Luna Rose Johnson Burnett died shortly after 3 p.m., Friday, November 2—at home with family and hospice, the way she wanted. She had been a patient at the OU Medical Center Thursday, October 25-Tuesday, October 30. On Monday she told her son, Brandon, “I want to go home and be with family, the way Ramona did.” Ramona Johnson was a beloved older cousin who died Sept. 23, 2018.
Luna was born in Chickasha, OK, on July 21, 1954, the youngest of Linnon and Edna Johnson’s children. She moved to Okemah in her sophomore year of high school. After graduating from Okemah High School in 1972, Luna attended Rose State College.
Luna worked at various jobs in Okemah, beginning with Blue Bell Wrangler, where she moved from the sewing line to supervisor shortly after being hired. Later, she worked as an insurance agent at American Citizens Insurance. Then, she moved to The Okemah National Bank, now BancFirst. She also owned and operated the Brick Street Café for fifteen years, and before that she ran a successful cake baking and decorating business from her home.
During her 49 years in Okemah, Luna volunteered in everything from T-ball to city council. She was active in the Community Improvement Association, Pioneer Days, and Crystal Theatre, and she provided a venue for musicians at Brick Street during the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival.
Along the way, she was recognized by a number of civic groups, ranging from the Okemah Chamber of Commerce to the Oklahoma Arts Council.
Luna lived with metastatic lung cancer for two years. Because she loved her BancFirst job, she continued to work, mentoring personnel and serving customers, whenever she didn’t have a medical appointment or a hospitalization. She began working at the bank over 20 years ago, when it was The Okemah National Bank. She worked as recently as Monday-Wednesday before her hospitalization began on Thursday.
As important as work was to Luna, she loved her family even more. She got together often with her three sisters, Linda Johnson Hunt, Marylin Nease, and Frances Flinn. Rex Hefner, Luna’s husband, took her to some 60 OKC medical appointments. During her illness, they also enjoyed a Memphis getaway with close friends, and Luna and Rex enjoyed weekend day trips in the local area as well. Luna’s son, Brandon, and daughter-in-law, Shawna, were with Luna daily. Morning and evening the past several months the two mixed milk in Luna’s kitchen and then in a nearby pasture bottle fed an orphaned bison they named Max. Luna loved the daily visits and watching Max’s feedings. Linda’s son, Houston Hunt, and his husband, Taylor Hill—one or the other, or both—were with Luna for every OKC medical appointment and kept out-of-town family updated. And, Luna dearly loved her nieces, nephews, grandnephews, grandnieces, grandchildren, and cousins as well.
Luna’s friends were also dear to her, many becoming like family. On their visits to Okemah, her sisters regularly witnessed the warm greetings and hugs she received about town. Luna loved Okemah and its people, and through volunteer work and serving on the city council and as a 15-year mayor, she did all she could to make it a better place to live and work. Luna’s sisters were proud of her service and leadership and always felt honored to be her sisters and at her side.
At 1 p.m., on Saturday, November 24, at Okemah’s Crystal Theatre, where Luna volunteered for many years, and at the next-door Okfuskee County Historical Society (407 W. Broadway St.), Luna’s family will host a memorial celebration of Luna’s life for family and friends. After Luna attended her cousin Brenda Johnson’s memorial celebration in Norman, OK, last year, she told her sisters, “That’s what I want—a time for family and friends to celebrate. I want everyone to enjoy fellowship and food and be happy.”
Also, Thanksgiving week, Luna’s family will gather for a private sunrise service at the Castle cemetery, which is a short walk across the highway and up the hill from the family’s ranch house west of Okemah. Luna often said, “Sunrise is the best time of day!” and she wanted a sunrise service. Final arrangements are pending.
Luna’s favorite holiday was Christmas. On Halloween day, the family began celebrating. A crew strung Christmas lights on the house, trees, and fence. The next day, Brandon, Taylor, Larry (brother-in-law), and Rex put up a 15-foot Christmas tree made of lights in the front yard. Also, Brandon and Taylor strung lights around two large bison silhouettes at the entrance to a nearby pasture, another place Luna wanted Christmas lights. In addition, on Halloween the family began listening to Christmas music as a soft background around the clock. Her family placed Luna’s bed at the living room picture window so that she could look out and enjoy the Christmas wonderland. She said, “Well…, it’s amazing!”
Luna asked to be cremated, and after she died, a man arrived to transport her body to an OKC crematorium. A Native American of the Creek Nation, he sang “Amazing Grace” in his Creek language. Then, he led the family in a prayer calling for faith, healing, remembrance, and love. The farewell he gave the family in their home’s living room as they gathered around Luna’s body was moving and beautiful.
