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Local News

An Extraordinary Life: Family came first for Joliet woman

Gwen Dickerson-Johnson faithfully served her home family and her church family

Gwen Dickerson
Gwen Dickerson

JOLIET – Life was all about family for fun-loving Gwen Dickerson-Johnson – her biological family and her church family.

A lifelong member of St. Paul Missionary Baptist church in Joliet, Gwen was a greeter at the door, and a member of the anniversary, beautification and kitchen committees, said her sister, Darlene Bradley of Joliet.

“Gwen was like the Road Runner. She went all the time,” Darlene said. “You could always find her at the church doing something. Whether she was cleaning the church or planting flowers, she was busy always.”

On the homefront, Gwen shared her good cooking – ribs, deviled eggs and sweet potatoes – at family get-togethers. She also helped organize family reunions, down to arranging for coach buses for out-of-town reunions, Darlene said.

“She helped me move into a new house two days before she died,” Darlene said. “But when God gets ready to take the best flower, that’s his business.”

Of everything in Gwen’s life, it was her walk with God and how good and gracious he is, that was most precious to Gwen, Darlene said.

“He’s just the strength in our lives,” Darlene said.

Gwen was 59 when she died suddenly of a heart attack July 24.

Growing up in a musical family of 11 children, Gwen and Darlene were close, Darlene said. The entire family was known as the Dickerson Singers, so Gwen learned the value of service at an early age, as the singers performed events, including church-related ones.

“If the choir didn’t go, we had to go,” Darlene said with a laugh.

As adults, both Gwen and Darlene drove school buses for Joliet Township High School District 204, from which Gwen graduated in 1975. Around 1990, Gwen began working in environmental services at the hospital now known as Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center, Darlene said. Around 1998, Gwen injured her shoulder on the job and went on disability, she added.

But that only gave Gwen more time for church ministry and more with her two daughters Dara Johnson and Aleashea Johnson, as well as her three grandchildren. Dara’s children are Darius Johnson, 13, and Diamond Johnson, 12. Aleashea is the mother of Aaliyah Johnson, 6.

Dara said her mother freely shared her home-cooked meals and home-baked goods, and took her grandchildren everywhere with her, whether she was running errands or vacationing at out-of-state resorts.

“She was a happy lady and loving person,” Dara said. “If she had it and you needed it, she would freely give it.”

Dara said Gwen could be a tad overprotective with her loved ones but only because she wanted the best for them and she set the example she wished them to follow.

“She loved the Lord,” Dara said, “and it showed in everything she did.”

Aleashea said Gwen could do just about anything, and had skills Aleashea said she herself could never learn.

“She did everything herself, whether it was painting, laying carpet, knocking down walls, laying down tile. She could probably be a plumber. She could figure things out, no matter what it was,” Aleashea said. “She gardened, cut grass. She could change a tire; she could change oil.”

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or

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