On April 9, a precious spirit left us. Irene was born to George and Bette Ritchey on July 10, 1945 in Orange, Calif. To say she was loved dearly by her parents doesn’t come close to the miracle she was. They had tried for 15 years to have a child. Thirteen months later her only sibling, Katherine, was born. The family relocated to Eureka in 1952.

Irene attended Lincoln Elementary, Jacobs Junior High and graduated with the Class of 1963 from Eureka Senior High. She took a few classes at College of the Redwoods and joined the workforce in retail sales in downtown Eureka. Later she worked for Crocker Bank, then Wells Fargo.

On June 19, 1993, Irene and family along with Kathi and family opened Home Plate Batting Cages in Eureka. There Irene was able to use all her coaching/teaching skills with a wide variety of customers of all ages. To sit in bleachers and watch a game with Irene was pretty entertaining indeed. She could yell out messages of support for both teams. If she didn’t know your name it would sound something like this, “You can do it #24!!” Many years of hard work and time spent together holds great memories for all of us. Her spirit lives on there.

Irene married Richard Pennington and became a step-mom to his daughter, Sharon, when she was four. Then came Carrie, Marci and Randall. Irene played women’s softball for several years and was great at 3rd base. Back then women played at Carson Park, but one game a season they were allowed to play one game at Hartman Field. Thank goodness times have changed. Apparently, there is a team picture of these gals on the wall at Dave’s Place. Teammates Charlotte Rose and Kitty Atkins, along with other teammates, have remained good friends of Irene’s all her life. Several of the team still meet for lunch about every 3 months, and it meant everything to Irene.

After about three years, as a single mom, Irene packed up the three younger kids and moved to Hayward, CA, to begin a life with Robert Johnson, also from Eureka. They married several years later and were together for over 40 years until April 9th.

Robert’s two sons, Chad and Dayne, came to live with them in Hayward. Later they had five teenagers driving in the Bay Area at the same time! An incredible feat for sure.

Irene always wanted to be a mom and she embraced all facets. Robert was usually working out of the country or elsewhere in the US, so it was all on Irene to guide 5 kids on her own. The kids loved sports and she did all she could to participate. She coached, umpired, and was President of the Babe Ruth League for several years. Her All-Star team won state championship two years! Because after school time was filled with various games and practices, Irene usually had a large pot of what Kathi referred to as her “pot of mystery meat with veggies, simmering on the stove. In her kitchen it was serve yourself when you are home and hungry!

Vacations were priceless and became more of a family reunion on Dwight and Leann Anderson’s property in Myers Flat. All were welcome and the kids always had some side shenanigans going on and have wonderful memories of their own. When there was water in the Eel River a fantastic rope swing hung from a tree across the river. Irene could be heard scoring each rope swing kid — “that’s an 8, your knees weren’t together”. You get it.

Well before long older teens would come toward our group, looking kind of intimidating to our young group. But all they wanted was for Irene to score their rope swing dives. Fun for all on the river! She should have been a PE teacher and coach.

Starting with Sharon, who blessed us with 3 children of Yurok blood, Irene and Robert have 16 grandchildren, and many great grandchildren. No birthday was missed by Irene.

Irene is survived by her husband, Robert, dear sister-in-law Joann, sister, Kathi (Barry Scarpellino), children and grandchildren. Sharon Reed (who was married to our beloved Simp), Carrie Peichel (Chris), Marci Pennington (Garrett Sehon), Randal Pennington (Luana), Chad Johnson (Jennifer), Dayne Johnson, (Liana Delucca Johnson), Oscar Gensaw (Georgiana), James Gensaw, Shoshoni Hostler (David), Phillip Reed, LaShon Reed, Mikayla Reed, Eric Clifford, Logan Clifford, Caitlin Clifford, Kaden Johnson (Jessica), Zaryn Johnson, Xavien Johnson, Brandt Pennington, Arriana Pennington, Noah Pennington, Delilah Pennington, Evan Johnson, Elias Johnson, and Mila Johnson. Two special nephews Zack Murphy and Ben Murphy (Laura), as well as two very loved great nieces, Tori Gallamay (Jake) and Jocelyn Washington Murphy, and their little siblings Wyatt and Penelope.

For more than half her life Irene lived with intense pain. First dealing with Gillian Barre Syndrome and years later, many serious injuries due to diabetes. She lived in a wheelchair for about 12 years due two shattered hips that couldn’t be replaced. The last few years Irene was almost deaf and very close to blind. Never one to complain, she always said there were lots of people worse off than her. Irene was known for her upbeat personality and always greeting everyone with a big, warm smile. Flat out a wonderful mom, step-mom, wife, grandmother, great grandmother, sister, sister-in-law, mother-in-law, best friend, (Dianna Ford Harvey), dog friend, and rope swing diving judge.

A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, June 4 at noon, at the Peace Officers Hall, 2351 Freshwater Road, Eureka, CA 95503. Please feel free to bring your pictures and stories to share in honor of this great lady.


The obituary above was submitted by Irene Johnsons’s loved ones. The Lost Coast Outpost runs obituaries of Humboldt County residents at no charge. See guidelines here. Email news@lostcoastoutpost.com.