Altogether, Luna’s family had a sad but joyful final week with her. To the end, Luna’s mind was clear, and her words were as direct as ever. Luna’s family members are grateful and honored to have had Luna in their family. They are thankful that she told them what she wanted and that they were able to arrange everything as she wished. They will miss her, but they know she will always be with them in spirit and in memory.
In lieu of flowers, if you would like to make a memorial gift, Luna’s choice is the Crystal Theatre (P.O. Box 165, Okemah, OK 74859). The theater opened in 1921 and continues as a community center of civic and artistic pride. Or, please give to a charity of your own. Luna believed in supporting good causes and would feel honored any way you choose to remember her.
The family extends deep appreciation to Brett Breedlove, Angie Yates, LaChrisha Gamble, Teresa Peterson, John Roberts, Rhonda Odum, and Candace Williams of Faith Hospice in Seminole for their skilled and compassionate care. The family also thanks Janie Miracle of Tuttle, OK, for her two nights of skilled and compassionate care. Janie was Luna’s sister Linda’s nurse for 30 years at Southern Plains Medical Center in Chickasha. Luna’s family also feels special gratitude to all members of Luna’s Okemah family and beyond who have expressed their love and support through in-person words, hugs, food and supplies, and messages on social media and by mail. Your tributes to Luna’s life, your shared memories, and your comfort mean everything! The family will always be grateful as well to Dr. Vipul Pareek, Luna’s oncologist at Stephenson Cancer Center in OKC—and to his staff, for giving her two more years and for his knowledge, wisdom, and humor. Luna and Dr. Pareek were a perfect doctor/patient match! The family deeply thanks Mae Lucas of Chickasha, too, for getting Luna’s sister Linda to Luna’s appointments with Dr. Pareek. So many wonderful people joined the family’s team to make everything work!
The following reflections come from Luna’s family.
Niece Candace Hunt shares, “Luna has always welcomed my children and me. Her sweet voice always made me feel comfortable. She asked me questions to get to know me.
“Both of us being a mom to a boy, we could relate. I remember talking to her about my son, Case, and she told me, ‘You just wait!’ as she laughed. “I know she made my mother-in-law/Luna’s sister Linda proud.”
Nephew Taylor Hill shares, “I remember making many trips to the doctors’ offices with Luna, where I had to interpret each doctor’s language and translate the medical talk so that everyone in our family understood it. “Then, there was the time when Houston and I had to move a log from the pasture to the ranch house backyard so Luna could turn it into a flower garden. It looks great now, but our backs were sore for a few days. “Most of all, I remember how Luna was always smiling, especially when there were flowers and mulch to be had on sale.”
Nephew David Hunt shares, “Luna had a big impact on my life. When I was in college, I would come to Okemah during the summer breaks and hang out with Brandon and Luna. I was always looking for a job for the summer, and she always found work for me to do along with Brandon.
“I think back to how young she was and putting up with another teenager in her house, finding things for us to do, and trying to feed all the boys that hung out at her house. Yet she did it without complaining, on top of the work she was doing to maintain her household. “Luna was a great mother to Brandon and a great aunt! She was always positive and a blessing, and I’m very thankful for the impact she had on me. “I’m sad that as I got older and had my own family, I didn’t get to spend more time with her or any of my other aunts. I get so busy sometimes that I take things for granted. I always remember her telling me, ‘Come visit, and it doesn’t have to be just Thanksgiving.’”
Brother-in-law Larry Flinn shares, “Luna easily equaled the accomplishments of her older sisters—a physician, a teacher, and a mortgage banker—by becoming a leader in her community. As mayor, she promoted her hometown as a place to live and attract new industry. “She raised her son, Brandon, in a small-town environment, and he grew up to become a banker and a rancher, following in the footsteps of his mother and his grandfather. He’s grown into a man any father would be proud to call his son. “But to me she earned her highest award for nursing her parents and aunt through long and debilitating illnesses to the end. Her sisters assisted, but she was the one present daily. Later, she chose to move back into her parents’ house and to reopen it as the home place for family to gather and reaffirm their love for each other. “Luna and I took several trips together in Oklahoma and Texas. We stopped at antique stores, where she searched for Brick Street furnishings, and at home supply stores, where she bought garden items. In Iowa we visited my relatives, and she saw rolling fields of corn and soybeans. “Luna was a lot of fun to be with. One time we tried to play her upright piano, remembering notes on the staff by reciting “Every Good Boy Does Fine” and laughing as we moved from measure to measure. And she told me that in today’s computer world, her favorite tablet is the red Big Chief lined tablet.”
