02/12/1928 — 08/29/2015
By Parvati Hansen
I first met Joanne Johnston in 1983 at Ananda House in San Francisco. She and her husband Lowell had recently begun attending classes and services there. They were new to Ananda, and had found a nice connection with the ministers and residents living at Ananda House in those years. When Joanne’s husband suddenly passed away the following year, I gave the memorial service for him.
When Ananda House closed in 1988, Joanne began driving down to Ananda Palo Alto to continue her connection with Ananda. She even tried living in the newly forming community, but told me later that this kind of living “just wasn’t for me.” Joanne continued her connection with Ananda Palo Alto over the years, driving down from San Francisco to attend the activities there. Over the following years I would sometimes see Joanne when I visited Ananda Palo Alto.
When Joanne contacted me at the Janaka Foundation office in June of 2011, we hadn’t seen each other for a number of years. She said she wanted to talk about her trust which needed to be re-done, so I drove down to visit her at her home in Walnut Creek. It turned out that although one of her concerns was getting her trust in order, what she really wanted to talk about was what would happen to Ananda when Swami Kriyananda died. How would Ananda survive after his passing? We had a very good and rather long discussion about this. I described to her the thoughtful planning that Swamiji had done over many years in looking to the future of Ananda. He had carefully placed core members with good leadership qualities in each of the main areas of Ananda. In addition, he had worked for many years with Jyotish and Devi Novak, preparing them for their role as the next spiritual directors of Ananda, and with Jyotish specifically as the one who would succeed him as the next Dharmacharya, or Spiritual Director of Ananda Worldwide.
After that first meeting, Joanne didn’t seem to have a need to talk about this subject again. And interestingly enough, she had a chance to experience first-hand what happened when Swami Kriyananda passed away on April 21, 2013. She lived for several years after Swamiji’s passing and was able to see how well Ananda dealt with this time of transition. By the time of her own passing in August of 2015, she still felt that it was Ananda, through the Janaka Foundation, that should be the main beneficiary of her large estate.
I visited Joanne for the last time in November of 2014. At that time she had finalized her living trust, and confirmed again that she had named the Janaka Foundation as the residual beneficiary of that trust. She had recently connected with a local law firm to help with her final planning, and felt good about the choices she had made. She felt that her trust now properly reflected her deepest wishes.
During this final visit, we had an hour long talk about her estate plans, and why she had decided on them. I asked Joanne about her relationship with Ananda Palo Alto over the years, and what portion of her estate she would like direct there. I had asked her this same question before, but she hadn’t been interested in talking about it. And again now she said to me that she was giving to Ananda in Nevada City because “it is the central part of Ananda.” She then said, “You know what the needs of Ananda are and where the money should go.”
Before leaving that day, which was the last time I saw Joanne in person, she asked me to check her meditation practice and specifically her practice of Kriya yoga. We did this in her living room, with the ever-present photo of Yogananda’s last smile sitting on her end table. She had once said to me, as were talking, “He’s watching you.” And I think now that he’s watching her. Joanne passed away on Saturday, August 29, 2015, of natural causes at a hospital in Walnut Creek, California.
We give a deep and heartfelt “thank you” to Joanne Johnston for her very generous gift to the Janaka Foundation and to Ananda in support of Paramhansa Yogananda’s mission to the world. It has helped us to establish a $1 million Endowment fund that will help Ananda in serving many truthseeking souls in the decades to come.