At 6 feet tall, Aimee Johnson-Kilman had the healthy athleticism of the standout high school basketball player she once was, with clear skin and a dazzling smile.
She also was quick-witted, knew basic plumbing skills and loved horror movies, boxing and football. And she was a trained massage therapist who seemed to be able to intuit where knots and sore muscles were hiding.
“She was my dream girl,” said Chicago radio newsman Buzz Kilman, her husband of 22 years. “She was the best person I could have ever found.”
Mrs. Kilman died Nov. 20 after a recurrence of breast cancer. She was 53.
Born in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, to LaVonne “Bonnie” Johnson, a teacher, and Erling Hans Johnson, regional service manager for a division of General Motors, she was their youngest child, with four brothers and a sister.
The Johnsons moved to Illinois, and she and her siblings grew up in Roselle, where she attended Lincoln elementary school and Roselle Middle School. It was an idyllic 1970s childhood, with a minibike, a pool, bike-riding and music lessons. Young Aimee learned to play clarinet and piano.
“The big thing was: ‘We’re going uptown,’ which meant a trip to the drugstore,” her sister Jennifer “Jenna” Massari said, for pop or ice cream.
Kids flocked to their home. “Everybody wanted to be a Johnson,” her sister said.
At Lake Park High School, the youngest Johnson played forward and center on the Lancers basketball team, which in 1982-1983 won the first regional championship in school history for girls’ basketball. She was all-conference, and her team was inducted into the school’s hall of fame.
After high school, she did bookkeeping for a plumbing company, where she picked up basic plumbing skills, her husband said.
In 1999, she graduated from the Chicago School of Massage Therapy and began her own practice.
She met her future husband when she and her twin brothers Todd and Timm went to the Iron Rail bar on Irving Park Road, where he was playing harmonica. “Something clicked,” Kilman said. “We became inseparable.”
Married in 1996, they had a daughter, Piper, now a high school student. She shaved her head in solidarity when her mom lost her hair to cancer treatment.
“They were as close as could be,” Buzz Kilman said.
At the Degerberg Academy of Martial Arts, where Piper has achieved the rank of junior black belt, founder Fred Degerberg said Mrs. Kilman “was like the soul of the school.”
For years, whenever Piper or other students needed help with their uniforms or a little encouragement, Mrs. Kilman jumped in to assist, Degerberg said. The school recently presented Mrs. Kilman with an honorary black belt in a ceremony at her Uptown home.
She also coached her daughter’s basketball team when she was at Disney Magnet School, according to her sister.
Her love of horror went back to when, growing up, she and her sister would watch “Creature Features,” with its creepy theme music and black-and-white spooky cinema classics, on their bedroom TV. As an adult, she liked watching “True Blood” and, at one point, thought of naming her daughter Willow after the character Alyson Hannigan played on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” And, according to her husband, “She has a collection of bloodstained ‘Dexter’ coasters on the coffee table.”
He said she “was the biggest football fan I’ve ever known. She didn’t have to know the team. She just liked to watch them play.”
After her diagnosis, she couldn’t stand the cutesie sloganeering of some cancer-fighting campaigns. “The pink-ribbon thing used to drive her nuts,” Buzz Kilman said.
She had two beloved cats, Boofus and Sander, who was named for Lysander in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The Kilmans also have a turtle named Toby.
In addition to country music and “The Voice,” Mrs. Kilman loved Tom Jones and Donny Osmond, sometimes prevailing on her husband to help her meet her favorite stars through his broadcasting connections.
The Kilmans relaxed with trips to Sandals Royal Caribbean resort near Montego Bay, Jamaica.
She always loved sunshine and sand, her sister said. “One of my last visits with her, I said, ‘Were you dreaming?’ And she said, ‘I had a dream that Jesus is waiting for me by the beach.’ ”
Mrs. Kilman is also survived by her mother and brothers RonLee, Dann, Todd and Timm. A memorial service is planned at 3 p.m. Friday at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, 1650 W. Foster.