Janis Carol Woolbright was born in North Bend, Oregon, on February 27, 1958, and was adopted two days later by the late Charles and Esther Hilliker of Lake Oswego, Ore.
From a young age she was a voracious reader (having taught herself to read at age 4), had a keen mind for science, and read her multi-volume children’s encyclopedia set cover to cover numerous times. She sprouted whole seeds from her mother’s spice shelf and concocted “beauty products” from scavenged lotions and perfumes.
When she was four her family moved to Salem, Ore., and later to Meridian, Ida., finally returning to Lake Oswego. She attended Waluga Jr. High School, and graduated from Lakeridge High School in 1976.
She attended Northwest Nazarene College (now University) in Nampa, Ida., in majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry. She was the chemistry department secretary and a proofreader for the college newspaper.
Although “only” a biology major, she received the highest grade in both her theology class and in her class on the Epistle to the Romans. She took an upper division church history class required for history majors and religion majors, taking the high grade in that class as well. She graduated magna cum laude in 1980, along with fellow biology major, best friend, and future husband Jim Woolbright, with whom she fell in love at the end of her sophomore year.
Jim, on first meeting Janis, dismissed her as “too squirrelly,” but the two soon formed a deep friendship which lasted the rest of her life. They shared almost all of their interests in common.
Jim and Janis married in 1981 after Janis completed an advanced degree in medical technology from Boise State University. Interestingly, while an undergrad she was a student in a Spanish class that Jim taught, and then later had Jim as a student; Janis, who could make a better blood smear on a glass slide than anyone on earth, taught one of Jim’s hematology labs while he was in his professional program.
They spent the first year of their marriage in Richland, Wash., where, after passing her national and state board exams, Janis worked in a hospital as medical technologist and night-shift clinical pathology lab supervisor. For the next four years, while Jim completed a doctoral degree at Washington State University, she was a technologist in research labs (ruminant nutrition and tick cell culture) and a medical technologist in the veterinary college’s clinical pathology lab.
Janis managed their household finances by frugal living, shopping sales and promotions, and by being an extreme coupon-and-refunder. In fact, while at Pullman she taught a class on couponing and refunding.
Janis was active in church her whole life. In Pullman, and later in Enterprise, Oregon, she and Jim were co-youth pastors. She and Jim often sang duets and both sang in choirs and small groups. She had a beautiful soprano voice, but also sang alto according to a choir’s needs.
In the following years, Janis’ two children, Betsy and James, were born, and the family moved to McMinnville, Oregon. Holding her baby girl in her arms, she resolved to be a stay-at-home mom and to homeschool her children. Her homeschooling methods drew from her own childhood experience of the wonder and excitement of learning, and included deep dives into unit studies, many field trips, and hands-on instruction in practical skills like gardening and canning.
Even with her full-time job as a wife and mother, Janis continued her practice of service, taking an active role in the children’s Bible club AWANA and co-founding a chapter of the homeschool group ELT (Enjoy Learning Together), which grew quickly and continues to this day. Forfeiting a conventional career, Janis invested herself in the lives of her own children and others.
Her care and concern for children extended to the preborn while she worked tirelessly to raise funds for the local crisis pregnancy center and later served as a volunteer counselor after moving to Idaho. A well-informed woman of strong convictions, she also served as precinct committee person and as secretary of the Yamhill County Republican Central Committee, and was on a first name basis with many elected officials.
Janis’ passion for learning was not limited to educating her children. She was forever reading about meteorology, astronomy, ornithology, and everything else. She continued her own education through classes given by the county Extension Office and became a USDA-Certified Master Food Preserver and USDA-Certified Master Gardener.
She was an accomplished seamstress and loved making baby quilts for new babies in church or in her extended family. She made counted cross-stitch pictures and was an avid birdwatcher. She won many ribbons for her plants, canned goods, and handicrafts in county fairs. She also dabbled in rubber stamping and cardmaking, but it would not be until her last decade of life that this hobby would fully blossom.
In 1999, her family moved to Woodland, Idaho, where she had space for her many cats and a flock of backyard chickens (whom she loved as pets), and room to set up a real garden, where she raised vegetables and flowers and seedling plants to sell at the farmers’ market. When she finished homeschooling her own children, she began tutoring local students in math, biology, and chemistry.
Janis loved participating in the Valley Singers and Bell Choir until she began losing her voice in 2019. She remained active in her beloved Woodland Friends Church, playing the piano and serving on various service committees. Her involvement in children’s ministries included serving as a camp counselor at ALACCA; teaching Sunday school, children’s church, and Vacation Bible School, and the organization of summer reading programs.
She was known for bringing her homemade banana bread to church every week, organizing craft days, and her handmade greeting cards, which she sold on a donation basis, the proceeds of which went to the local Hope Center after she was unable to continue as a volunteer.
She was a sensible woman, whose great intelligence and wisdom were veiled by a gentle humility. Many facets of her living conditions -- crowded living in an unfinished house; her husband’s frequent extended absences for work; her poor health, would, for most people have been material for complaint, but complaints and bitterness were not in her nature.
Though she and her husband Jim enjoyed each other’s company above anyone else’s, she patiently endured his work trips and treasured his nightly phone calls, which sometimes lasted over two hours. She was a patient listener who always gave time for those in need and who gave her full attention with no interruptions.
Her health began declining around 2012, but rather than succumb to discouragement or bitterness, she quietly embraced her trials with joy. Mirroring the Lord Jesus Christ, her patience, her heart for serving others, her compassion and empathy for the hurting and sorrowing, her quiet humility, her kindness and gentleness, her indefatigable joy and cheerfulness, her refusal to complain, hid from the public her great physical suffering.
She was a woman of regular Bible reading and constant prayer, and whose life was a testimony to the transforming work of Christ, and was a person of complete integrity, being exactly the same person at home as in public view.
As her health continued to falter, she continued to keep busy, working in her garden as she was able (until she finally retired from it last year), and returned to her old interest in cardmaking and papercrafting, which became her most satisfying hobby and occupied her last years. She entered her greeting cards in contests on the internet and won many prizes and delighted in sending them to friends both online and offline. Her most successful venture was the annual Cat Lovers Hop that she created and hosted on her blog, which drew entries from cardmakers all around the world.
On January 6, 2023, after a difficult month’s battle with presumed flu complications atop her cardiac and other conditions, and an unrelenting, ravaging cough that had lasted for weeks and weakened her, she apparently died in her sleep, called home by her precious Lord Jesus Christ. Janis was faithful when tried in the furnace of tribulation and emerged shining, pure, and glorified; a triumphant runner receiving her crown of victory.
She was preceded in death by her mother, Esther Hilliker; father, Charles Hilliker; and son-in-law, Gerald Burns. She is survived by her brother, Tim (Cheryl) Hilliker of Portland, Oregon; her husband, Jim Woolbright; daughter, Betsy (Dusty) Woolbright-Birch; son, James Woolbright; and grandchildren, Andrea Burns and Miles Birch, all of
Woodland, Idaho; and her mother-in-law Jane Woolbright, sisters-in-law Polly Silva and Connie Woolbright, all of Kennewick, Washington.
Funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, January 21, 2023, at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church in Kamiah, Idaho, with a catered dinner following. Graveside service and burial in Woodland, Idaho will follow Sunday morning worship at Woodland Friends Church. In further celebration of her life, all are invited to bring snacks, desserts, finger foods, board games to a traditional “game night” of fellowship at 5 p.m. Sunday in the Woodland Friends Church. Trenary Funeral Home of Kooskia, Ida. is assisting with arrangements.
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