Laura Johnson

Laura Johnson

Saturday, September 6th, 1941 - Tuesday, October 6th, 2020
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Laura Johnson passed away unexpectedly in Bellefonte on October 6, 2020, doing something she loved – savoring another good breakfast, right before her book club. She was here one moment and gone the next, a peaceful departure, and is greatly missed by her many friends, family, and her cat.

Laura was an avid reader, artist, dancer, writer, learner, listener, and advisor. A devoted mother and pet parent. A wild-haired, tattooed woman walking barefoot whenever possible. A lover of good food, good spirits, good conversation, music, and all that touched her heart. A student of life, eager to gain more knowledge. A master of unconditional love and undying friendship.

Laura was born in Bellefonte in 1941 to Penn State Mathematics Professor Evan Johnson and pianist Mary Lee (La Barre) Johnson and grew up in the Holmes-Foster neighborhood of State College with her sister, Hannah. When Laura attended the Grier School in the tenth through twelfth grades, she felt freer to explore her own interests and became fluent in French and German. She got involved in civil rights activism while majoring in German at Penn State, and met her future husband, Joe Hahn, in German class. They married in 1962 and studied abroad together in Cologne, Germany.

Joe graduated first and attended Air Force Officer’s Training in Texas. Laura stayed in Pennsylvania to continue her studies, and gave birth to their daughter, Meri. She was able to juggle the responsibilities of being a new mom and student with the help of her mother and sister, Hannah, who watched Meri during Laura’s classes. Laura and Meri joined Joe while he was stationed in Maine. Then they returned to State College.

Laura had a wonderful time working as a part-time clerk for Nittany News, a newsstand/bookstore in State College that attracted colorful, interesting people, including supporters of the anti-war movement. Laura and Joe embraced the cause and joined the movement. Laura’s passion for helping customers was so noteworthy that the Borough of State College presented her with a Courteous Clerk award.
Laura was widely recognized as a trendsetter when it came to personal style. She wore creative, beautiful clothing and jewelry, and had tattoos that delighted her spirit. She loved to travel. After a trip to India, she enjoyed wearing the lovely silk saris that she brought back. She expressed her artistic talent by creating her own jewelry and artwork, and decorating her home and garden in unique, inviting ways that were admired by anyone fortunate enough to see them.

She was a loving, dedicated mother, interested and involved in all her daughter’s activities. Her home was always open to Meri’s friends, for whom she would make time to listen, and when asked, offer advice and counsel. People often credited her with teaching them a host of things including women’s changing roles in the world, spiritual growth, jitterbugging, music, art, literature, or the importance of questioning authority and convention.

Eventually Laura and Joe divorced, but they were able to build on their shared interests and parenting and became even better friends. They enjoyed discussions with each other ranging from philosophy to physics to cats, in English or German, and joined some of the same book clubs and groups. Joe remained an important part of Laura’s family.

Laura loved music and reading, and acquired an impressive collection of records, CDs and books. Influenced by her pianist mother, Laura learned to play piano and sing. She played the flute and piccolo in high school and taught herself to play the guitar, lute, and recorder. Laura was a gifted wordsmith, using humorous and memorable expressions when sharing her stories and insights. Yet she did not view herself as a creative writer.

Laura read widely for enjoyment and to remain well-informed. She was interested in a wide range of subjects including spiritual and esoteric concepts like meditation and magic, and social issues like gender equality. She decided to explore Zen Buddhism and joined the Rochester Zen Center to continue learning about Buddhism which led to her interest in learning to read Sanskrit. Cornell University was the only school that taught Sanskrit, so Laura moved to Ithaca, New York, with her companion, Allan Bowers, a gifted professional drummer, so she could take classes.

Laura was a supporting member of the Green Star food co-op and worked at a local kennel, which led to her adopting even more wonderful pets. She volunteered at a soup kitchen and thrift shop, and eventually served a term as president of the shop. Laura was actively involved in the Ithaca arts and music scene, and enjoyed cooking one-pot ethnic dishes for local potlucks.
After over a decade in New York, Laura and Allan decided to return to Centre County and settled in Bellefonte. Laura enjoyed her salesclerk job at Musser Farm Market and was an ardent fan of their yogurt. She became active in area book clubs and a Buddhist group. Laura enjoyed meeting friends at local restaurants and cafes, especially the former East-West Crossings in Lemont, and Big Spring Spirits in Bellefonte.

She also kept physically active with regular classes in belly dancing, Jazzercise, and Curves. At age 71, after a knee replacement and with encouragement from her Curves coach, Rose, she trained for and completed the 25K Hyner Trail Challenge (over mountains and through streams) as the oldest woman to complete the race that year.

When Allan moved to Centre Crest, Laura and Allan participated in “Being Heard,” a collaborative group poetry workshop series led by Abby Minor of Ridgelines Language Arts. The sessions were inspiring and fun, and Laura discovered that she was indeed a creative writer.
During her life, Laura became a well-recognized part of the community, usually shoeless and artistically dressed. She was a woman you noticed--she was well-liked and developed a wonderful group of friends wherever she went. Laura’s remarkable intellect, compassion, talents, warm sense of humor, and broad range of knowledge made her an admired mentor and friend to many. She was always willing to lend a hand and had a remarkable capacity for bringing people of different viewpoints and backgrounds together.

Laura is survived by her ex-husband Joe Hahn, daughter Meri Bittner, son-in-law Pete Bittner, Laura’s sister, Hannah Siemann, three nieces, a nephew, and their families. Allan Bowers passed away shortly after Laura, on Halloween, which was one of Laura’s and Allan’s favorite holidays.

Arrangements were by Wetzler Funeral Services, Inc. An outdoor celebration of Laura’s life will take place at the convenience of her family.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made in Laura’s memory to pet rescues/shelters, Ridgelines Language Arts by mailing checks payable to Ridgelines, Inc. to PO Box 162, Aaronsburg, PA 16820, and the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County at 133 N. Allegheny Street, Bellefonte, PA 16823.
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Service Details

  • Service

    Private at the convenience of the family
  • Interment

    Private at the convenience of the family
    206 N. Spring Street
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