Karen Johns
Karen Johns

You can feel the love and love of life as soon as you step into the Second Avenue home of Jim and Karen Johns. The first time that they saw this home was when they were checking it out for a relative to purchase. Two steps into the door and Karen knew this was her home. The clincher to buying the house was that it was across the street from Reeves Park, home to the annual Dogwood Festival. They consider the porch as a front row seat to all of the festivities.

Jim and Karen were married in 1969. And you guessed it, they met on the famous cruising loop (of in town Phoenixville) that seems to have spanned several generations. Karen and her aunt, Kathleen, known as Cookie, were only a few years apart in age. They would have to sneak out of the house to go cruising. Jim was driving his mustang somewhere around Fourth Avenue. Karen will tell you that she knew immediately that he was the man she would marry. Karen Zeleski became Karen Zeleski Johns as she predicted to Cookie during that first meeting.

There are three Johns children and eight grandbabies. Karen believes that six or seven generations of their family have been born in Phoenixville. The only thing that is above her children, grandchildren, family and friends is God. Her strong faith has seen her through so many trials and tribulations (especially with her health issues) and gives her strength to keep going even during the tough times and guides her through the good times.

She learned to cook by watching her parents. It was a combination of Polish, Czech, Russian, Hungarian and Irish. Karen has been collecting family recipes and making notebooks, one for each of her children, hoping this way family favorites will not be forgotten and the upcoming generations will know what they are and how they are made.


Another reason Karen and her family like their Second Avenue home is that it is a short distance from their church, St. Ann’s, and Holy Family School. The library is on the corner.

Karen believes in giving back to one’s community. Karen has served Phoenixville for many years from elected positions to so many committees, authorities and service organizations. Her achievements fill several pages. If she has time for a hobby or interests, it would lean toward pen and ink and watercolor paintings. When she finds the time, she like to write.

This is a traditional soup served on the Orthodox Church New Year’s Eve dated by the Julian calendar usually around Jan. 14.

Carpatho-Rusyn/Russian New Year’s Eve Mushroom Soup

1½ pounds of fresh mushrooms, rinsed and diced

3 quarts of water

Brine drained from two large cans of sauerkraut*

1 large onion, diced and fried until transparent and caramelized

1 cup cooked rice

1 large potato diced

Salt and pepper to taste

*Reserve sauerkraut for traditional pork and sauerkraut meal for New Year’s Day.

Simmer all ingredients after bringing the broth to a boil for about two hours on low heat. Before serving, mix 2 tablespoons of flour with 1 tablespoon of oil to make a paste. Slowly add to soup to thicken.


Let Better hear from you: Search YouTube for “Look Who’s Cooking with Bette Banjack,” as well (search bar: Banjack) for this column. Find Bette on Facebook by searching “Bette Banjack’s Downtown Kitchen.” Her book, “2 Cups of Yesterday,” is available at Gateway Pharmacy or by contacting her.