Elizabeth “Beth” Claire Johnson Wagner Koehne
September 16, 1911 - April 16, 2013
Beth died April 16, 2013, after a brief illness. She was born Sept. 16, 1911, in Cashmere, Wash. to George and Bertha (Thayer) Johnson. They moved to Okanogan in 1920 and bought an orchard near the present golf course.
There were several tragedies in Beth’s early life. Her six-year-old sister, Marian, died from a rattlesnake bite. Then their family home burned to the ground. Beth also survived polio. Her family’s strong religious faith helped her through these trials.
Beth lived in Okanogan from 1920 until 1980, graduating from Okanogan High School in 1929. She briefly attended Washington State College but withdrew so she could marry Ralph Wagner, her high school sweetheart from Omak.
The Methodist Church was her spiritual and social center. That was where she met Ralph when she was 8 and he was 11. She played the piano and sang hymns beautifully, as did her younger sister, Marjorie, and her father. Her mother often accompanied them on the piano. One of her great pleasures later in life was attending symphony orchestra performances.
She was primarily a homemaker but also worked hand-packing apples, making many friends at the Grower’s Union Warehouse in Okanogan. Her optimistic personality and big smile made people feel at ease. She always tried to say only positive things about people. 175 people attended her 100th birthday party in 2011, an example of how many people loved her.
After Ralph died in 1974, Beth married Henry Koehne, (pronounced Kain), a widower and a summer romance of hers during high school. She had not seen him in 50 years. She enjoyed living with his large family in Wisconsin until Henry passed away in 1986. Beth remained close to all of his family.
She lived near her son, Richard Wagner, in Auburn, Wash., since 1988. At age 95, she finally gave up driving her little red car and moved to a Methodist Church-affiliated continuing care retirement campus, Wesley Homes Lea Hill, where she enjoyed living very much.
Returning to her hometown for the Okanogan Days celebrations and for family gatherings, she often included trips to local lakes such as Bonaparte, Conconully, Crawfish, Swan and Lost Lake, where she and her family camped and fished many times.
Beth’s family with Ralph includes children, Richard (Kay) Wagner, Auburn, and Carolyn (Dean) Allerdice, Honolulu; grandchildren, Rand (deceased), Jill (Colin) Donaldson, Pittsburgh, Holly (Matt) Bauermeister, Lake Tapps, Wash., Annie (Bernie) Holliday, Bradenton, Fla., and Mike Goodburn, Auburn; and great-grandchildren, Molly, Hannah, Neil and Elisa. She was close to many nephews and nieces, including the Kermit Michelsen family in Omak, Wash., Joy Vassar family in Green Bay, Wisc. and Daniel Myers family in Scotts Valley, Calif.
Her family with Henry Koehne in Wisconsin includes his children and their spouses Bill and Pat, Jack and Renee, Fred and Sharon, Margie and Tom Sutrick, and Mary Geronimi. Beth managed to keep close contact with the 40 offspring of Henry’s family.
She was preceded in death by her sister, Marjorie Myers.
Throughout her later years, Beth remained in excellent health with a quick mind, cheerful outlook, good mobility and a concern for her appearance. Coloring her hair until age 97, wearing lipstick, tasteful clothes and jewelry were just part of how she remained young at heart.
Graveside services will be held at Omak Memorial Cemetery on Saturday, April 27, 2013, at 1 p.m. with Okanogan United Methodist Church Pastor Priscilla Hone officiating.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Beth’s name to help build a new skilled nursing facility at the Wesley Homes Lea Hill campus that will be similar to the Wesley Homes Health Center in Des Moines, Wash., where she comfortably spent her last few days . Tax deductible checks may be sent to the Wesley Homes Foundation, 815 South 216 th Street, Des Moines, WA 98198.