Larger than life, spitfire, kick in the pants, life of the party, hilarious, spunky little lady, a true legend, and a matriarch of Tehachapi … these were just a few of the ways, “Jean the Dancing Machine” had been described. Louise Jean Lantz, 95, passed away in the comfort of her own home on Jan. 26, 2021, surrounded by her daughter, Vali, granddaughters Kasie and Kalie, and great-grandson, Memphis. Jean always loved the beautiful snowfalls of Tehachapi and went to rest with a fresh sheet of white upon our little town.
Jean was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Morton and Cora Smith on July 28, 1925. With five older brothers (Carl, Gerald, Don, Eddy, and Mort Jr.), Jean was the first daughter born in the family. Her brother Bobby was her second birthday gift. She then received younger sisters Mary and Betty to complete the grand total of the nine sibling family.
Being a young child during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl taught her at a young age how to be extremely hard working, resourceful, and resilient. While growing up in Tulsa, Jean learned everything there was to know about animals, keeping house, cooking, sewing, and literature. At the age of 11, she was waking up early to milk the neighbor’s cow before school and then riding the pony to town to gather their daily needs.
In later teen years, she worked at the fanciest clothing store in Tulsa, Mrs. Jackson’s Shop. Here, she was known for her beauty, charm, and ability to accessorize (hence her fabulous hats, jewelry, and gold shoes that we all know her for today). At the age of 23, Jean was raising her oldest son, Pat and working as a switchboard operator, when her friend told her she had the perfect man for her. Her friend had a roommate that was looking for a woman whom was “Short and didn’t smoke.” Dae Lantz Jr. had just moved to Tulsa from California and shortly following his and Jean’s introduction, it was history from there.
In 1949, Jean, Dae and son, Pat, moved to Cameron Canyon, California to run Jean’s father-in-law’s 8-Bar Ranch. The house that awaited them was a termite-infested shack with no electricity. With the help of her Canyon neighbor, Gladys Harrington, the Okie woman from Tulsa quickly learned all there was to know about survival in the Canyon. She turned their shack into a home, all while battling rattlesnakes, scorpions, and black widows.
In 1959, Dae completed a new home for Jean, up on the hill of their property. The home was built out of railroad ties purchased from Southern Pacific Railroad. Termites would never be an issue again. Throughout the years on 8-Bar Ranch, Jean and Dae welcomed seven more children into their family, making it a total of eight children to the Lantz name. Dae had several careers throughout their life together, but one required him to travel extensively. This meant Jean had to wear many hats as she raised eight children and kept up with the demands of living on a ranch. She did it all with grit and grace and while saying, “You just do what you gotta do.”
Jean had a love for writing and would submit weekly articles in her column that appeared in the Mojave Desert News. She told about what life was like living in the Canyon, raising her babies, and any special events that occurred. Jean loved having her Guernsey cows. She took pride in selling her ranch milk, cream, and eggs to the community of Tehachapi. There was even a short period where the family stayed in Reseda, California to be with Dae while on a new job. You best believe, Jean brought her Guernsey cow with her. The neighbors on each side of their Reseda home allowed Jean to use their backyards to create one big area for her beloved milking cow. Yes, Jean brought a cow to the city and it was a conversation piece for the whole neighborhood.
While living out in the Canyon, Jean enjoyed breeding Collie dogs, raising her babies, working for the Election Board, and working seasonally at Hi-Valley Orchard’s shed. Jean was a wheeler and a dealer and made an agreement with the owners for cull peaches. She then would turn around and make her famous peach cobblers and jam with them.
After the tragic death of Jean and Dae’s son, Sky, the family decided to move into the city limits of Tehachapi. The change into city living inspired Jean to get her GED. She became a teacher’s aide for Tehachapi Unified School District. She worked for the school district for over 40 years and made it a point to be a positive influence in every student’s life that she came into contact with. Once a year, she would bring her old churn to school so she could teach the schoolchildren how to make butter. Every student would get some butter on a saltine cracker to taste their masterpiece.
On top of her long career in education, she had several other career endeavors around town. She worked at the garment factory, sewing clothes and also sold the product line, Avon. She was known around town as the “Avon Lady.” She loved sharing her love for makeup and accessories with her loved ones, friends and community. As her sister Mary would say, “I don’t know if Jean ever made a penny selling Avon because she was always more excited to give it out to everyone that came to her home.”
