Janice Elizabeth Rickards Sweeny, 82, most recently of Harrisonburg, Va., died June 25, 2020, at Sentara RMH Medical Center.

Janice was full of fun and adventure and loved life and laughing, giving full reign to her creative and independent spirit. Playful and young at heart, she was always the favorite mother in the neighborhoods where she lived.

In keeping with a long family tradition, Janice was also a talented storyteller and “embroiderer,” holding listeners rapt and making them laugh until their sides hurt with her tales—like the baby ducks who got out of the box at the lunch counter of the five-and-dime in King of Prussia—and the many tales that stemmed from her tragic sense of geographic direction (which she never let stop her and which she always turned into an adventure, no matter who was in the car with her).

Her inner compass, however, was steady and true. Janice devoted herself to helping vulnerable and marginalized people improve their circumstances and making them feel welcome. She could put anyone at ease, reach people who had never felt heard, and offer understanding and compassion.

Janice was born Oct. 25, 1937, in Pennsylvania, the only child of Jay Gamble Rickards and Elizabeth Hunter Rickards.

She grew up in Spring City, Pa., and she was raised in the United Methodist Church. She graduated from Spring City High School in 1955 and went on to earn her R.N. at Bryn Mawr School of Nursing in 1957. Later in the 1970s, she earned her B.S. in psychology at Emmanuel College in Boston.

On Nov. 20, 1958, Janice married the Rev. Dr. Joseph R. Sweeny, who died Jan. 20, 2006. Together they served churches and communities in Philadelphia and Cold Point, Pa.; Pitman, N.J.; Arlington, Mass; Chevy Chase, Md.; and Hastings and St. Augustine, Fla. They also lived in Laurel, Md., Phoenixville, Pa., and Palm Coast, Fla.

Janice’s church work included Bible studies, children’s messages, puppet shows and mission work. She also supported the music programs, often playing the piano, and loved that her daughter, Cynthia, started her vocal career at church.

During the 1960s, Janice and a group of Pitman First Baptist Church women versed in health, childcare, nutrition, family budgeting, home economics, sewing and other household skills established Housewives Holiday, teaching classes at the church for low-income women in the community. She also led the creation of Operation Figleaf, a church and community outreach that provided donated clothing, especially children's clothes, to low-income families.

Janice, never the stereotypical pastor’s wife, raised eyebrows more than once. She caused a stir in the 1960s when she took Hawaiian dancing lessons and in true Christian spirit shared the hula with others in the church. She enjoyed cooking for a crowd and hosting gatherings of family, friends, parishioners, intellectuals, civil rights activists, people who were mentally ill, homeless people, seminarians, educators from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard, and ecumenical groups in metropolitan Boston and Philadelphia, often intermingling the uptight and the far out.

Among her many accomplishments as a nurse, Janice saved lives and came to the rescue of many when no one else would pay attention. She was at her best in an emergency, and her bedside manner was storied. She specialized in psychiatric and gerontology nursing. While she worked at Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, Mass., in the 1970s, Janice was the prime mover in establishing a halfway house for transitioning warehoused patients to self-care in the community and teaching them basic living skills. Later in the 1980s, she helped start and run an Alzheimer’s unit and train staff at Golden Oaks Nursing Home in Maryland.

Above all, Janice loved being a mother and grandmother and most wanted to be known as a good mother to her children and their families: Jonathan Joseph and Laura Flagg Sweeny of Myersville Md.; Cynthia Sweeny Tashjian of Springfield, Va.; and Pamela Sweeny and John Chrisman Brock of Broadway, Va.

Janice was so proud of her grandsons and their special gifts: Noah Andrew Tashjian and Owen Joseph Sweeny. “Mimi” would have loved to celebrate with Noah when he was granted his learner’s permit the day after she died.

Also among Janice’s loved ones are sister-in-law, Joan Sweeny Woods of Oldsmar, Fla.; and sister-and brother-in-law, Drs. Janice Sweeny Barton and Keith Barton of Harrisonburg, Va.; cousins, Steven Rickards of Indianapolis, Ind., and Beth Rickards Miskell of Lake Helen, Fla., and their families; and her niece, Kathleen Woods-Smith, and nephews, Thomas, David and Steven Woods, and their families.

Janice shared escapades, life experiences, hardships and triumphs with her special friend, Pegi Siegel, currently of Medford Fields, N.J. They had remained close friends and accomplices since the 1960s.

While living at Sunnyside Retirement Community in Harrisonburg, Janice enjoyed making friends with the late Dodi Daley. When they were together, they grew young again.

Throughout Janice’s life, her beloved grandmother, Florence Gamble Rickards Berkenstock, repeatedly advised her: “Persevere, Janny.” She lived those words, overcoming many challenges and health issues. As Owen said, Mimi’s strength was most visible at these times. Like her grandmother, Janice always set a strong example.

A celebration of Janice’s life will be held in the future, as restrictions allow.

For those who might wish to send flowers, please instead consider making a memorial contribution to the Sunnyside Retirement Community Fellowship Fund, 600 University Blvd., Suite L, Harrisonburg, VA 22801

Lindsey Funeral Home in Harrisonburg is handling arrangements. Condolences may be sent to the family by visiting www.lindseyharrisonburg.com.

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