejoicing as your dad joins your mom in heaven today, just one week later. With Love Always, Chris

Joni Dugan Sep 08 ,2020

Long time friend ,Kansas City ,Missouri

My heart goes out to each of you. How Esther loved you all. And what a rich family life she gave you all. I have heard stories of all your camping trips and open road drives and all. Esther was sort of like an adopted mom to me. I don't remember for sure, but Esther probably had a hand in my having the doctors that I have today. I just found out that Charlie followed her as of Sept 2. What a blessing that was. Many blessings for each of you. And anything I can do to help just holler. Love---Joni