Date of Birth
Date of Death
Catherine M. “CJ” Johnson claimed the promise of her Savior following a brief but hard-fought battle with cancer on December 27, 2018. Her fierce and independent spirit lives on in the hearts of all who knew her, and the faith that sustained her on earth became the path to her salvation with her Heavenly Father.
CJ’s faith was her bedrock and she dedicated her heart and countless hours to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Sycamore where she was a lector, a member of the rosary group and Eucharistic Minister. CJ was known to say, “Mass is the highest form of praise to God and that is my favorite place to be, with Jesus.”
CJ was born on July 2, 1951 to proud parents Leonard and Mary (Juns) Schramer. She grew up in Elburn and was one of 14 children. She loved being part of a big family and her childhood home was always buzzing with family and friends. She eventually created the same environment in her own home with massive family gatherings, volleyball night every Wednesday in the summer, impromptu pool parties and carnival-like 4th of July celebrations. CJ was known to make 4 turkeys on Thanksgiving, so she could host anyone who could come and send home leftovers. Thatâ€™s who CJ was â€“ a connector.
CJ was a vibrant, daredevil child who loved to learn, explore and push boundaries. She once climbed a silo, which led to her aunt Sue saying she would never babysit her again.
BJ spent a lot of time at CJâ€™s childhood home because he was friends with her brother Skip. On their first date, even though they had known each other for a long time, BJ was a little nervous. He left a soda on the dash and when he pulled away, it spilled all over CJ. She took it in stride like she did most things in life. In fact, in her later years, her favorite saying was, “Offer it up.” If there are lessons we can learn from CJâ€™s life, they might be to not hold grudges, love unconditionally and never limit your potential.
BJ and CJ married in November 1971. Like most things in her life, CJ did it her way with personal touches that are still talked about today. For instance, she insisted on climbing a rickety ladder during the ceremony to place flowers in Maryâ€™s arms high up in the church. CJ always had a love for learning about and honoring the Virgin Mary, her motherâ€™s namesake. It seems fitting as CJ was often described as a matriarch.
Before they moved to the country, BJ and CJ lived in Sycamore and there were a number of Bobs on the block. That is how Bob became “BJ” and Cathy decided to follow suit with “CJ.”
BJ and CJ had two children, Tanya and Tanden. CJ was very engaged in her kidsâ€™ lives. She was a scout leader, attended sporting events, road-tripped to the State Fair for 4-H projects and always had snacks for Tanya and Tandenâ€™s friends and teammates. At times, her children were a bit embarrassed by her involvement, but later learned how much she was adored by all those she helped. She was often presented with gifts at her kidsâ€™ activity banquets to recognize how much she did for everyone.
CJ adored her nieces and nephews, often picking them up and taking them out for their birthdays. She always opened up her home, listened and loved them like her own kids. Many memories were made swimming, jumping on trampolines and sitting around the fire pit with pie irons. She was a connector for the Schramer and Johnson families and many of her nieces and nephews have shared the incredible impact she had on their lives.
Prior to becoming a business owner, CJ was an elementary school teacher in DeKalb and Rochelle. Many of her students have come into her store over the years to express their gratitude for her commitment to them. She prided herself on teaching beyond the textbook and bringing concepts to life for her students with real world examples. Often her enthusiasm for her classroom spilled into her home â€“ who else would let the class salamanders, turtles and fish live in her bathtub for the summer?
The educator in CJ carried over to her greatest source of pride and joy â€“ her grandchildren.
CJ was truly a “hands-on” grandma, creating exciting activities, attending school events and helping her grandchildren grow important skills. She found endless energy for her grandkids. She watched Leighton and Kenley one day a week and made every visit a unique experience, cooking a new dish, playing a new game or creating fun costumes. When Quinn and Jack visited from Colorado, she met them at the airport with “the best meatballs, much better than mommyâ€™s”, let them “help” at her store and answered their endless questions.