In the later years of Jean’s life, her joy came from spending time with her family and friends and volunteering at the Tehachapi Hospital Guild. She loved going into the Guild weekly to spend time with her “Thursday Gals.” She would always take the time to bring one of famous peach cobblers or chocolate fudge to share with her work friends. Jean loved her strong coffee and always had a pot on with her door open to anyone. She was famous to those of us that knew her for her chicken and dumpling, scratch biscuits, fried chicken, ham and beans, and desserts. She loved nothing more than when people would come visit her to sit around and “gab” for hours. She was a people person that got joy out of being around her loved ones. Into her early 90s, Jean would still cook full four-course Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and pack her house with all her family. She would sit on her lounge with the biggest smile on her face as she listened to the conversations surrounding her and watching the kids run through the house laughing and playing. Being the matriarch of the family, she would look around and say “Wow, I sure did create some amazing people.” Jean loved, babies, animals, and was one of the most generous people that has ever graced this world.
Jean lived a very full life. She experienced hurt and loss, but boy did she also feel love and joy. She was so strong willed, she overcame everything life threw at her with a smile on her face and a skip in her step. Her last year of life was filled with examples of just how “One of a kind” this little woman was. She was weak, needed 24-hour care, and could hardly walk, but she was determined to be at her granddaughter’s wedding in Buellton, California. She got herself strong enough to make the trip for the wedding. The plan was for her to go down the aisle in her wheelchair because walking was no longer a strong suit of hers. To everyone’s pleasant surprise, she pushed that wheelchair aside, and not only walked, but danced and waved her way down the aisle. She later said, “She wasn’t about to go down the aisle like an old lady in a wheelchair.” Months later came her 95th birthday during a world pandemic. Of course she didn’t let a little pandemic get in the way of her celebrating her 95th birthday with all her loved ones. She sat out in front of her home as a train of cars drove by with signs, gifts, balloons, and horns honking, all to honor their beloved family member and friend. She looked like the queen of the town as she sat waving to everyone, with the biggest smile on her face.
In the last few months of Jean’s life, she was over the moon that her son, Tod, just moved back to Tehachapi and her granddaughter, Kasie, bought the house across the street from her. She was filled with love and happiness and looked forward to sharing her daily breakfast with her great-grandson, Memphis.
She treasured her phone conversations with her only living sibling, Mary. Days before Jean’s passing, she was so excited to sing her little sister, Mary, “Happy Birthday” and see her face over Zoom. The sisters had recent special conversations where Jean told Mary, “She lived a long life, she lived a wonderful life, and she is OK going now.” One morning over coffee, Jean said to her granddaughter, “Your mother (Vali) was sent here to make sure your Grandpa and I would be taken care. She agreed to make it possible for us to go to Heaven in our own home. She is our angel. I don’t know what I would have done without her all these years.” Both Jean and Dae achieved their goal of meeting their creator in the comfort of their own home.
Jean’s death was predeceased by her loving husband, Dae Jr., son, Sky, grandsons, Seth and Daniel, daughter-in-law, Monique, son-in-law, Chuck, sister, Betty, and brothers, Carl, Gerald, Don, Eddy, Mort Jr., and Bobby. Jean will be lovingly remembered by her sister, Mary, sons, Pat, Dae III, Jon, and Tod, daughters, Pam, Dawn, and Vali, 20 grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren, and 8 great-great-grandchildren.
On the day Jean’s sweet husband of 68 years, Dae, passed away, Jean said to him, “We had a very adventurous life to say the least. It is okay to go. Don’t worry about me. I will be okay. Or … ”You can take off your coat and throw it in the corner, don’t see why you don’t stay a little longer.” It was right after Jean’s singing of Bob Will’s song, “Stay All Night Stay A Little Longer,” her husband went to rest. Jean, it is now our turn to sing you some Bob Wills as you dance your way up to Heaven to rejoice with your darling husband.
Jean always loved nothing more than to be the “Star of the Show” and for everyone she loves to come together. She had one of those infectious personalities that everyone who came into contact with her felt her love. She has touched so many lives in this little community and leaves behind a legacy like no other. The family would like to thank the community of Tehachapi for your hand in caring for our beloved Jean for several years, she appreciated you all. We invite you all to join us in celebrating the life of this one-of-a-kind woman. A Celebration of Life will be tentatively scheduled for April 10. Announcement with location and information will be forthcoming.
God broke the mold when he created you, Grandma. I know you are dancing and making everyone laugh up in Heaven right now. And Grandma, I sure do wish you were still here to correct my grammar while writing this.
With sincere love, Kasie Muro Long.