Virginia Jean Johnson, of Silver Springs, Nevada passed away in the early morning hours of August 2, 2023, from mesothelioma and congestive heart failure. She was surrounded by her family as she peacefully slipped away leaving behind many friends and family.
Virginia was born to the late Robert E. (Sr.) and Nesema (Nancy) Lee on January 5, 1935, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Much of her childhood was spent moving with her family around the western states following various work locations. They spent a number of years in Minnesota before leaving for Washington where both her father and grandfather worked on the Manhattan Project in Hanford, Washington; and her mom worked in the shipyards as a welder during WWII. Following the years spent in the Hanford area, they lived in Colorado, New Mexico, and California before settling in Nevada.
Virginia graduated from Fernley High School in 1953 and married Edward ‘Pat’ Callahan the same year. Pat and Virginia were among the first families to settle in the new community of Silver Springs, built their own home, and Pat helped build other area homes and many of the original businesses.
Virginia was devoted to the communities she lived in but had a special love for Nevada. While in Carson City (1967 – 1975), she worked at the Nevada Appeal doing advertisement sales and copy artwork, at Carson Tahoe Hospital she was a founding member of the Carson Tahoe Hospital Employees Association, instrumental in the formation of the initial DARE program, and was an active member of the Carson City Republican Central committee working on many political campaigns including Paul Laxalt and Ed Fike (in later years she would change her party affiliation).
In 1979, she married Raymond E. Johnson and spent time in Idaho and Durango, Colorado. While in Durango they designed and built a passive solar home with an attached full length greenhouse. They returned to her childhood hometown of Silver Springs in 1988 to “grow lettuce in the desert.” Virginia had a passion for gardening and worked with the Nevada Department of Agriculture to spearhead the State’s certified organic program. Their farm, Custom Gardens, had the first Nevada Organic Certification license for our state; their license number being 001.
Through direct sales at the farm, local farmers markets, and mail order they supplied local and national customers with fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, as well as Hawaiian baby ginger, turmeric, and garlic. It was here she found her true passion for organic farming. Virginia had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of plants and trees, as well as organic methods to control the weeds and bugs that tried to invade their gardens. She truly enjoyed sharing her expertise with others who in turn gained a new appreciation for organic standards and practices.
Virginia was an accomplished artist working with chalks, charcoal, and pen and ink. Dabbling in the performing arts, she even sang on stage at the Carson City Nugget and can also be seen as an extra in The Misfits movie (filmed in Dayton, Nevada where parents Bob and Nancy owned the old Europa Bar). She was always involved in organizing groups and events beginning with the Fernley High School Vaquero newspaper as editor for two years and would continue writing and sharing throughout the years with various newspapers. In Silver Springs, Virginia created and edited the Silver Springs/Stagecoach Community Phonebook from 1988-2005, was a co-founder of the Silver Springs History page on Facebook since 2018, and she was very involved in the development of EDASS (Economic Development Authority of Silver Springs), “Penny Park”, and the annual Founders Day Stew Doo celebration. Virginia is predeceased by her parents Robert E. Lee, Sr. and Nesema Lee, Sister Dorothy C. (Lee) Walters, and two brothers, Robert E. Lee, Jr. and Patrick M. Lee.
Virginia is survived by her husband of nearly 44 years, Raymond Johnson, and her children Cathy (Woody) Wood of Carson City, Tim (Dulcie Claassen) Callahan of Tacoma, WA, Nancy (Joe) Howard of Dayton, and Carollee Callahan; 10 Grandchildren, 26 Great-grandchildren, 2 Great-great grandchildren and numerous cousins in Minnesota and Nevada.
A celebration of life will be held at the farm in Silver Springs in the fall for family and friends. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Northern Nevada Chapter of Desert Pigs, a group dedicated to keeping our wild spaces clean and other local civic activities. Desertpigs.com / 775-220-7152.