Sally Johnston


Sara Elizabeth “Sally” Johnston was born in Fairfield, Iowa to Mac and Maxine Rinehart on February 22, 1948.  She passed away peacefully surrounded by her family on Saturday, October 21, 2023.

Sally was a lifelong Fairfield resident. She attended Fairfield Community Schools and graduated in 1966 from Fairfield High School with highest honors. She went on to attend Parsons College. In 1968, she married Fred Sheffield. Fred enlisted in the Army, and the couple
left Fairfield for his military training. When Fred deployed to Vietnam, Sally returned to Fairfield to live with her parents as she was expecting their first child. On May 13, 1970, she and Fred welcomed a daughter, Laurie, on the same day Fred was killed in action in Vietnam.

Sally returned to Parsons College to finish her degree and graduated in 1971 summa cum laude with a degree in elementary education. On April 1, 1972, she married Dave Neff. Dave and Sally welcomed a daughter, Betsy, on January 30, 1978. Much of their married life included raising two girls, working, taking trips, and participating in many community organizations. They remained married until 2003.

In May, 2005, Sally married Phil Denney. They moved to Hickory, NC, and enjoyed their life together there until Phil passed away in October, 2007. In her own words, wisdom led her back home, and she returned to her roots in Fairfield in 2008. While planning her 50th high school class reunion, she reconnected with her senior prom date, Steve Johnston. They married in May of 2017. While their time together was not nearly long enough, they crammed a lot into their marriage, including many trips and family gatherings. Steve was her loving caregiver and was by her side until the very end.

Sally was passionate about education, both her own and others. She received her master’s degree in elementary education in 1984. Sally was a teacher for 31 years in the Fairfield School District, teaching kindergarten for 14 years, Talented and Gifted for six years, fourth grade for two years, and remedial reading for nine years. Sally always said she wanted to retire while she still “liked her job,” and she did! She retired from the school district in 2005.

Sally was a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Fairfield for over 60 years. She sang in the choir, played in the bell choir, taught Sunday School, and served on the church session for 16 years. Her faith was a constant throughout her life through both the joys and struggles. It was this amazing faith that gave her much strength and peace during her health struggles and lifted her through the darkest times in her life.

She was a community servant and found many ways to be involved. She served on the Board of Directors for the Fairfield Public Library and the Library Foundation, the Fairfield Concert Association, and the Lord’s Cupboard of Jefferson County. Sally was a member of PEO, Delta Kappa Gamma, American Association of University Women, Fairfield Panhellenic Association, Abracadabra, and Wit and Wisdom.  In 1980, she was selected among Outstanding Young Women of America, and in 1984, she was named Outstanding Citizen of the Year for Fairfield.

Sally loved the performing arts, both as a participant and an observer. She LOVED singing and dancing and participating in local community theater productions, both on stage and behind the scenes. It was her involvement in the Fairfield Area Community Theater that led her and her friend, Suzan Bates Kessel, to join forces in establishing the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center.  She was the first president of the board of directors of FACC and was still serving on the board at the time of her death.

Sally was an avid reader. She enjoyed traveling, going on “girls of 66” trips, and spending time with her friends and family. She was especially proud of the title of Nannie, first given to her in 1999 with the birth of Spencer and continuing with the arrival of Parker in 2004, Reid in 2006, and Mia in 2010. Her eyes sparkled brightly when she was able to watch them in their various activities or just get a big hug from any of them.

Left to treasure her memory are husband Steve Johnston (Fairfield, IA), daughter Laurie (Jamie) Swanson (Bondurant, IA), grandsons Spencer and Parker Swanson; daughter Betsy (Kelly) Luck (Oskaloosa, IA), grandson Reid Luck and granddaughter Mia Luck; brother Dick (Maggie) Rinehart (Walton, KY); nephews Eric Rinehart and Matt Rinehart and their families; Steve’s children Stefanie Johnston and Todd Johnston (Falls Church, VA), Sister-in-law Judi Yeager (Keosauqua, IA), and brother-in-law Mike (Beth) Johnston (Keosauqua, IA).  Sally is preceded in death by her parents Andrew “Mac” and Virginia “Maxine” Rinehart, and her husbands Fred Sheffield and Phil Denney.

If a person’s life were measured in friends, Sally would have lived forever. Her daughters, Betsy and Laurie, would also like to mention and thank two very special lifelong friends, Toni Dodds and Joneane Parker. These friends have been with Sally through many joys and sorrows and brought laughter and love to her, especially in her last weeks here on earth. 

A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, November 11 at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center.  A time of gathering and greeting will begin at 1:00 pm. The service will start at 2:00 pm with reception to follow at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center. A private graveside service will take place at Evergreen Cemetery in Fairfield.

Sally requested that any memorials be directed to the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center, First Presbyterian Church, Lord’s Cupboard of Jefferson County, Fairfield Education Foundation, or the Fairfield Public Library. Friends may leave online condolences and join the webcast at

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