Elkhart – Billye “Jane” (French) Burns, age 81, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, December 7, 2021, at her home in Elkhart, Indiana after a courageous 4 ½ month battle with stage 4 ovarian cancer. Her beloved children, Jennifer, Rick, Tim, and Dan were by her side.
Jane was born on November 1, 1940, to William “Bill” and Berniece (Floyd) French in Yeager, Oklahoma. She attended Oklahoma State University for two years before getting married to Richard “Dick” D. Burns, Sr. on June 12, 1960. Although Jane ultimately earned her bachelor’s degree from Goshen College in 1986, Jane put aside her schooling and career to put her husband through dental school and care for her growing family. Dick was in the U.S. Public Health Service and the U.S. Air Force. During this time, he and Jane had the opportunity to live in several places including Bethesda, Maryland, Seattle, Washington and Tokyo, Japan.
In August 1967, upon Dick’s discharge from the U.S. Air Force, Jane and Dick moved from Tokyo, Japan to Elkhart, Indiana. In Elkhart, Jane became involved in PTA and was a den leader for the Boy Scouts. Because of Jane’s love of nature and commitment to conservation she became active in the Woodlawn Nature Center and served on its Board of Directors for more than 20 years. Jane became deeply involved in the Elkhart community, serving on many boards, including the Board of Directors of the Michiana Arts & Science Council, 4 Arts Club, Elcona Country Club (having the distinction of being the first female board member), Meals on Wheels, Elkhart Dental Axiliary, Ameritrust Bank, Society Bank and Key Bank, Elkhart Leadership Academy, Elkhart Centre Board, Indiana University Arts Board, and the Elkhart Museum Association. Jane was also a member of Thursday Club.
Jane’s service to the community was recognized by The Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce when she received the 2014 Business Woman of the Year award. Jane received the Coeur de Cerf Award at the Elkhart Jazz Festival in 2016, which is given to outstanding Elkhart citizens, recognizing her contributions to Elkhart and American art with the founding of the Midwest Museum of American Art. Also in 2016, Jane served as one of the torch bearers for Elkhart County for the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay.
Jane loved the outdoors. She was an accomplished skier and an avid golfer having won the 9-hole and 18-hole women’s golf championships on multiple occasions at Elcona Country Club. Jane was also a Curling Master of Elcona Country Club and a curler for over 20 years. Jane was a world traveler and was determined to visit every major art museum in the world. She toured Russia, China, Greece, England, Spain, and Italy to name a few.
Jane’s most important and proudest professional accomplishment was being a founding trustee, along with her husband, of the Midwest Museum of American Art in 1978. This was a labor of love – a love of art and a love of Elkhart with the desire to leave a lasting legacy. Jane served as the Director of the museum from 1981 until her retirement on November 1, 2015. Jane and Dick were instrumental in bringing to the museum and the Elkhart community the Juried Regional Exhibition (43rd year - recognizing artists in all media within the Michiana area), Youth Art Exhibition (42nd year – featuring student artwork in all media selected by art educators from 5 area high schools) and numerous exhibitions of local and nationally recognized artists. One of the things Jane enjoyed the most about working at the museum was meeting the artists. She admired “their creativeness and seeing the inner depths of their souls reflected in the artwork they created.”
Jane leaves behind her adoring family, including her four children and their spouses, Jennifer J. Abrell (Gordon Hughes) and Richard “Rick” Burns, Jr. (Cynthia) both of Elkhart, Indiana, Timothy A. Burns (Shannon) of Lafayette, Louisiana, and Daniel A. Burns (Linda) of Mishawaka, Indiana. Jane was blessed with nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, with whom she spent a lot of time and lovingly referred to her as “Grandma Jane”: Matthew Abrell (Stephanie) of Middlebury, Indiana, and their children, Mira, and Mason; David Abrell, of Syracuse, Indiana; Sarah, Ian and Regan Burns of Mishawaka, Indiana, and Chelsea, Gavin, Lelia and Landon Burns of Lafayette, Louisiana.
Jane is survived by five siblings with whom she remained close throughout her lifetime: June Holloway (Philip) of Oklahoma City, Judy Jones (Bob) of Houston, Texas, Neta Jean Jones (Jim) of Edmond, Oklahoma, Jim French (Starlin) of Lafayette, Louisiana, and Joe French (Mary) of Seminole, Oklahoma. Jane also has numerous nieces and nephews with whom she enjoyed spending time.
Jane was preceded in death by her husband, Richard “Dick” Burns (2004) and her parents, Berniece French (1988) and William “Bill” French (1991).
In accordance with Jane’s wishes, cremation was chosen. Her final resting place will be her hometown of Holdenville, Oklahoma with her parents.
A Celebration of Life for Jane will be held Saturday, January 15, 2022 from 1:30pm-3:30pm at the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Midwest Museum of American Art https://www.midwestmuseum.org/ or by mail at 429 South Main Street, Elkhart, Indiana 46516.
The family would like to thank Dr. James Jin, oncologist, Elkhart Clinic, his nurse Mindy and the entire oncology staff, the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care (Jessica, Charlene, Natalie, Jackie, Chantel, and Melissa), Senior 1 Care and the many friends and family members who provided love and care during her illness.
Hartzler-Gutermuth-Inman Funeral Home in Elkhart is in charge of arrangements.