Joan Beth (Schiller) Cook was born on August 15, 1941 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the only child of Marvin and Lois Schiller. Being raised on an active dairy farm in Upper Burns that was settled by her German-immigrant ancestors, Joan learned the meaning of family and commitment and developed an appreciation for hard work and follow-through, volunteerism and the helping of others in need.
After graduating from the Bangor High School in 1959, Joan attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, graduating in the spring of 1962 with a degree in Elementary Education. We suspect her love of story-telling sparked at this point with how she met her beau-to-be. Joan was bringing the cows home for milking when Jim, who was working for the state highway crew that was redoing State Road 162 came along, noticed her and honked, scattering the cows in all directions. The rest is history, as Jim and Joan were united in holy marriage on July 7, 1962 at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burr Oak.
Joan’s first teaching assignment was at the West Primary School in Sparta, Wisconsin. As districts began consolidating during the early ‘60’s, she moved across town to Lawrence-Lawson Elementary School where she continued teaching 2nd graders until her retirement in 2001.
During those many decades of instructing young children and helping them to grow in so many ways, Joan took only one leave of absence which was during the 1968 school year. On November 3, 1968, son Joe arrived and kept her and Jim on the move as new parents in the home built by Jim, family and friends on the outskirts of Sparta where she lived until the day of her passing.
As Joan returned to the classroom and continued her great enjoyment for teaching children, she began to take an active role in community affairs. The years of working and volunteering alongside her parents led her naturally along the path of service and giving back.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Joan became active in the Jaycette’s, a civic organization, helped to organize the then infant Warren’s Cranberry Festival craft and booth area, the Monroe County Fair craft and booth area doing both alongside Carolyn Habelman, as well as becoming Martha Washington and marching in countless parades with Jim (George) and Joe (Minute Man) during the Bi-Centennial celebration of 1976. If only the RV of the Jerome family with whom they marched could talk, the stories it could tell.
As her enjoyment for community involvement continued, Joan remained strong in her faith. She was the director of the children’s choir at Trinity Lutheran Church for many years, taught Sunday school at Trinity, and finished up as director of the hand bell choir a few years ago. She enjoyed very much the opportunity to join other musicians in the congregation in creating and sharing a love of music to help in Sunday worship services.
Joan’s love at giving back, teaching, sharing, and making things work for all people continued to blossom throughout her teaching career. Her involvement in the Monroe County Historical Society from its infant stages until now, taking the lead on preserving the Wegner Grotto north of Sparta, helping to save and rededicate the Bracket Valley School as an off-campus learning site, the Big Creek United Methodist Church salvation, the countless craft shows organized and run while sharing stories with Lucy, Cheryl and Crystal, helping to host teas at the museum in Sparta and sponsoring the very first Pig Roast Fundraiser at her home for the historical society, are only a few of the many projects she had an integral hand in running and helping to organize.
Throughout her career, Joan was involved in almost every educational leadership position that was available. One of her biggest joys she shared with us was being able to serve alongside so many of her former student teachers and seeing them develop their talents and grow at the head of their own classrooms. She had sixty. Later, following her retirement, Joan served faithfully and proudly as a member of the Sparta Board of Education, spending 15 years in that capacity.
As of these last few years, we have come to know Joan as “Grandma Joan”, she being the Grandmother of Grayson-7 and Finley-5. She loved them very much and enjoyed picking them up from St. John’s School and bringing them home. She enjoyed stopping off to get ice cream if the situation warranted it as well—which the usual arm-twisting accomplished. Joan enjoyed spending time in her gardens and having Grayson help her move the gnomes around-each having a specific placed assigned. In short, the old adage of “If all else fails, ask Grandma.” applied here.
All of us who knew and loved Joan, worked with her, went camping and antiquing with her—the RV road trips with Uncle Ron and Aunt Diane, the trips with Stan and Jean Hays, family excursions to Door County with Katie, Joe and kids—called her “teacher and friend”, and most importantly “Partner, Mother, and Grandma”, will not forget her bubbly personality, her endless stories of the old days, and her willingness to share all of herself in each and every way, providing feedback, knowledge, or just simply listening. I know right now she is with her folks and others up in heaven having a cup of coffee and most likely saying, “Remember when…””
Joan passed away quietly at home on Wednesday, June 5 and is survived by her husband of 57 years, James (Jim), son Joe (Katie), Grandsons, Grayson and Finley, as well as many cousins, three sisters-in-law, and a brother-in-law. Joan was preceded in death by her parents, Marvin and Lois (Harper) Schiller.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Trinity Lutheran Church, Sparta, with Reverend Mark Kvale officiating. Burial will be in Burns Cemetery, rural Bangor. A luncheon will follow the committal at Jake's Northwoods, Sparta.
Family and friends are invited to call from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. on Monday at Trinity Lutheran Church and from 10 a.m. until time of services on Tuesday at the church. Memorials can be given in Joan’s name to: Sparta Area School District School Forest (for continued development as an outdoor learning center), Bangor Scholarship Foundation, Trinity Lutheran Church in Sparta, St. John’s Lutheran School in Sparta, and the Gundersen Foundation Memory Clinic.
The Lanham-Schanhofer Funeral Home, Sparta, is assisting the family with funeral arrangements.