Palo Alto Online - Lasting Memories - Jo-Ellen Varner's memorial

Jo-Ellen Varner
Aug. 3, 1951-June 10, 2020
Atherton, California

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JO-ELLEN VARNER died peacefully on June 10, 2020, in her home in Atherton, CA, grateful to be surrounded by her loving family. Jo-Ellen was born August 3, 1951, in Chelsea, MA, to Peter and Ellen Yarema. She and her brother, Peter (“Skip”), enjoyed, as she would say, a very happy childhood. The family moved to Los Alamos, NM, and Las Vegas, NV, where Jo-Ellen’s father was career Air Force, then embarked on a second career at the Nevada Test Site. Jo-Ellen was an active and at times rambunctious little girl, unafraid of exploration or adventure. These were traits she never outgrew, much to the enjoyment of those who knew her. The family was active in the Episcopal Church and Jo-Ellen continued a faithful Episcopalian all her life. She attended the University of Utah, graduating with a degree in marketing. Jo-Ellen was insightful and curious, always willing to speak her mind followed by a sweet laugh. It is no wonder she enjoyed a successful career as a Merchandise Manager then General Manager for the Kmart Corporation. In 1986, in Roseburg, OR, she met and married Kenneth Varner. To anyone that knew the couple, their love was clear and their partnership through life’s many twists and turns was inspiring. The couple later welcomed Kenneth Varner IV (“Kenny”) and Peter Varner. For the remainder of Jo-Ellen’s life, her family would be her passion, her focus, and her joy. When Ken’s career brought the family to the Bay Area as the President & CEO of Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Jo-Ellen enthusiastically took charge of the household and gardens. She relished the holidays, decorating for Christmas every year just a little bit earlier and with just a little bit more flourish than the last. She sourced Hummel and Waterford pieces, collections that grew and grew, with her keen eye for beauty. She attended organic gardening classes at Love Apple Farms and enthusiastically created her own organic gardens, enlisting Ken and Kenny as her willing assistants. She cared deeply for her community, and was particularly devoted to her sons’ school activities, including serving as president of Lyceum in Menlo Park. Her excitement for world travel and fine dining took her to Russia, China, Sweden, Denmark, and throughout the Mediterranean—still, she was just as happy to be at home with her family. She will be remembered as a woman of remarkable good cheer, no matter the circumstances. Jo-Ellen Varner will be deeply missed by her loving husband Ken, her beloved sons Kenny and Peter, her dear brother Skip, her in-laws and many other relatives and friends who adored her.

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From Sharon A. Dolbin (Burgess)
June 14, 2020
With a heavy heart I write of Jo-Ellen. I remember a vibrant, classy woman who grew a fantastic organic garden. Jo-Ellen would proudly post photos of her garden's bounty on FaceBook. How I enjoyed those photos, so colorful & inviting to the senses. R...
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Memorial service
A visitation will take place from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm Tuesday, June 16, 2020, in the NOBLE CHAPEL at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, 1363 El Camino Real, Colma. A funeral service in celebration of Jo-Ellen’s life will be held in the Noble Chapel at 1:00 pm Wednesday, June 17, 2020. Interment in the East Side Gardens at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park will follow. Because of current county health officer orders, chapel attendance is limited to ten at any time. The funeral service will be webcast at the following link: (Password: jo-ellen)

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