Pirjo-Liisa “Liisa” Nygård Johnson
October 31, 1942 - January 20, 2020
After a courageous battle with breast cancer, Pirjo-Liisa Johnson died peacefully, with family by her side, on January 20, 2020, at the Misericordia Health Centre, at the age of 77 years.
Liisa was born to Eeli and Hilkka Nygard in Helsinki, Finland, on October 31, 1942. Liisa moved to Canada in 1952 with her parents and her brother Peter, because Eeli and Hilkka wanted to provide their children with a chance of the “American Dream” in the “Land of Opportunity.” Their first home was in Deloraine, MB. It was a converted coal storage one-room shed with no running water and an outdoor toilet. This humble start to their life in Canada helped to build character for this immigrant family and reminded them to draw on their SISU (Finnish word for perseverance) to make their dreams in this new country come true.
Eventually, the family settled in the St. Vital area. Once she learned the English language, Liisa became active in school sports and political life and was integral in setting up the first student council and yearbook at Norberry Junior High, where she served as Vice-President of the student body in 1959.
Liisa attended Glenlawn Collegiate for her high school years, where she participated in many of the different school clubs, committees and sports teams, including the basketball team, where she was known as “Elbows Nygard!”
Liisa always strived to do her best in school and managed to maintain the marks of an honour student, and she won the Abraham Wolch Memorial trophy for the highest standing in Home Economics.
Liisa graduated from Glenlawn Collegiate and then went to work for the Great-West Life Assurance Company. Even though she was in a new environment,
Liisa continued to demonstrate her willingness to participate in a wide variety of activities that were offered to the staff of Great-West Life Assurance. In her time there, she participated in activities such as curling, baseball, choir, sewing contests, and helping out as a tour guide. After four years of work, Liisa decided to attend the University of North Dakota, where she acquired a Bachelor’s Diploma in Teaching with a major in Speech Correction, in 1968. Liisa worked as a speech therapist for five years, but then she decided to move on to other adventures.
Liisa married Russell Nichol in 1965, after her first year of university. They had four children together from 1967 - 1973; Angela, David, Kris and Allison. The family lived in Transcona, where they were close to Russell’s family, which was a blessing when child care was needed. As well, they had many great friends in that area, with whom they celebrated all of the different live events. In 1975 Liisa and Russell moved to Bower Blvd in Tuxedo after buying this next home from Eeli and Hilkka. Again, they made many wonderful friends with their neighbours, some who became as close as family. This charming neighbourhood in Tuxedo was where many great Nichol family memories were made.
Together, while raising their children, Russell and Liisa started a company called Pirjo-Liisa Fashions, in 1975. Their business ran Home Fashion Parties, which provided their clients with an alternative way of shopping, and for their employees, the chance to raise their children while making an income. Over the life of the company, there were also seventeen stores opened across Canada. They had many successful years of running the business. There were some great moments celebrated with their employees; some celebrations even took place in Nassau Bahamas at her brother’s home. Those moments were ones that would surely last a lifetime.
In 1981 Liisa was named Woman of the Year in Business in Manitoba. During this year, she was also named to the Federal Government “export Trade Development Board, which was a three-year appointment. There were a lot of successes for Liisa in the 1980s. Unfortunately, Liisa and Russell’s marriage started to unravel by the mid-’80s, so they amicably went their own way, and Liisa then ran Pirjo-Liisa Fashions until it was shut down in the early 1990s.
Liisa was also very active in the gymnastics community. She spent many hours watching Allison participate in gymnastics at Winnipeg Gymnastics Centre and then Panthers Gymnastics. She loved the sport so much that she decided to become a judge. She trained as a National Level 2 Judge. She always enjoyed being out on the floor, watching great routines! Liisa took on the adventure of being the chairman of the 1987 Canadian National Gymnastics and Trampoline Sports Championships. As with all events that she had a hand in, it was a class act event! In the post-gymnastics years of life, Liisa would speak fondly about the many people she met during that time of life, and she always loved any opportunity to watch the next generation of children as they strived to reach for the top in this sport.
In 1988, Liisa moved to Los Angeles, California. She spent two years in Los Angeles as the President of Nygard Inc. Her position in California provided her many opportunities to travel overseas; however, when she was not on a work trip, she could be found in California enjoying activities such as a night out at The Phantom of the Opera, shopping, exploring Santa Monica and Venice Beach, or hanging out at home in Marina del Rey, enjoying the sunshine in the yard. Allison and David joined Liisa in California for two years, but then all of them decided to move back to Canada in 1990.
Liisa was adventurous, so once she arrived back in Canada, she bought a home in Hope, British Columbia. She renovated her piece of Heaven in the mountains and then got a cow. She loved how peaceful it was there, and she enjoyed the ability to grow her organic garden and enjoy the fresh mountain air. After a few years of living in British Columbia, Liisa came back to Winnipeg.
