April 1, 1951 - August 10, 2020
Janice Kay Kriisa, 69, of Decatur, died August 10, 2020 at her residence. Janice was born on April 1, 1951 in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Herman and Ruby (Williams) Whitehead. Jan was a nurturing and protective mom. She was one of the most hospitable individuals you could meet. She was always ready to open her home to sit and to talk. She would ask, “Can I get you something?” or “Are you sure you don’t want more (fill in the blank for food here)?” Many of her peers from childhood have always remarked on how friendly and kind she was to all while growing up and attending Eisenhower High School. She would give you anything, including the shirt off her back (which her daughter literally took advantage of on a few occasions if the shirt was really cute). In the 80’s and 90’s, she became a second mom to dozens of kids when she opened up a daycare out of her home on Graces Ln. She continued to be a mothering presence to anyone who needed a listening ear and someone to confide in to the end. She was skilled at practical arts and handyman projects. Over the course of her life, she excelled at all manner of handiwork: she sewed Halloween costumes and prom dresses, crocheted scarves and knitted afghans. In addition, she had an innate sensibility for building and fixing things--building cabinets, fixing garbage disposals, (even a broken nintendo), jerryrigging home repairs. Had she been born a male in the 50’s, she would have been tracked towards a career as a crackerjack repair man. Had she been born several decades later, she may have been encouraged by a parent or a teacher to become a mechanical engineer. This talent for building and repair work was a skill she shared with her father. Besides her skills with practical arts, Jan also loved visual arts and had an exceptional and largely self-taught “eye” for design. She had been a prolific amateur photographer. Later in life, she collected many paintings of modern and abstract art as well as mid-century furniture bargains, mostly from the Gallery of eBay. She would spend a lot of thought on how to arrange the artwork and furnishings in a room just so. Her sense of visual design was self-taught, largely intuitive, and usually spot on, always conveying her aesthetic and authentic point of view. Through her marriage to Toomas Kriisa, Jan had the opportunity to be a part of a first generation immigrant family, refugees from Estonia after WWII and the Soviet occupation of the Baltics. For years, she learned some scatterings of the Estonian language, prepared many pots of Estonian dumpling soup (klimbisupp) and baked numerous loaves of Estonian sweet bread (kringel). She visited Estonia two times during her life and was beloved by this extended family, the Kiviks and the Kriisas. To this day, one may even find a small rowboat christened “The Jan” beached somewhere off the Gulf of Finland near the Estonian village of Virve, 50 miles east of Tallinn. Since the birth of her son Peeter in the mid-90’s, Jan has been a leading local activist and advocate for hundreds of children with special needs and their families. Over the course of two decades, she acquired an encyclopedic knowledge regarding special education law and students’ rights to a free and appropriate education that met their needs. She attended too many IEP meetings as a family advocate to count, guiding parents through the special education maze, offering a voice of clarity to overwhelmed and frightened mothers and fathers who wanted appropriate support for their children to learn and to thrive while in school. She also advised families across the country seeking skilled advocacy for their children’s rights to a free and appropriate education. During the course of her career in special education family advocacy, Jan worked for several agencies and nonprofits--for Child and Family Connections through the Macon County Mental Health Board, for Soyland Access to Independent Living (SAIL), for Family Matters Parent Training and Information Center, and for Equip for Equality. She was a co-founder, board member, and grant writer for the Macon County based nonprofit parent-led advocacy group P.R.A.I.S.E. (Parents Raising Awareness in Special Education). She was a member at First Lutheran Church for over 30 years and was currently serving on the Church Council. She held a deep faith in God. Despite experiencing so much recent grief and loss, she had a renewed appreciation for life, family, friends, and love. After the death of her husband, Toomas, in 2018, she shared a special love with John Atkins, a faithful companion who brought her much happiness. Her children will be forever grateful to her network of friends who shared life and love with her, especially in her final years. Surviving are her children, Gail Grigg (Dee) of Madison, WI, Ty Grigg (Laura) of Highland Park, IL, Peeter Kriisa of Decatur, IL; three grandchildren, Fiona, Henry, and Samuel; sister, Sandra Baker (George) of Decatur, IL.
Janice Kay Kriisa, 69, of Decatur, died August 10, 2020 at her residence. Janice was born on April 1, 1951 in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Herman and Ruby (Williams) Whitehead. Jan was a nurturing and protective mom. She was one... View Obituary & Service Information
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Janice Kay Kriisa, 69, of Decatur, died August 10, 2020 at her...View More
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