Janida Jones Murphree, age 90, died at 3:57 am on Sunday, October 25, in her daughter’s home in Middlebury, Vt. She died peacefully, surrounded by family, love, and prayer, after a long decline from Alzheimer’s.
Janida was born August 6, 1930 to Robert Ezekiel and Ima Gaye Jones of Duncan, Okla. Her mother’s family were early pioneers in Stephens County, “crossing the Red River from Texas with their cattle” (as her mother put it) when Oklahoma was still Indian Territory and Stephens County part of the Chickasaw Nation. When Janida was born her father owned and ran the Jones Brothers Dairy, which he was later forced to sell during the Great Depression; he then picked up a paint brush and traveled the country taking every job he could find, while Ima lived at and ran a National Youth Administration program for young women.
With both parents working, Janida and older sister Julia Ann lived much of the Depression with their grandparents, Sid and Ida Jones. Among Janida’s fondest lifelong memories were driving cows with “Papa Sid” from the family’s land south of Duncan to the clear water and green grass of “Weed Holler” and riding her cow pony Skipper.
Janida attended public school in Duncan, but graduated from Horace Mann High School in Ada in 1948. Her first year of college she attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where she met future husband Bobby Warren Murphree (born in Muleshoe, Texas, but whose family moved to California in the 1940s). She spent two years at the University of Oklahoma, and, following Bob, finished her undergraduate studies at Long Beach State College (now Long Beach State University), with a BA in elementary education and minor in physical education in July 1952.
On December 22, 1951, Janida and Bobby were married in Duncan’s First Baptist Church, where Janida grew up and where her parents were life-long members. Janida and Bobby lived most of their married life in and around Berkeley, Calif., where Bobby prepared for a career in the ministry, obtaining both a bachelor’s in divinity and master’s in theology degrees from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and a master’s in history from the University of California, Berkeley. Their five children — Robert, Sidney, Meigan, Gaen, and Jacob — were all born in the Berkeley/Oakland area between 1952 and 1961.
Tragedy struck July 2, 1961, when Bobby drowned in the Berkeley YMCA pool, and Janida brought her family of five — the youngest five months, the oldest eight years — back to Duncan, where she had the support of family. A year after Bobby’s death, she began taking classes at Oklahoma College for Women in Chickasha (now University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma). At OCW she discovered her life’s work: working with children as a speech language pathologist in public schools.
In 1965, soon after receiving her SPL certificate from OCW, Janida landed her first job and moved her family to Medicine Lodge, Kan. In 1967 they moved again, this time to Hays, Kan., where Janida furthered her expertise and education with a master's in speech language pathology from the then–Fort Hays State College. From 1968 to 1972, she ran one of western Kansas’s first public school–based programs for hearing-impaired children out of a classroom at Hays' Lincoln Elementary School invitingly filled with toys, games and colorful teaching materials. She taught with love, hugs, and patience — and a belief that every child should have a voice.
Over her 30-year-plus career, Janida worked at schools in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. She loved her work and took pride in supporting her family as a single mom, while helping kids access speech and language so they could live happier lives. She was truly a kid whisperer.
After her retirement, Janida lived for a time in Norman, Okla., then relocated to Colorado Springs, Colo., which she loved for its proximity to the Rocky Mountains. In Colorado Springs, she owned and managed two apartment buildings and later took up oil painting, taking classes and painting hundreds of pictures of flowers, trees, birds, frogs, barns, fields and pastures — and of course, her beloved long-horn cows. Janida's daughter Meigan, who had died in 1998 of a heroin overdose, was known to many in the Springs area as a poet and rock 'n' roll musician. Janida provided a second home, a place of loving acceptance, to many of her late daughter's friends. In 2000, she bought a little house near Sondermann Park, where she loved to walk in nature.
Janida’s children remember her gratefully for her grit and determination in the face of hardship; for teaching them the value of work; for instilling a love of music, books, and learning; for taking them camping in beautiful places like Rocky Mountain National Park and the Grand Tetons; for letting them use their own minds and gain independence; and for always letting them know how much she loved them.
Janida is survived by sons Robert, of Norman, Okla.; Sidney, of Louisville, Ky.; and Jacob, of Omaha, Neb.; by daughter Gaen, of Middlebury, Vt.; by grandchildren Matthew, Colin, and John Murphree; Ian, Luke, and Jessica Murphree; and Meigan and Chloe Clark; and by step-great-grand-daughter Leia Beth Johnson. She is also survived by nieces Stephanie Sidney, of Gardner, Mass., and Sabrina Sanders, of Lompoc, Calif. Janida’s daughter Meigan, then of Lawton, Okla., died in 1998. Her niece Sharon Gayle Short Athey died in 2002. Her sister Julee Short (Julia Ann Jones), of Norman, Okla., died in 2010.
— Gaen Murphree, 3 December 2020
Janida's ashes will be interred next to her husband's later in 2021 at the municipal cemetery in Duncan, Okla.
Bobby Warren Murphree
1930–1961 (m. 1951)
Julia Anne Jones Short
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