There was nothing she wouldn’t do for her family. Last August, all the grandchildren were together and CJ made it a magical experience that reminded Tanya and Tanden of their own childhood. Grandma and the kids visited the new splash pad in Sycamore, blocked off the driveway so the kids could ride around on old and new toys for hours, made chalk pictures on every inch of the stoop and enjoyed tractor rides with grandpa. But mostly the kids took a cue from grandma and grew their friendships.
CJ was a force of nature, a tornado of energy and enthusiasm that never seemed to stop. She was a consummate host who loved being surrounded by her siblings and friends. She adored the Sycamore community where she built a business (BJâ€™s Decorating) with her husband and best friend, BJ. For many years she was the emcee of the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival parade, sat on the Chamber of Commerce and belonged to the Jaycettes.
One of the most important parts of her life was the church and going to mass as many days a week as she could. She was so proud when her granddaughter Leighton started attending Catholic preschool and then kindergarten, and often took Kenley to mass at Leightonâ€™s school. She was delighted that so many of her brothers and sisters came into the church and was always excited to share details of Saturday night mass, followed by dinner with her siblings. She was a regular lector, led bible studies, was part of the Divine Mercy Chaplet and a rosary group, and was responsible for the Missalettes. She took Communion to the homebound and constantly prayed for those who needed it.
CJ is survived by her loving husband of 47 years, Robert “BJ” Johnson; two children, Tanya (David) Burden and their children, Quinn and Jack; and Tanden (Abbey) Johnson and their children, Leighton, Kenley and one on the way; eleven siblings, Donna (Howard) Petersen, Richard (Linda) Schramer, Judy Davis, Robert “Skip” (Beverly) Schramer, Tom Schramer, Chuck (Pam) Schramer, Anne (Dan) Stanko, Jeanne (Mike) Hawley, Sue (Jack) Amato, Chris (Bill) Deutsch and Mike Schramer; two sisters-in-law, Joanne Schramer and Anna Schramer; her mother-in-law, Mary Ann Johnson; two brothers-in-law, Gerald (Kay) Johnson and Richard (Ellen) Johnson; many, many, many nieces, nephews and a countryside full of friends.
She is preceded in death by her parents, Leonard and Mary Schramer; two brothers, Leonard “Barney” Schramer and Nick Schramer; her sister-in-law, Jessie Schramer and her father-in-law, William Dean Johnson.
CJ gave to and thought of others until the last moments of her life. In the last month before her passing, she hosted a massive Thanksgiving celebration, a baby shower to celebrate a sisterâ€™s first grandchild, watched two of her grandchildren, took communion to the homebound and planned an exquisite Christmas for her grandchildren. At the hospital, she apologized to the nurses and doctors for them having to work long hours during the holiday season.
She will be remembered as a selfless person who helped so many people realize their potential â€“ family, friends, students and her church community. Most of all, as someone recently pointed out, “CJ always thought to include everyone.”
Visitation will be from 3-8 p.m., Thursday, January 3, 2019, at The Church of St. Mary Catholic Church, in the Parish Activity Center (PAC) at 322 Waterman St., Sycamore, IL. Additional visitation will be Friday, January 4, 2019 from 9:45-10:15 a.m., at the church, with a Mass to follow at 10:30 a.m. Fr. Carl Beekman, pastor of the church, will officiate with interment to follow at S.S. Peter & Paul Cemetery, Virgil.
In lieu of flowers, a memorial has been established in CJâ€™s name. Checks may be made to the “Catherine Johnson Memorial” and mailed in care of P.O. Box 66, Elburn, 60119. Tributes may also be forwarded to the same address, the Conley Funeral Home Facebook Page, or at www.conleycare.com.
Additional visitation will be Friday, January 4, 2019 from 9:45-10:15 a.m., at the church, with a Mass to follow at 10:30 a.m. Fr. Carl Beekman, pastor of the church, will officiate with interment to follow at S.S. Peter & Paul Cemetery, Virgil.
Visitation will be from 3-8 p.m., Thursday, January 3, 2019, at The Church of St. Mary Catholic Church, in the Parish Activity Center (PAC) at 322 Waterman St., Sycamore, IL.