In Loving Memory of Janniver Kay Vala
January 11th, 1955 – September 3rd, 2021
Beloved Daughter, Sister, Wife, Mother, Grandmother and Friend
PODCAST: Jan Talks About Starting Vala’s
Jan Vala was born in Lincoln, Nebraska on January 11th, 1955 to Hazel and Charles Smith. She graduated from Lincoln Southeast before attending Nebraska Wesleyan University, where she was a flute player and a Delta Zeta sorority sister. After graduating with a degree in Psychology and attending graduate school, she became a school psychologist for OPS. In 1977 Jan married Tim Vala, and for many years she supported their family while Tim focused on building their business, Vala’s Pumpkin Patch, in Gretna, Nebraska. Eventually she joined the business full time and together Jan and Tim created one of the largest agritainment destinations in the nation.
Jan was unfailingly kind, the heart of both the Vala family and the family business. She loved Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Beatles, and she collected Pez dispensers, lunchboxes and tea pots. As a Grandma, Jan always had time for a tea party! Jan is survived by her father and husband, as well as her 3 daughters, Kirsten Fong, Kyla Shaver and Kelsey Donovan; and 5 grandkids, Zoe Fong (7), Ethan Fong (4), Freya Shaver (6), Stefan Shaver (3), and Elias Shaver (9 months).
REFLECTIONS: From Kirsten, Kyla & Kelsey
Mom was not a morning person! When we think of Mom, we think of late nights spent reading or watching TV. She loved movies and tv shows about secret agents, spies and science fiction — Harry Potter, Star Wars, all the Star Treks, The Hobbit, X-Files, Jack Ryan. She actually attended a Star Trek convention with Kirsten in the 90’s.
Mom also always had a stack of novels she was working through and a list of books “on hold” at the Gretna Library. She was happiest when she could end a day snuggled on the couch reading until 2am. And her love of reading was contagious! At a very young age Kirtsten was hooked on the Little House books and Nancy Drew mysteries, while Kelsey powered through all the JRR Tolkien books in middle school. Kyla loves Harry Potter so much that even now, as an adult, she still reads through the 7th book and then starts over again at #1. Mom gave us a love of reading, and it is a great gift.
Mom loved pancakes. And for a person who was not a morning person, she made a lot of pancakes; just the smell of pancakes will always invoke feelings of love and security in us, her daughters. Mom was a picky eater, she did not like kale, fish tacos (ask Kelsey to tell this story), or any baked good that mixed the flavor of cinnamon with chocolate. She barely ever drank alcohol, but she loved margaritas with Mexican food, and she had just discovered Kelsey’s hard cider slushies.
Our parents valued family above all else, and the five of us bonded together most over Vala Family Vacations; there have been many epic Vala trips, but it didn’t really matter where we were going, just that we were together. We all agree that our best trips were when Dad got a book, in the late 1990’s, about “the best places to kayak,” and Mom was up for the challenge! We kayaked in Maine, we kayaked in Kauai, we kayaked in Belize. Of course they were tandem kayaks and Mom always went in the backseat to “navigate” while Dad powered away in the front. Every once in a while he’d glance back and say, “Jan, are you paddling?” and she’d give a little jump and start splashing around, saying “Oh yes!”
Bus tours were actually more Mom’s style, and us three girls experienced being the youngest people on tour busses at least three times. But it was about being together; half our trips were adventure travel and the other half were bus tours! One trip in England, Mom posted a picture of herself on Facebook and said, “I’m in a real castle, I wish I had brought my wand!”
And then there were the Disney World trips, which barely count because they were supposed to be “business,” but the line between business and personal life was always pretty blurred for our family. We visited Disney World and Universal Studios often, for inspiration and for family time, creating magical memories of our own. Our favorite memory is Mom flitting around Harry Potter World with her wand — yes, they sell wands, and around the park they have places where you can stop, wave your wand, and something magical happens. There was usually a line of little kids waiting for the spot, and Mom would just jump in with them, eager to wave her wand and make “magic.”
Mom was the first to admit that she was not a business person in the traditional sense. She is the unsung hero of Vala’s Pumpkin Patch — this business wouldn’t exist without her hard work and dedication. Dad commented recently, he had the vision, but Mom made it happen. And amazingly, although she was our bookkeeper and our accountant to the very end, she never focused on profits and losses, she focused on individuals and relationships. What was most important to Mom was the people she interacted with, from her favorite sales reps, to a Kettle Corn popper, to a regular season pass holder who she recognized and greeted every visit, watching their kids grow each year. She nurtured people and built relationships, and that was most important to her.
Above all, Mom loved children! Her favorite part of Vala’s was the educational programs. She put her education background to good use developing Vala’s field trip and homeschool programs, and she enjoyed seeing all the children visit on September and October weekdays.
Our Mom was a great Mom AND Grandma! There was a light that clicked on inside her when she held her first granddaughter, Zoe, 7 years ago, and from that moment she eagerly jumped into the role of #1 grandma. Although Kirsten lives out of town, Mom always wanted to be with her kids on their birthdays, and she traveled across the country to make that happen whenever it was possible. She always had time and attention for her grandkids — for long video chats with Ethan, for Monopoly with Freya, for tea parties with Stephan, for cuddles with Elias, for endless messy crafts and clever games, she even jumped with them on the jumping pillows! She just adored her grandkids and they were blessed to get the time they had with her.
Mom was our family’s moral compass; we could count on her to always be kind, in any situation and with all people. We all aspire to be more like Mom, we hope she has taught us well. Mom was our rock, our foundation, and our inspiration for what we can do someday and the impact we can have in the community.
We were so fortunate to have such a wonderful Mom. She left us way too soon, but she had a beautiful life. We’re going to miss her terribly, so very very much, every single day. But Mom will live on in our hearts forever.