Colleen Tetlow Johnson, who as a young widow returned to school and completed a teaching degree and who traveled to Europe with her second husband, an acclaimed jazz musician, died Tuesday in St. Luke’s Hospital of congestive heart failure. She was 82.
Mrs. Tetlow Johnson of Sylvania Township retired from the Toledo Public Schools in 1987. She taught elementary grades a short time at the former Washington and Nathan Hale schools. She was an English teacher at Start High School for most of her career.
“She was really all about the kids,” her daughter Claudia said. “She loved the bad ones as much as the good ones, maybe more.”
“She had a really good way of controlling the classroom. She was strict and disciplined,” her daughter said. The students liked her “because she was fair to them in everything.”
She was a 1948 graduate of Scott High School and attended Bowling Green State University, intending to become a teacher.
“She really valued education. She always wanted to better herself,” her daughter said.
Before she received her degree, she met John Tetlow, who had played football in college and worked on the Detroit and Toledo Shore Line Railroad. They married April 5, 1952, and she became a homemaker and, in time, a mother of three.
Her husband died Feb. 14, 1969. She enrolled in a program that paid for her education if she taught in the central city, her daughter said, but that often meant long days of work and study.
“It probably wasn’t too easy with three teenagers [at home],” her daughter said. “I remember her coming home and falling asleep right there. She did what she had to do. There was no choice.”
She and her second husband, Floyd H. “Candy” Johnson, married about 1977. Mr. Johnson, a saxophonist, played through the years with several big bands, including Andy Kirk’s and Count Basie’s orchestras. After receiving a degree from BGSU in 1968, he became a teacher at the former Spencer-Sharples High School and eventually was jazz coordinator for the entire Toledo school district.
The couple met about 1970, when he was performing at the Aku-Aku Room of the former Town House Motel at Bancroft and Monroe streets in the Toledo Museum of Art area. She was in the audience with friends.
“They dated a long time,” her daughter said.
Mr. Johnson was popular in Europe, especially in France. She accompanied him as he traveled and performed and recorded in France. He remained friends with Count Basie. He knew Bill Cosby, Gladys Knight, and B.B. King.
“She got to do a lot of things your average person doesn’t get to do,” her daughter said. “It was an exciting world to be part of. It was tons of fun, and they were treated like royalty, and she loved the music and could listen to him forever.”
Mr. Johnson died June 28, 1981, after collapsing during a game of golf at a country club in the Framingham, Mass., area. He was in Massachusetts to perform at a Boston night club.
“She was strong to get through everything,” her daughter said.
She was an animal lover and most recently a cat owner. She and her first husband bred and raised boxer dogs in the 1950s.
She was born April 6, 1930, in Delphos, Ohio, to Margaret and Virgil Krebs. The family moved to Toledo when she was a child.
Surviving are her daughters, Sara Rosenthal and Claudia Krisjanis, son, John B. Tetlow III, sister, Sharon Hanely, and five grandchildren.
At Mrs. Tetlow Johnson’s request her body was donated to the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio. The medical center holds an annual memorial service for the donors, and her family plans to attend the 2013 event, daughter Claudia said.
The family suggests tributes to the Toledo Area Humane Society, Maumee.