Obituaries

Jody Thatcher VanderYacht Obituary

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Jody Thatcher VanderYacht of Portland, MI, formerly of Saline, was born January 2nd, 1961 to Dr. and Mrs. W. C. VanderYacht in Ann Arbor, MI. As a child growing up in Saline, she, as well as her parents Wilbur and Audrey and her older brother Jeffrey, were very involved in the local arts community. She sang, acted, and played the flute in church, school, and community productions. She was a member of Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Saline. As a teenager, she attended the prestigious Blue Lake performing arts camp, specializing in theater, which would remain one of her lifelong passions.

After graduating in 1979 from Saline High School, where she was active in band and theater, Jody attended Albion College, where she met her best friend of 43 years and husband of 38 years, Ronald Alan Jones. They were married on August 25th, 1984, in Ann Arbor. Jody was a member of The Goodtime Players in Ann Arbor as well as The Saline Area Players in her hometown. She and Ron also mentored multiple summer shows with the Saline Varsity Blues, the first of many, many students Jody would mentor throughout her life.

After the birth of their two children, Kelsea in 1988 and Travis in 1992, the couple relocated to Hillsdale, MI for Ron's career as a high school math teacher. Here Jody worked in several community services roles, including as the Community Action Agency Adult Literacy Program Manager. Jody and Ron also served for three years as the co-presidents of the Hillsdale Community Theater and spearheaded the financial growth and stability of the organization. Jody continued to offer mentorship to young people interested in the arts, several of whom went on to establish careers in the entertainment and arts industry. Ron and Jody remained supporters of the Hillsdale Community Theater even after moving out of state and were honored with the Clint Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award by the group in 2019.

The family relocated to Ithaca, NY in 2003, where Jody and Ron continued to be involved in the arts community. Jody worked as the Development Director for the nationally renowned Kitchen Theater Company, where she led the capital campaign for the company's new venue, which opened in 2010. She taught theatrical makeup design and application for local middle and high school productions, and both she and Ron served as long-time mentors of the Shakespeare in the Basement youth theater company, founded by Kelsea, Travis, and several of their friends in 2005. Jody also found time to explore her other artistic pursuits, taking local figure drawing classes, and beginning to experiment with watercolors and jewelry making, and eventually drafting a play based on her childhood personal incident of and subsequent research on the phenomenon of "near death experiences."

Jody offered up her many talents freely to family, friends, and community throughout her life, but possibly none more than floral arranging. She provided weekly arrangements grown from the family's own extensive gardens to Grace Episcopal Church in Jonesville, MI for the decade during which the family attended. She handled all the florals for the weddings of both her children in 2016, and countless other occasions and celebrations for all who knew her. She also designed ornamental container plantings for friends and Ron’s landscaping clients. Toward the end of her life, she began to sell her jewelry creations online, but may have given away much more than she sold, as she primarily wanted beautiful things to be with someone who'd love them.

Jody was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, and after a full year of treatments and recovery, she took up nannying for the relative flexibility around her continuing health problems. She spent several years as the beloved "Grandma JoJo" to several local children. Although she did not have grandchildren of her own, she was devoted to her three "grandpets," two dogs and a cat, whom she treated just as she would human grandchildren.

In 2018, shortly after the couple moved back to Michigan to be closer to Ron's parents, Jody was diagnosed with a second round of the same cancer, this time metastasized in her lungs and bones. She outlived every expectation and prognosis, spending as much time as possible with her friends and family, especially Ron, who retired from teaching in 2021 to care for her full time. She passed away peacefully in her sleep in Ron's arms early in the morning of October 9th, 2022. In keeping with her lifetime of kindness, she waited until Ron had also fallen asleep.

She is survived by husband Ron, daughter Kelsea and her husband Max, son Travis and his husband Peter, mother Audrey, brother Jeffrey and his wife Jenney, parents-in-law Elizabeth and Vernon, longtime companion dog Poppy, and three grandpets Bernadette, Rue, and Letty. Those wishing to honor Jody with a donation are asked to contribute money or time to their nearest no-kill animal shelter, cancer-support group, or community theater. A memorial service commemorating her life will be scheduled and announced by the family at a later date.

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