Obituary for Joanne Olsen
November 5, 1932 – June 18, 2021
In the early hours of June 18, 2021, an angel here on earth took wings to join the heavenly harpers. I am certain they welcomed her with sweet harp cords and gentle voices.
Joanne Ida Boecking Olsen was born on November 5, 1932 in Peru, Illinois to Myrtle and Clarence Boeckling. As a child she loved to visit her grandparents’ farm where she enjoyed “helping” her grandpa steer his tractor and harvest vegetables.
As a high school student she had jobs as a soda jerk in an ice cream shop and as a volunteer Candy Striper at a hospital. She also worked de-tasseling corn.
After high school, Joanne went on to graduate from Grinnell College in Iowa. While in college she had summer jobs at a Wisconsin gift shop, a Michigan summer camp and at a clothing store. At Grinnell, she met Jim Olsen who was waiting tables in her dorm’s dining room. They married in 1955 in Peru and moved to Detroit where she worked for American Motors as a secretary. It was in Detroit that she told Jim, “Let’s be an outdoor family.”
After Detroit, they moved to Cambridge, Mass., where Jo worked in the admissions office of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences—until January 1957.
Later that month Joanne welcomed her first child, Jeff. In June of 1957 the new family moved to Park Forest, Illinois, where their second child, Karen, was born in 1959.
In 1963, the family camped their way to Berkeley, California, where they lived for a year. Here Joanne volunteered in a nursery school that Karen attended and was praised for her skills in the classroom and her gentle presence with the children.
Upon returning to Illinois, and with both children in school, Joanne took a job as a kindergarten teacher in Park Forest. She brought music and magic to her classroom. She and her students watched baby chicks being hatched, and she surrounded the children with color, song, activity and rhyme, and read aloud stories with inflection and verve. She also taught in her church’s Sunday School.
After a two year stay in Metamora, Illinois, the family moved to Evanston, Illinois, where Jo taught in a local pre-school. In 1974, she purchased a small shop in town that she grew into a beautiful and successful bath store. My Favorite Soap Opera had several locations in Evanston and Winnetka, and was a destination stop for locals needing new accessories for their bathrooms or for beautiful gifts for teachers or for friends.
In Evanston, Jim and Jo got introduced to Jackson County, Wisconsin and a beautiful wooded area where they purchased and then themselves built a sweet vacation cottage. Joanne loved Wisconsin, “The County” as she called it, and made the place cozy with second hand finds that made the place so warm and charming. Her love for nature took her birdwatching, wildflower searching and mushroom hunting. More often than not you could see her with binoculars around her neck searching for a new bird she had heard. Joanne also volunteered at the Chicago Botanical Garden where she led inner city kids on prairie tours and provided nature related experiences for them.
And her Christmas cookies! If you were lucky enough to be nearby around Christmas, you would have been treated to a vast array of homemade cookies that were the best I have ever tasted and the prettiest I have ever seen. Her granddaughter would sneak into the pantry to linger unseen in order to sample her favorite: Mexican Wedding Cookies.
In 1989 Joanne sold the shop, and she and Jim moved to Grass Valley to be near their family. They lived in a home in the woods that was bordered by two streams and full of birds, wildflowers and wildlife. Joanne volunteered at St. Joseph’s Rose Garden, the Food Bank of Nevada County, the Gold Country Fine Art Center and at the local wildlife rehab center. She was also Vice President of the Sierra Foothills Audubon Society.
In Grass Valley Joanne took up watercolor painting and sketching and filled many portfolios with her art. After a bout with cancer, she took up her lifelong dream of playing the harp. She shared her beautiful music with so many others, especially comforting patients and their families with weekly concerts at our hospital’s Cancer Center. She spent countless hours with her beloved grandchildren and great grandchildren, who all adored her more than it is possible to imagine.
In 2015, Jim and Joanne moved to Eskaton Village in Grass Valley. There they joined The Forever Young Chorus. They loved their new neighborhood and made many wonderful friends.
Joanne was a beautiful and incredible woman, who loved her family above all else. She embraced music and had a song for everything as one grandchild said. Her love for the outdoors took her camping, adventuring, exploring. She gardened; she sewed; she painted; she cooked. And she loved!
Mom adored and was so proud of her husband (of almost 66 years), my brother, and me, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. She will be deeply missed. And as so perfectly summed up one time by her dear friend and harp teacher Lisa Stine, “Joanne is so natural and genuine at what she does. Creating beauty and a joyous environment is just who she is.” Her good humor, kindness, generosity, and above all, love, have made us better people. And the world a better place, too.
Joanne is predeceased by her brother Don and her sister Shirley and her parents. She is survived by her loving husband Jim, her son Jeff, daughter Karen, son-in-law Ron, sister-in-law Marilyn, grandchildren Katie, Emily and Nick, and great-grandchildren Reyna and Zara, nieces and nephews, loving dog Sammie and many friends who loved her dearly.
Her family would like to thank the caregivers at Eskaton, Hospice of the Foothills and Doctor Gaulter who all showed compassion and care for us all.
Memorial contributions may be made to Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California or Hospice of the Foothills. A celebration of Jo’s life will be held in the near future.
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