The Way We Were: Janne and Jody Brandenburg

The Way We Were: Janne and Jody Brandenburg
Brandenburg wedding, July 28, 1987. Charles Harding, Janne’s stepfather, Lorelei Figueroa, Janne’s daughter, Janne Brandenburg, Jody Brandenburg, Elizabeth Reed, Jody’s daughter

She admits to being raised “like a brat” in Jacksonville. He grew up on a farm south of Florida City. She spent time in the limelight, in front of cameras, and on TV. He’s become known for his work with the bereaved in the death care industry. Their pairing has been compared to Mary Poppins with Davy Crockett. Dissent about a sofa was their first encounter. Now, over four decades later, despite their differences, Janne and Jody Brandenburg are living in love in Southside.

Ferrell Jewelers, San Marco, circa 1946
Ferrell Jewelers, San Marco, circa 1946

Janne Ferrell Brandenburg was born in Orlando. As a very little girl, she moved with her parents to Jacksonville. Her mom, Paula, was a housewife and a Florida Times-Union writer of a column called “Me and My Bible.” Janne’s dad, Ed, owned a jewelry store. She was raised in a spirit of philanthropy, engaged in community and charitable endeavors early on.

As a young woman, Janne worked in sales, advertising, and marketing, mainly in the fashion industry. For a time, she had her own dress shop in Brierwood called California Express. She began her work with non-profits by hosting fashion shows as fundraisers.

Janne was a professional model in Jacksonville and in New York. She did sittings for Roy Smith for magazine covers and ads for Korvettes discount department store. She also acted in TV commercials. She admitted that it took 32 takes for the 10-second Jack Mayo’s Carpet City ad because she was laughing so hard. And though it’s been 50 years since she’s done this work, she sometimes still sings the jingle for Milligan’s: “Beefy burgers, golden fries, good hot coffee, and homemade pies!”

Janne also worked for Louis Wolfson, the well-known benefactor of some of Jacksonville’s largest institutions. He had a film company, Universal Marion Corporation, that distributed Mel Brooks’s movies.

Janne was involved in theatre and the arts, too. She’s attended parties with Goldie Hawn, Bob Denver who played Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island, and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. When she met actress Jane Seymour, the two marveled that they had the same rare eye coloring—left green and right brown.

Brandenburg boys 1949.  Roger Brandenburg, Sr., Roger, Jr., Jimmy, Jody
Brandenburg boys 1949. Roger Brandenburg, Sr., Roger, Jr., Jimmy, Jody

In 1978, Janne met Jody Brandenburg, a man who had grown up the youngest but tallest of three boys in southern Florida in the last house before Everglades National Park, a house that has since been swept away by Hurricane Andrew. His family’s was the southernmost rural delivery mailbox in the U.S. Jody was the son of Patricia and Roger, a tomato farmer, but he chose a career in the funeral and cemetery business. He moved north to Jacksonville in 1977 at 34 years of age to help with the merger of Hardage and Giddens with his employer, Service Corporation International (SCI).

Jody needed a sofa for his office, a small one because there wasn’t much space. Janne had been doing outside sales at that time for American Office Supply. She tried to sell Jody a piece of furniture, but he claimed that her prices were too high. “Nobody ever told me No in my whole life, but he did,” Janne said. And it made her determined to get a Yes.

In her travels, Janne spotted an ugly orange love seat sitting outside Crazy Elliot’s, a discount office supply store. She sent Jody there, he bought it, and kept it for many years.

Neither had been looking for love at that time. But “you can’t avoid your destiny. He was my destiny,” Janne said of Jody.

They wed on July 28, 1987, a second marriage for both, each with grown children, and they immediately moved to Houston, Texas where Jody became a corporate vice president of SCI. Janne involved herself with full-time philanthropy work, as she was taught to do growing up. They entertained people from all over the world and made a lot of nice friends there. “One of the greatest treasures we have are our friends. We are devoted to our friendships,” Jody said. His personal credo is “Real friends don’t keep score.”

Jody Brandenburg as corporate officer - Houston, Texas - 1987
Jody Brandenburg as corporate officer – Houston, Texas – 1987

They moved back to San Jose in 1990. Janne wanted to come home. “We’re Southsiders!” she said. Jody was promoted to president of SCI’s southern region, which included Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Simultaneously, he worked as president of Hardage-Giddens Funeral Homes and Cemeteries, and he holds that title today. He’s been a member of their regulatory board since 2005 and was appointed by Florida’s governor as its chairman in 2009. At Oaklawn Cemetery, there stands a Hardage-Giddens Celebration of Life center that houses Brandenburg Hall, which was named for Jody. Congressman John Rutherford attended the dedication ceremony.

When they had returned to Jacksonville, Janne served on several boards—the Symphony Guild, American Diabetes Association, and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts to name a few. “Over the years, I’ve really seen the arts change. Financing of the arts has changed. In the last ten years, it has changed a lot,” Janne said.

The Brandenburgs continue to support many local charities. Jody is a Rotarian. Janne is still active on the board of River Garden Foundation. They are both members of the Cummer Museum.

They have traveled the world together. Their favorite place is the South of France, which they have visited numerous times to attend the Cannes Film Festival. Janne commented on what a good navigator Jody has always been, maneuvering of their rental cars through Europe, “like a racecar driver,” she said. And there’s another side to Jody, too, that Janne admires. “He’s very compassionate, like a minister,” she said of her husband.

Jody and Janne Brandenburg, River Garden Gala, circa 2019
Jody and Janne Brandenburg, River Garden Gala, circa 2019

Jody has fished and hunted around the world. He is a member of the North Florida chapter of Safari Club International, protecting hunters’ rights globally. Janne has been a vegetarian for decades. “We respect each other’s differences. We have such a strong love that the differences don’t matter,” Jody said. Janne agreed.

The Brandenburgs have a blended family with four children—two are living in Jacksonville and working as a master arborist and a senior VP of Citibank, one is a real estate manager in Missouri, and one is a charter boat captain on the Keys. “The children are so much alike that if you had a photograph of the four of them, you couldn’t tell them apart. They look and talk and act exactly the same,” Jody said. Janne and Jody, combined, have nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

“It’s been a helluva ride here,” Janne said.

By Mary Wanser
Resident Community News

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