In the fall of 1992, Liisa met her second husband, Dennis Johnson, while out with her good friends at Dennis's restaurant D-Jay's Restaurant Ichabod's Lounge & Patio. They were married in 1994. Liisa and Dennis lived in St. James area and again, made friends with many of their wonderful neighbours. They were blessed with nineteen years of making memories together until Dennis passed away in 2013. Their adventures took them to Europe with grandchildren, journeys across Canada in their motorhome trips to California to visit Angela and her family, and many hockey games in California as they visited her "adopted" Finnish children Teemu and Sirpa Selanne and family.
After the passing of Dennis in 2013, Liisa purchased a home in the St. Vital area, back to where all of her adventures started as a young child. Over the six years that she lived there, Liisa became friends with many of her neighbours, who are now very much like family. She was always grateful to have the love and support of these neighbours, as she was starting to experience some of the challenges that came with age. She always had the children of the neighbourhood, helping to shovel snow or mow the lawn, and these kind young men would always check in on her to see how she was doing. She loved each of these children like they were her own grandchildren. Gardening was important to Liisa, so one of the first tasks that she got Kris to do at her home was to build her garden boxes. Each spring, she was so excited to grow her organic vegetables. One of her favourite things to do was to host a delicious home-grown, organic dinner, made with love.
Liisa was passionate about many things. She always took the time to learn about health, the human body, and all the different processes that need to take place to support optimal health! I think that many people learned many lessons about health from her.
She was passionate about politics, especially what was going on in the U.S.A., but also paid close attention to Canadian politics, and even voted in the October 2019 election, because it was her duty as a Canadian citizen.
She was passionate about God and her religion. Her faith was unwavering right until the very end. She was welcomed to the church with open arms, and she instantly found joy and fellowship with her church family at Beautiful Saviour Lutheran Church. Liisa became very involved with the Vacation Bible School and would work endlessly to create the different sets for each of the VBS programs. Her care and passion for that kind of work were evident, and I am sure that the many children who walked through the door each of those summers were in awe of what they had just experienced.
Leadership mattered to Liisa. Pastor Cam was a leader that she held in the highest regard. During the last three years, when her cancer was the most challenging, Liisa turned to Pastor and received all of the comfort and reassurance that everything would be ok and that she would be with God when it was time. Each Sunday, she would attend church, and if she could not be there in person, she would watch it on her computer. This happened right up until the end. On her final Sunday, she could no longer speak or sit up, so Pastor Cam came to the hospital and held a personal church service for Liisa, which meant the world to her. Then on her final day, with her family around her, he provided one last service that helped to release her to God. Liisa could not speak, but during the service, she made some noises that came at important moments in the service. We all knew, without a doubt, that Liisa participated wholeheartedly, to the best of her capacity, and then felt the joy and love of God welcoming her home.
Liisa lived an incredible life full of love, learning, and laughter. There were good days and some challenging days, but each day was worth living. She was grateful for her family. She loved her immediate family so much. She would always talk about her love for her mom and dad, as well as her love and appreciation for her brother. Peter wholeheartedly loved Liisa and supported her through all of her adventures, from business to health. He meant the world to her. Liisa loved her children and grandchildren and was always so grateful for the time and support that each of them offered to her during life, especially during her health-challenged years. She was thankful for the laughter and love that her friends provided her with, as it made the pain more bearable. She was grateful for all of the people in her life and wished for each of them to know the love and joy that she had experienced in her lifetime. Thank you to everyone, including the many nurses and doctors who helped mom in the final stages of her journey. Your love, comfort, friendship and visits that you provided to Liisa over the most challenging days and years of her life will not be forgotten.
Liisa is survived by her brother Peter Nygard; Her children Angela (Marten), David, Kris (Barb), and Allison (Cameron); step-children Rob, Heather (John), Chantal; grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) Courtney (Owen & Bodie), Anders, Ava, Makayla, Annika, Morgan, Brooke, Courtney, David, Max, Jackson, Chris (Charlie & Autumn), Scott (Chloe & Mavrick), Justin, Julia; many nieces and nephews from the Nichol family, Nygard family and Johnson family; Many cousins from Finland, as well as hundreds of precious friends from all walks of life who have become like family to Liisa.
Friends and relatives are encouraged to share stories, memories, and condolences for Liisa's family by using the comment section on this page.
A viewing will be held from 10:00 am to 10:40 am. Monday, January 27, 2020, in the Beautiful Saviour Lutheran Church, 1541 St. Mary’s Road. The funeral service will begin at 11:00 a.m., followed by a procession to St. Vital Cemetery for the committal service and burial. Following the interment, all are invited back to the church for a reception. Please plan to park in the St. Vital Centre Parking lot, as spaces for parking are limited at the church.
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