Irene Johnston Meckfessel

Aug 29, 1920 - Oct 10, 2013



August 29, 1920 – October 10, 2013

Age 93

Resident of Carmichael

Life-long Sacramentan; Descendant of Early California Pioneers


Irene Johnston Meckfessel died in Sacramento on October 10 at the age of 93 after a series of brief illnesses related to congestive heart failure.  Irene was a 4th-generation Northern Californian and life-long Sacramento area resident.  She was born in a house at 2930 Q Street, since replaced by the Capital City Freeway.  She had been a resident of Carmichael for the past 15 years.

Irene was descended from three lines of Early California Pioneers who traveled cross country in wagon trains.  Her family ancestry reads like a history book of the Gold Rush and Western Migration, inspiring her 50-year passion for genealogy and thoroughly-researched, captivating family stories.    Her paternal great-grandfather’s family lived at Sutter’s Fort in the early 1850’s.  Her maternal grandmother was born at the historic William B. Ide Adobe in Red Bluff.  Meckfessel family trips many years ago featured road trips to old Sacramento Valley farm houses and small town cemeteries where family members lived in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. 

Irene was the daughter of Alexander F. Johnston and Winnie I. (Leavitt) Johnston.  Both Irene’s father and maternal grandfather were river boat captains on the Sacramento River.   Irene grew up as the youngest child and only daughter in a family of brothers, Harvey, Roy and Robert Johnston, who all predeceased her and who also worked on the river boats.

Irene graduated from McClatchy High School in 1938 and from Sacramento Junior College, with degrees in Dramatic Arts and English.  She was active in student government as well as theater in lead roles in junior college productions.  Many years later, she developed an intense interest and expertise in British literature, theater and history, enjoying  regular trips to Ashland, Oregon for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Recently, she was enchanted with Downton Abbey and other PBS British series and could recite the history of the British Isles and her Scottish-Irish heritage without a lapse. 

She served in the WAVES (US Naval Reserve) during World War II in New York City as Storekeeper Third Class in the Third Naval District.  She  returned to Sacramento in 1945 to resume work as an accountant, where she met her husband, Byron L. Meckfessel, CPA, in the building which currently houses The Citizen’s Hotel in downtown Sacramento.  Irene and Byron were married for 40 years, until his passing in 1986.  Irene worked as a part-time tax accountant in Byron’s business.  They raised three children in Arden Park — Lynne, Karen and Steven.  After Karen’s passing in 1981, Irene also raised her grandson, Shon.

In 1966, Irene became a kidney donor at Stanford University for her daughter Karen, with kidney transplantation being a new, risky and experimental surgery at the time.  Irene’s innovative surgeon, Dr. Samuel L. Kountz, noted later that the procedure on Irene and her daughter had made medical history, for its uniqueness.  For years afterward, Irene and Byron were involved with the local branch of the National Kidney Foundation, doing early detection screening in schools.  Irene lived a full life, with one kidney, for 47 years after the transplant.  She always encouraged organ donation, considering herself a poster child for kidney donation and being pleased that the science of kidney transplants had advanced so far.

Irene is survived by two children (Lynne Martinez of Benicia, CA and Steve Meckfessel of Alameda, CA) in addition to her grandson (Shon Meckfessel of Seattle, WA), all of whom she raised.  She also leaves four other grandchildren: Joshua Martinez, Nikolas Martinez, KC Taylor and Ross Meckfessel, in addition to two great-grandchildren and cousins and nephew, David Johnston.  She also leaves her good friends at The Atrium of Carmichael behind, where she spent the past happy 15 years in senior independent living.

Irene had numerous interests.  Her mind was sharp and active, well into her 90’s.  She was a voracious reader, loved getting her Netflix in the mail, enjoyed local outings to wine taste and visit the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, among other adventures.  Irene also enjoyed trying out new ethnic restaurants and doing crosswords and jumbles daily, in the Sacramento Bee.  She loved hearing tales from her children and grandchildren and their friends, as they traveled to various countries and would track their travels on maps.  She was an early computer user, having bought her first computer, a Commodore 64, for grandson Shon, yet she stayed current on technology.  Irene was an avid SF 49’ers fan, with expertise in football rules and scheduling her Sunday Brunch times at the Atrium around football games.

Donations in memory of Irene J. Meckfessel can be made to the National Kidney Foundation through their website.

Burial at East Lawn Sierra Hills was private.  A Life Celebration for Irene Meckfessel will be held at The Atrium of Carmichael, 5757 Cypress Avenue, Carmichael, CA at 2pm on November 9, 2013.


  • Shirley Smith says:

    I was deeply saddened when I heard of Irene’s passing. My mother was also a resident at the Atrium, where she always admired and enjoyed the company of Irene. What a full life she led! Rest in peace, Irene.

  • Karen Mac Dougall (Shotigian) says:

    Lynn & Steve, I am so sorry for the loss of your Mother. I remember her so well growing up. She was a wonderful person who was so very giving to all of the kids on the block. I know she will be missed by the 2 of you as well as the many people that she touched during her lifetime. Linda and I are thinking of you both at this difficult time.

  • Dot & Skip Marks says:

    Our prayers and sympathy are extended to all the Meckfessel Family. Lynne, while we never had the privilege of meeting your Mother, Josh has shared many stories about his memories of her. Josh,we are thinking of you – our love and prayers are with you in Germany. Love, Mom and Dad

  • Kristen Martinez says:

    We really wish that we could all be there tomorrow to celebrate Grammas. We feel so blessed that Alexander was able to meet his great grandmother a few years ago. We show pictures of her to the kids and tell them stories about her so she will continue to live on through the future generations of her family. We are sad she is no longer here with us but we know that she will be watching over us. Josh, Kristen, Alexander and Elena

  • Joshua Martinez says:

    Thanks for everything Grammas. Sorry you had to go.

  • Joyce Balestreri Carroll says:

    Dear Lynne and Stevie, My family has many happy memories of your Mother from the carefree days of our childhood. She was always smiling and very soft-spoken. We admired her selfless gift of one of her kidneys to Karen and felt privileged to be her neighbor. How fortunate you are to have had such a unique and loving Mother. Her stories and love will live with you forever.

  • Jeanette &Craig Dillingham says:

    To my friend Lynne, we go back some 50 years, but our Mother’s were classmates at McClatchy High School, class of 1938!!!!!!!! Your mom sounds like a wonderful, up- to-date woman of the 21st century..and like you said sharp as a tack. Cherish all the memories and wonderful family stories you heard and experienced with her. She will remain in you forever. All our love on a well-lived lived and loved life. Jeanette and Craig Dillingham

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