Jo Anna “Jan” Mitchell, was the only child of Mary Alice and Joseph Benko Laki, born on July 7, 1938 in Glen White, West Virginia. She died peacefully January 21, 2013 in the arms of her husband on their 31st wedding anniversary.
Reared as a southern bell and member of the D.A.R, she spent much of her younger years with relatives in Natchez, Mississippi. In 1956, Jan graduated with honors from Saint Charles Academy’s Catholic Girls Boarding School in Lake Charles, Louisiana. One of her fondest school memories was performing as the Blessed Mary in the boarding school’s annual nativity pagent. After graduation she attended Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont, Texas.
By 1965 she moved to Salinas. There she became a successful licensed building contractor, executive assistant, and title/escrow secretary. After securing her Real Estate Certificate through Hartnell College she sold property from 1976 through 1984, while affiliated with Raymar Realty.
Jan was such an effective public speaker that for five years she represented the Salinas Board of Realtors as a California Association of Realtors (CAR) Director. She was the first recipient of CAR’s coveted “Outstanding Realtor Associate of the Year” award presented in 1979.
When not selling houses, she was an officer of the Salinas SandBugs and later secretary of the Nor-Cal Nomads of Santa Cruz. Her enthusiasm for off-road recreation spurred her to become one of three co-founders of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association (CORVA), and was directly responsible for its incorporation. When not racing across sand dunes, she helped connect off-road vehicle club activities across the state by editing the CORVA News, the Salinas SandTracks, and the Nomads Caravan newsletters. In April 1972, four state associations (CORVA, CA4WDC, MORE, and CORL) recognized her for outstanding contributions to family off-road recreation.
Jan left Salinas with a new husband in 1984 and enjoyed the challenges of an Army wife in Washington D.C., Huntsville Alabama, Santa Monica California, and Colorado Springs Colorado. After her husband retired from the Army in 1990, the family returned home to refurbish a horse ranch in Prunedale. In 2000 the Mitchells donated usage of their Ranch Forgotten sables to the RedWings Horse Sanctuary to care for abused and abandoned horses, an alliance that continues today.
Recognizing Jan’s skills, Supervisor Judy Pennycook appointed her to the North Monterey County Inland Land Use Advisor Committee where she served as secretary for three terms. Insights from that experience spurred Jan to co-found two grassroots community organizations: the Prunedale Neighbors Group and the Prunedale Preservation Alliance. She gradually became known as the well-informed direct-talking spokesperson for PPA, who ultimately worked for 11 years to secure a responsible, updated county General Plan while constantly arguing for better development decisions from the Board of Supervisors.
From October 2003 through August 2006, Jan was a popular feature writer for the Aromas Tri-County News, crafting a monthly lead column entitled “The Pulse of Our Communities”, in which she reviewed many North County land use issues. Applying her breadth of knowledge, she became co-chair of the Rancho San Juan Opposition Coalition, which led two successful countywide referendums to protect the North County water aquifer by securing an 80% reduction in that subdivision.
Few people watching her persistent determined defense of communities knew that for decades she suffered heart and vascular disease. Survival required a femoral artery bypass and three open-heart surgeries. Unfortunately, on January 21 the disease won.
Jan is survived by her devoted husband, retired Army Ltc Ed Mitchell and loving family members: Jay Ancelet of Salinas, Randy and Lori Ancelet of Prunedale, Chester and Jeanne Ancelet of Arizona; and daughter Karen Pemberton of Arizona, together with five grandsons, two granddaughters, and two great grandchildren. She loved them all.
Religious services begin Friday, February 1st at 9:00 a.m. at the Queen of Heaven Cemetery, 18200 Damian Way (Take Ralph lane east off Highway 101 or use the Blackie Road overpass). Open casket visitation in the chapel will be followed by a rosary recital. Jan’s requiem mass starts at 10:30 a.m. Graveside services for family members will follow the mass at a plot where Jan will overlook the agriculture fields once threatened by the Rancho San Wrong project.
After the religious services, a catered celebration of Jan’s life will begin at noon in the Prunedale Grange located at 17890 Moro Road in Prunedale (Near the intersection of Moro and San Miguel Canyon Road).
The family requests any donations be sent to the RedWings Horse Sanctuary, P.O. Box 58, Lockwood CA 93932 or to the Prunedale Grange at 17890 Moro Road, Prunedale CA 93907.
Funeral Arrangements by Struve and Laporte Funeral Home. Online condolences to www.struveandlaporte.com.
For the complete article see the 01-26-2013 issue.
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