Husband Rex Hefner shares, “Luna was the perfect combination of intelligence, class, and humor. “She was beautiful outside, but she was even more beautiful inside. She tended to find the positive in every situation. In her illness, she was happy she got to meet so many wonderful and caring nurses and doctors. “My daughter, Stacy, thought of Luna as her mother, and Stacy’s kids called Luna ‘Grandma.’ They worshiped Luna, and she thought of them as her own. Luna even got along with my ex-wife. “We took great trips together—from the headwaters of the Mississippi to Mount Rushmore. Each trip felt better than the last. “Luna was always honest and always did what was right. “She loved her family and friends. The highlight of her life was her son, Brandon. Her best job was being Brandon’s mother. They could get on the phone or stand in the yard and talk for an hour. He often came to her for advice.”
Son Brandon Burnett shares, “I will always cherish my mother. She was a best friend as well as a mother. “She probably should have been a lawyer. You could tell her anything, and she’d ‘take it to the vault,’ never telling it to others. “She taught me the value of hard work and to think before I speak. From her I learned to live my life and be happy. “A lot of my friends have told me she was like their second mom. Growing up, my friends loved to spend the night so they could sneak into her kitchen and get a ‘fingerful’ of her cake icing. “Recently a friend reached out and said, ‘What a great lady! She never turned down any kid who wanted to play basketball at her house all hours of the night. I know we were noisy.’”
Daughter-in-law Shawna Burnett shares, “I always admired Luna’s character. She had so many good qualities. Among them, whatever you told her, there was no judgment, and it stayed between the two of you. “Also, Luna raised a terrific son and had a wonderful family. “I am grateful that I was able to be in Luna’s life and that she was in my life.”
The dog Rowdy shares, “I’m glad she always shared her last bite of banana with me and let me come inside the house. “I always wanted to be near her. Whenever Rex announced, ‘Luna’s here!’ I ran back and forth between the front and back doors, anxious to be the first to greet her at the end of her work day.”
The cat Cat shares, “I loved to watch her through the front window. When she rested on the couch, she always waved at me. “One time I heard her tell Rex, ‘You have no idea what it feels like to wake up and find someone staring at you!’”
First sister Linda Johnson Hunt shares, “Luna was a great lady, no doubt about it.
“We had great times together for 64 years. We traveled everywhere from Colorado to Europe. We cherished each other. “I am so glad we had everyone in our family working together to give her what she wanted: to live her last two years the way she wanted and to die the way she wanted. She made her own decisions. “We will hurt forever, and we’ll celebrate what we had. We were blessed to have had the last two years.”
Second sister Marylin Nease shares, “When I think of Luna, I think of the sisterhood I share with my three sisters. We really are ‘all for one and one for all.’ We grew up four sisters in one bedroom, and that may be where our unity began. “Thinking of Luna also reminds me of our shared love of reading, whether it’s ‘feel good’ Lisa Wingate stories or more challenging books such as The Nightingale. We often passed back and forth books we’d read and enjoyed. Her love of reading began with children’s series. Two of her favorites were The Boxcar Children and The Hardy Boys. “Even though we four sisters lived two in Oklahoma and two in Texas, we could call each other and talk for an hour, sometimes two of us, and sometimes all four on speaker phone or on a conference call. Being together on the phone was like being together in the same room. “When we said goodnight to each other after Luna’s death in the afternoon, we three sisters formed our circle, as we often did, and we hugged. Frances said, ‘There’s a gap.’ “Yes, we can no longer hug Luna, but she will always be with us.”
Third sister Frances Flinn shares, “Luna loved her family. She cared so faithfully for Mom, Dad, and Aunt Frances in their later years. She was devoted to Brandon. She loved Shawna. She loved our family farm, her three sisters, Rex, and even Rowdy and Cat. “Luna also loved flowers and made flowerbeds in every possible place in her yard. Last spring we helped her create a flowerbed in an old iron bed frame in the backyard. A week ago flowers of every color still bloomed for her—orange marigolds, purple asters, and pink and red petunias. “The sisters’ trips, Thanksgivings, and birthdays we celebrated together bring me many happy memories.”
Brother-in-law Charles Nease shares, “In July of 1964, two months after Marylin and I had started dating in May of our junior year in high school, Luna Rose was about to have her tenth birthday. I told Marylin I had an idea for some presents I thought Luna Rose would like. We went to the Ben Franklin dime store in Chickasha and bought a top, some puzzles, and other small toys. Then we wrapped them in various ways, including in a Band-Aid can. The presents were a hit. Luna Rose liked getting ten or twelve surprises and had fun unwrapping one after another.
“We know it was a memorable experience because later in life she told Marylin how fondly she remembered that day. Those who knew Luna well remember her for, among many other things, appreciating novel and unusual experiences and creating them for others.”