Gail Yvonne Johnson was born on July 3rd, 1959, in Kalamazoo, MI. She was the first Johnson to be born in the wolverine state. Her mom and dad were both from the Pineville, KY area, and lived there until they emigrated north to find better economic circumstances.
She grew up on beautiful Long Lake in Portage, MI. Spending her childhood and teenage years at Ramona Park and the surrounding neighborhoods. She was a child of the 70’s who had a TON of friends. She especially loved to dance while her dad played the guitar.
At the age of 19, Gail had her first child, Billy, with her boyfriend Thomas Hoke. She was a devoted and protective mother who gave all her effort toward bettering her child. In one incident, at the age of 4, Billy decided to drive her Ford Torino into a gas pump while waiting in the car for mom to come out of the gas station. The gas pump and the car burst into flames. Gail bravely raced out to the burning car, cast open the door through the flames, and plucked the panicked Billy out of danger. Sensing the gas pumps might explode, she then sprinted with her son into a nearby field and shielded him with her own body until the fire had been extinguished, and danger had passed.
At the age of 24, she had her second child, Patricia, with her soon-to-be first husband Tim Gilchrist. She was delighted to have a little girl that she could dress up in frills and do her hair. Once Patricia reached the age of 3, Gail and her family were on the local news because Patricia had gotten sick from a potentially contaminated doll that she received as a gift. An investigation ensued. But that wasn’t the end to the trials Gail would face with her beautiful daughter. Patricia, with her mom by her side every minute, battled kidney problems and other issues that were later diagnosed as an autoimmune illness. Gail was resolute, steadfast, and became a student of the medical system in order to best serve her daughter through that trying time.
Gail had continued to live on Long Lake and raise her kids. Those days on the lake saw many wonderful nights of friends and food and parties. Gail had many friends and she was well-liked by all. She was also young, beautiful, and filled with life. She had a constant smile, an easygoing way about her, and (at times) a devil-may-care attitude that was mitigated by her need to provide a stable life for her family. She loved long, pointless drives into the country and weekend stays or day-trips to Lake Michigan. Her favorite spot was the black-sand beaches of Covert Park. She also loved to practice modern archaeology and did bottle digs to find antique glass, finding many artifacts of value and note.
Gail continually re-invented herself, and in her late 20’s, decided to go back to school and get her high school diploma. Once that was conquered, she went to Davenport College (now University) to get her degree in Computer Programming. She worked her way through college while raising kids and maintaining her duties as a homemaker. Even when her husband unexpectedly went to prison, she kept her home and family together mostly by herself, with a little help from her friends and family.
It was in her 30’s where the symptoms of (what would later) be found to be a rare autoimmune disease would begin to rear their ugly head. This became the struggle of her life. Going to doctors who simply couldn’t help because they didn’t know what they were dealing with. She did this all while going through a painful divorce.
After many months had turned into years, and many wrong treatments and diagnoses, Gail was finally diagnosed with Behcet’s Syndrome. She also met Bill Redmond, who became her boyfriend and source of deep wisdom and security. Behcet’s had been causing her to have sores, joint inflammation, and had even caused her to begin losing her eyesight. She continued to bravely go to war with this awful disease every day of her life. With Bill right there by her side, she took experimental treatments, she tried many drugs with whole lists of side effects. But through it all she never lost her plucky, can-do attitude. She was everyone’s hero for pushing through and never giving up. She lost most of her eyesight, had a severe heart attack, and experienced many other unpleasantries. But through vegetarian eating, vitamins, and conventional medicines, she came out on the other side in relatively good shape. Despite the fact that she had to endure the passing of her beloved Bill toward the end of it all. She never flinched. She carried on. Her unshakable optimism was an inspiration for everyone who knew her.
Gail married Mike Aitken in July of 2001. And so began another great adventure. She reinvented herself as an entertainer. Partnering with Mike in his business, Lobo the Clown. With Gail, it became Lobo the Clown and Company. Gail was a natural! She was able to work together with her new husband to create a business that was so successful, Mike was finally able to quit his day job and focus on creating Miles of Smiles for kids everywhere.
They performed at Birthday Parties, they performed at company picnics, they performed at Christmas Parties, they even did Ape-A-Grams!
With this new company, Gail was able to completely realize the marriage of her unending creativity and savvy business sense. Their business continued to grow and grow, and provided a stable income.
During these years, Gail and Mike also had incorporated kids, grandkids, and even friends and neighbors to help with bringing Miles of Smiles to the Kalamazoo Area. They even purchased a blue and gold macaw, named Magic, to travel to shows and wow the kiddos. Gail loved that bird with all of her heart.
They expanded their business to include home visits for kids from The Easter Bunny and Santa Clause, a successful website and online business called santavideos.com, in which they filmed a personalized video of Santa and Mrs. Clause and sent it on DVD to children all over the world.
They hand-made and sold Big-Head Costumes and Puppets online. They went to craft shows as a Wizard and a White Lady and sold hand-made magic wands and other cool knick knacks.
Perhaps the pinnacle of all the amazing creative ideas were their very popular “Hillbilly Grams” in which Gail would dress up as “Ma” and play the banjo while Mike acted like a clueless bumpkin doing a crude magic trick. There really was no end to Gail and Mike’s fun ideas and creativity.
As Gail got older, things started to slow down with the business. But she reinvented herself for the last time as a staunch animal friend and activist. Gail was relentless in helping people all over Vicksburg, MI and surrounding communities to rehome and care for stray cats. Using her social media presence, she was able to reach out to many people she would have never met otherwise. Answering messages and helping people understand (not only) how to care for stray cats properly, but how to do what’s best for them as a community. She even spearheaded an initiative with the Humane Society to begin trapping and spaying/neutering all the local strays in an effort to reduce the population of animals without a home. And she did it all for free.
Her heart for animals also expanded past the cats, as she loved and cared for the local squirrels (they could be hand-fed by her) and the birds, and even the occasional raccoon or opossum.
On June 11, sometime in the early hours of Sunday morning, the world lost this beautiful mother, wife, and friend. Gail passed away in the most peaceful possible way, while in deep sleep. She is mourned deeply by every kitten that ever needed a home. Every squirrel whose life would have been saved by her medical treatments. Every kid who now won’t get to see Lady Moonflower light up a birthday party. Or sing the Hokey Pokey.
She is survived by her husband Mike Aitken, his daughter Elisa and her son Dylan. Her son Billy Johnson and his wife Shantel, and her many grandchildren: Mikayla Johnson, Corina Johnson, Ethan Johnson, Paige Johnson, Kiera Johnson, Rain Mathis, Ash Robles, Willow Johnson, Hunter Johnson, and Owen Johnson. Her Daughter, Patricia Hess (Gilchrist) and her husband Scott. And grandchildren Alyssa Hess, Christopher Hess, and Brianna Hess. Her sister, Lora Johnson. And her brother Marty Johnson, and his kids: Josh Johnson and his wife Jeane, and Jake Johnson.
She was preceded in death by her father, Bill G Johnson. Her mother, Alma Johnson (Hulsey). Her Aunt, Ruthie (Pearl) Stainer (Hulsey), and her cousin Sally Stainer.
Gail would find it “Fantabulous!” if concerned folks would make donations to her husband Mike, to help him through this tough financial time. He can be contacted via phone at 269-649-9022. While visiting Gail’s webpage at www.amsfuneralhomes.com please sign the guestbook by lighting a candle, and/or sharing a memory with the family.
The family is being assisted by the Avink, McCowen & Secord Funeral Home; 409 S. Main Street Vicksburg, MI 49097 (269-649-1697).