Life Story / Obituary
With a life that spanned times of great change in the world around her, Esther Johnson was a blessing to everyone she met. A longtime resident of the community she loved, everyone in the neighborhood knew her as “The Cake Lady” as she took great care in making the special days of others truly amazing. A loving wife and devoted mother, Esther was never really one to be a firm disciplinarian, but her children always knew what was expected of them. Gracious and giving, for years her door was open to anyone in need, and she had a warm and genuine way of making others feel welcome and wanted. Nurturing, compassionate, and selfless, Esther will be forever missed by all who were blessed to know and love her.
The 1930s were an eventful time in American history, and for the most part this was not an easy time. The Great Depression covered our nation and much of the world like a black cloud, and there were few families who didn’t feel the strain. Jobs were scarce and the unemployment rate soared, which left cities, communities, and families to come together to weather the storm in whatever way they could. Amidst this eventful time Harold and Ina (Buell) Cam were able to shift their focus to an exciting time in their own lives as they eagerly awaited the birth of their new baby as August dawned in 1935. It was on August 2nd that they announced the birth of the baby girl they named Esther, and she was their only child. Esther’s father was a banker. Her mother was a homemaker who also did odds and ends for others to earn some additional income. Esther’s parents divorced, and when Esther was five her mother remarried DeLos VanBurger who raised her as his own.
Esther was raised on her grandparents’ farm and always spoke fondly of her upbringing. Her “pets” were cows and rabbits, she always loved animals. They went to church three times a week, and when asked her name Esther always replied with the nickname she gave herself - “Esther Ice Cream Cone Cam.” Growing up, her two best friends were Shirley and Barb, but in many ways they were partners in crime. Esther never did elaborate much on what that meant, she always just smiled and thought to herself. As an adult Barb lived in Tennessee, and their families regularly visited one another on vacation. Shirley became a lifelong pen pal who never missed sending a birthday or Christmas card. As a student Esther attended local schools including Paw Paw High School where she participated in both art and drama. She even performed in the play “Hiawatha.” After graduating from high school in 1951, Esther worked in a bank. This is quite ironic to her family because she couldn’t balance a checkbook but yet she worked in a bank! She also attended Western Michigan University for one year, studying art.
Not to be forgotten during her younger years was Esther’s introduction to the man of her dreams. His name was Alburton "Cap" Johnson, and they met when they were in the eighth grade. It was quite interesting, however, because Esther couldn't stand him! To her he was a loud, obnoxious farm boy. True love won in the end, however, because they were married on September 19, 1954, in Almena, Michigan. One of the things Esther really loved about Cap was that he was part of a large family as he was the youngest of five. Together they welcomed three children including Joyce, Jerry, and Jeana into their hearts and home. As a mother Esther was quiet, soft-handed, and easy going. There were no rules and no chores, but that didn't mean that Esther didn't have expectations of her children. She was very supportive of her children in everything they did, and she was happy to take in the kids’ friends when they were in trouble or were hungry. Esther’s kids and their friends always knew that there was an open door policy at her home. Pets were always an important part of her life, and her favorite pet was a Peakapoo named Luvy. This was actually Joyce's dog, but she fell in love with Esther and they were best friends ever since.
For years Esther worked as a cake decorator. This was something she did out of her home, and she did work for several local bakeries including MaryLou Bakery, Kramer's, and Family Foods. Around town she was known as "The Cake Lady,” not to be confused with the Cake Lady store, which opened long after this had been Esther’s nickname. Decorating cakes was truly a passion of hers, and she found it so rewarding. Over the years she was the one to make wedding cakes for all her family members and numerous friends. In the late 1980s, Esther retired.
Retirement allowed Esther to spend more time with her family. She helped raise her grandchildren, and in 1987 her mother moved in with Esther so she wouldn’t be alone. Esther loved having her there and took great pride in being able to give her things she never had like indoor plumbing! In many ways they took care of each other until her mother’s death in 1994. Soon after, Esther’s daughter Joyce moved in with her family to help care for her. In all her years, Esther has never lived alone. She also depended on others to get her where she needed to go later in life since she gave up driving in 1991 because she was known to doze off at the traffic lights!
Throughout her life Esther was a woman of many interests. She enjoyed playing cards with her husband's family, and reading romance novels was a guilty pleasure. Esther got so caught up in the story that she would be caught reading out loud without even knowing that she was doing it. If someone pointed it out, she was quiet for a moment or two, but she then started out loud again. Esther liked collecting lions, loved monarch butterflies, birds, and leaves in the fall as she was a nature lover. She loved looking at snow as long as it was behind glass as she didn’t like being in it. Esther was always cold and could turn the heat up to 80 degrees in the house and still be cold. She was also notorious for asking her grandchildren if they had their gloves.
When meeting Esther Johnson it was easy to see her kind heart and genuine love and concern for those around her. She always made the best of things and took everything in stride. Esther loved her family first and foremost, and her love for them was unconditional. She will never be forgotten.
Esther Johnson, of Portage passed away on November 13, 2016 in the comfort of her own home. Esther's family includes her children: Joyce (Steve) Rutherford, Jerry (Caryle) Johnson, and Jeana (Derek Alexander) Vieta; 14 grandchildren; 22 great-grandchildren; 6 great-great-grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews. Esther was preceded in death by her husband, Cap, and her parents. A memorial service will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 17th at Almena United Methodist Church, 27503 Co Rd 375, Paw Paw. Please visit Esther's memory page at www.lifestorynet.com where you can archive a memory or photo and sign her memory book online.