Posted by: HAT | June 16, 2014

In Memoriam Jacob Isaac Thiessen, 1931-2014

Jacob Isaac Thiessen, Class of '48

Dad’s High School graduation picture

Jacob Isaac “Jake” Thiessen died peacefully in his sleep at 12:48 a.m., June 2, 2014 in St. Elizabeth Hospice, Edgewood, Kentucky. Jacob was born January 4, 1931 in Shafter, California, to Jacob Gerhardt and Anna Peters Thiessen, Mennonites who had recently arrived in the United States from Harbin, China, where they had taken refuge from dangers they faced in the Soviet Union. He would later enjoy telling students and friends that he was “made in China.” Jake grew up in California’s Central Valley. His early years included doing whatever farm work was available, and he could describe in detail the tasks associated with planting and pruning vines, picking grapes, turning trays, and caring for many kinds of fruit trees and animals. He attended Kings River School, where he was proud of having won a sixth-grade competition to identify the most homonyms. He was a member of the first entering class of Immanuel Academy, and later attended and graduated from Kingsburg High School (’48), where he played football; he later took courses at Reedley Jr. College. In 1952, while working with his brother-in-law in Salinas, California, he met Jo Caula Gregg; they married in 1954, and lived for the next 40 years in San Gabriel and Arcadia, California. Jacob attended and graduated from California State College at Los Angeles while working at the Post Office and as a bank teller. He taught at Rosemead High School from 1960 until his retirement in 1994, moving from teaching English to become coordinator of the reading lab, then coordinator of the work experience program, and later a teacher of math. He and Jo were long-time members of the Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena, where Jake taught Sunday school (6th grade); they later regularly attended Arcadia Presbyterian Church. Jake and Jo moved to Mallard Point near Georgetown, Kentucky in 1994. There Jake quickly succumbed to the regional pandemic and became a fan of UK basketball. He also served as a 2000 Census enumerator and a regular election worker, participated in a long-term study of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease conducted by the Sanders Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky, and was for many years the Georgetown Public Library’s and his neighborhood’s Santa Claus. Like all teachers, he was also a life-long student, with an acute intellect and a wide-ranging interest in many subjects, but with a particular fascination for philosophy, theology, and history. Over the years he made special in-depth studies of the thought of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Thomas Merton, and had an abiding interest in the life and thought of Krishnamurti. He also made an extensive study of the statistics and strategy of Texas Hold’em, which he would discuss enthusiastically in detail with interested listeners. Jake loved to drive; after Jo’s death in 2004, he made regular twice-yearly road trips to California to visit relatives and friends. He was planning a trip for May, 2014 when he was hospitalized with the pneumonia and interstitial lung disease which subsequently took his life. Jacob was preceded in death by his parents, his wife, and two brothers, Elmer and Robert Thiessen. He is survived by brothers George (Nelda) Thiessen and Pete (Dee) Thiessen of Kingsburg, California, sisters Blondie (Frank) Yarbro of Grant’s Pass, Oregon and Rosie Barrows of Lindsey, California, daughter Heather (Devi Pierce) Thiessen of Corydon, Indiana, son Jacob (Andrea) Thiessen of Washington, DC, granddaughter Zoe Docia Pierce, and a host of nieces and nephews. “Everybody loved Jake,” and will miss him. Memorial services will be held 11:00 a.m. July 19 at Johnson’s Funeral Home, Georgetown, Kentucky, with inurnment following at Raven Creek Cemetery, and October 4 in Kingsburg, California. Memorial contributions may be made to the Mennonite Central Committee,


  1. Time moves on. “In the midst of life we are in death.” Since the time of this writing, Dad’s been joined in death by his sister Rosie; his sister-in-law Dee; his brother-in-law Frank; his sister-in-law Nelda, and his brother George. May light perpetual shine on them all.

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