Eleanor K. Johnsen

Eleanor K. Johnsen Eleanor Kay Johnsen passed away peacefully at her Ridgecrest home on Friday, April 7, 2017, at the age of 84 after 55 years of leadership and service in this valley. Known as “Osh” or “Ellie” to her friends and family, she was a pioneer among women seeking challenging careers. She approached every aspect of her work and personal life with passion and optimism.

A rosary and funeral mass were held at St. Ann’s Catholic Church on Wednesday, April 12.

On Feb. 19, 1933, Ellie was born to Samuel and Genevieve Toomasian in Waukegan, Ill. Growing up in a typical Armenian family, Ellie attended Armenian Bible School, Andrew Cooke Grammar School, and Waukegan Township High School. Upon graduation in 1950, Ellie was hired as a clerk-typist at the Great Lakes Training Center. She rapidly advanced to a secretarial position in the Personnel Department. She met her future husband Dick in 1953.

They discovered young love and were married on June 12, 1954, at the Episcopal Church. A memorable Armenian celebration followed with her Uncle Nishan directing the festive event that included toasting, eating, dancing and more dancing. After the wedding, the newlyweds traveled west to the Black Hills of South Dakota, where Dick had a job offer at Ellsworth Air Base. Ellie worked as a secretary for a large lumber retail, wholesale and manufacturing company and was later employed by the School of Mines College. During their Black Hills years, Ellie met the Stanley Johnsen family, including Stan, Katherine and their four lovely children Bruce Shirley, Ron, and Roger. Ellie and Katherine soon bonded as cultural sisters. A loving lifetime relationship soon developed between Ellie and the family.

In 1957 Dick and Ellie moved to Chicago, where Dick attended the Art Institute and Ellie accepted a secretarial job with the Hearst Advertising Corporation. In 1958, when Dick and Ellie moved to the legendary Hollywood, Calif., Ellie transferred from Hearst’s Chicago office to the Los Angeles office. Dick attended the Art Center College of Design. Meanwhile, Ellie was recruited by the Los Angeles Times Corporation in 1959. Her administrative skills were soon recognized by management, so she moved from secretarial positions to various administrative assignments. She was chosen as an editorial assistant to the editor of the new publication. This position was the perfect fit for her creative energy and administrative skills.

However, by 1961, she and Dick were offered jobs at a place called NOTS China Lake. Little did they know a whole new adventure was about to begin. Dick accepted a job as an illustrator in China Lake’s Technical Information Department. Ellie went back to school at the Desert Campus of Bakersfield College, but soon Jim McGlothlin offered her a job as his secretary, and her distinguished career at China Lake began.

Three years into their China Lake years, a new event entered her life. She gave birth to her beloved son Jamie, who became the center of her life for her remaining years. When Jamie started preschool, Ellie accepted a position with NOTS Central Staff as a secretary to the Management Division. She was soon recognized for her ability to accept responsibility and make things happen.

Demonstrating her versatile can-do spirit, Ellie wore many hats at China Lake. She often tackled several jobs at once, such as in the early 1970s when she was the administrative assistant to Dr. Richard Kistler, secretary to the China Lake Advisory Board and coordinator of the Federal Women’s Program. Citing her ability to deal effectively with all kinds of people, Mel Sorge, then head of Central Staff added, “Her work … reflects her versatility and her willingness to take on responsibility … regardless of the amount of extra hours required.”

Starting with her selection by John Di Pol as China Lake’s first woman to become a head of staff, Ellie held an impressive array of high-level positions. She served as the protocol officer,, then as the acting public affairs officer and led other staffs. When she retired in November 1991, after more than 31 years of federal service, she was head of the Management Analysis Division.

Always on the ground floor of celebrations and fund-raising activities, she worked on Navy Relief fund drives and was the co-chair with Eva Bien of the 1976 and 1977 Combined Federal Campaigns. Among her off-the-job duties were reading, cooking, and enjoying her friends. She liked community activities, including her time as president of the women’s golf club. She and Dick enjoyed supporting their son’s school and sports activities. They also liked skiing and owned a condominium in Mammoth. Ellie was on the scene to help establish the Community Light Opera and Theatre Association. After appearing as a singing girl in the Bakersfield College Desert Division’s production of Oklahoma, she became a member of CLOTA’s first board in 1965-66. As a community volunteer, she became the first female chair of the Board of Directors of the NWC Community Federal Credit Union. As with her career, she brought tireless energy and skill to her volunteer job, helping to expand the organization’s membership to rural Inyo and Mono counties. She was also instrumental in changing the name to AltaOne.

She was preceded in death by her beloved son Jamie in March of 1985, as well as by her parents Samuel and Genevieve Toomasian, and her brother John. She is survived by her husband Dick Johnsen, Tommy Legg, her sister Mary Petrosian, her niece Pam Thomas and her nephew Marshall Toomasian.

— Submitted by the family of Eleanor Johnsen

Story First Published: 2017-04-14