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JoAn Isbell June 21, 2024


JoAn Isbell, daughter of Stuart and Clara Simmermacher, Cleveland, Ohio, finally faded away from Alzheimer’s disease in St. Louis, MO, on July 8th, 2021. She is survived by her sisters, Gay Long of Milford, MI, and Margie Adams of Houston, TX.  I met JoAn over coffee at the student union of Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, in December of 1960. We were married in 1964. Mostly we stayed in schools together, as students and as teachers.  JoAn earned her Master’s in journalism from Southern Illinois University and joined the publications team at The University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, while I taught speech and theatre. While there she took courses in horticulture and eventually opened her own greenhouse, “Contrary Mary’s.” Then, when Cornell University announced they were looking for someone with journalism and horticultural experience to head up the publications program at their botanical gardens, JoAn moved us to Ithaca. There we spent six years, exploring Gorges and Buddhism. But then, to get warm, we moved to Arizona. JoAn obtained another Master’s degree from Arizona State University and became a member of the Communications Division of Central Arizona College. She taught reading and writing to underprepared students and she taught technical writing to folks in the Associates Degree program. We retired from CAC in 2005 and went “home” to Southern Illinois. In 2012, when JoAn was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, we moved to St. Louis to be closer to care. We just celebrated our 57th anniversary. JoAn is 80 years old.

JoAn loved her kitchen, her dogs, her photography, and, most of all, her friends: The Buchheits, The Dorris’, Brite, Mike and Sheri, Kristen, Glenn and Jeff, and her colleagues at Cornell and CAC.

I’d like to share a couple of journal entries she wrote in 1997 during a Buddhist retreat atop a Zen mountain south of Palm Springs:

Waking up in this
Woodland cocoon
I find no butterfly
Just me

The bell reverberates
Through sixty-two heartbeats
And through all
My pores.

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