Joann Nelson December 29, 1924 - December 14, 2022
Joann S. Nelson, 97, of Deer Lodge, died peacefully on Wednesday morning, Dec. 14, 2022, surrounded by her loving family. Joann was preceded in death by her husband, the Rev. Canon T. Christian Nelson; her sister Rosemary and brother John. Two of Joann’s children also preceded her in death: her sixth child, baby Thomas Russell Nelson in 1959, and her eldest child, David Christian Nelson in 2009. Joann has one surviving sister, Nancy Soltero of Sedona, Ariz. Joann is also survived by her remaining children and their spouses: son David’s wife Lois Anne Nelson of Toledo, Ohio; Peggy Miller of Missoula; Douglas and Christel Nelson of Les Mathes Charente-Maritime, France; Anne Louise (Annie) and John Bergin of Seattle; Dorothy and David Zerbe of Oshkosh, Wis.; and Andrew and Robin Nelson of Seattle. Joann is also survived by 22 loving grandchildren and 40 great-grandchildren, some of whom live as far away as Hawaii and Ireland. Joann was born Joan Louise Staats on Dec. 29, 1924, to Russell L. Staats and Margaret Kerr Staats of Chugwater, Wyo., the second of four children. There was no hospital in Chugwater, so Joann was born in Cheyenne (After she learned to read, she added an “n” to her first name so people would pronounce her name correctly). Joann walked daily to a two-room schoolhouse that was heated with coal throughout the long winters. Joann loved school, and her favorite subject was reading. She graduated from Chugwater High School in 1942, in a class of 21 people. As a child, Joann learned to play the piano from an itinerant piano teacher. Joann’s family was involved in the local Baptist church, and she quickly discovered her passion was singing. She was easily recognized as a talented vocalist and piano accompanist. She attended the University of Wyoming at Laramie and was inducted into the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority. She met Army GI/New Jersey native T. Christian Nelson (Chris) when he was also attending classes at UW, and they both sang in the Episcopal church choir. They were separated for a time while Chris was stationed in the Aleutian Islands during WWII, and in June 1946, after Joann graduated with her Music degree from UW, they were married and spent the entire summer on the east coast. Joann and Chris had seven children, moving from state to state in the Midwest and in the East, pursuing Chris’ educational goals and job leads as an engineer and then following his call to become an Episcopalian minister. Joann stepped naturally into the role of church organist and choir director. She had a passion for music that was contagious. A stay-at-home Mom, she taught piano and voice students in her living room. She sang in community choirs and accepted solo singing gigs whenever she could. Among her favorite opportunities were singing the Brahms Requiem with the Billings Symphony in 1964 and singing the soprano lead in Verdi’s Requiem with the Bozeman Symphony in 1973 (The Verdi is now preserved on MP3). Joann and Chris and their six children left Billings and moved to Mandan, N.D. in 1967 where Joann continued teaching piano and voice, becoming a popular instructor at Mary College (now Mary University) in Bismarck, N.D. Joann volunteered at Mandan’s St. Vincent de Paul store and was constantly finding people in her community who needed help, and offering her friendship. In 1987, when Chris retired as an engineer (he had returned to engineering while continuing as a pastor part-time), the couple moved to Deer Lodge. Chris had been called to fill the pulpit at St. James Episcopal Church, and Joann quickly filled in as the organist. She made friends easily by volunteering everywhere and riding her bicycle all over town until she was well into her 80s. She and Chris joined the community choir and the Prison Players Theater group, which is where she met the Cutler family. This led to countless other theatrical and accompaniment opportunities for Joann, which she thoroughly enjoyed for the next 20-some years. Joann joined a group of friends singing and playing piano weekly at the assisted living facilities in Deer Lodge, up until age 95, when COVID put a stop to public gatherings. Also in Deer Lodge, Joann, with the help of her husband Chris, helped initiate a Crisis Pregnancy Help Center, a Hospice program and the Senior Center (which continues to this day). Joann also enjoyed much travel. She and Chris drove or flew to various locations to greet most of their grandchildren soon after they were born. They also travelled to England, France and New Zealand together. After Chris died in 1996, some of Joann’s excursions included India, France, England, China (as an English language instructor), Honduras for a year as a teacher, Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, New Zealand and the San Juan Islands. Joann was in the habit of going to the Sun-Up gym five days a week, riding the stationary bike daily and weight-lifting 3x/week. She was an avid reader, persevering even though her vision was dimming. She used a lighted video-magnifier to thoroughly read the local weekly news and the Sunday paper. She devoured the “Week” news magazine, and regularly watched the PBS news hour to keep up with what was going on in the world. Joann loved going to Senior Lunch at the Deer Lodge Senior Center. Other hobbies included hiking, swimming, word games like Scrabble and Quiddler, gardening, crosswords and sewing. Joann loved people. In her 80s, she learned that a young friend needed help with daycare for her baby. Joann offered to care for the child one day a week. As the years progressed, that child began piano lessons with Joann once a week. During this time period, Joann earned the nickname, “JoJo.” Morning and night, Joann asked God for guidance. For years, she sang a hymn in French every morning as part of her devotions. She was an avid follower of Christ but kept an open mind and often voiced her concern about what was wrong in the world. Joann made a difference by developing her personal faith, engaging with people of all ages and variety of beliefs, by being honest about her doubts and praying constantly for world peace. Joann supported many causes. Over the past couple of decades, instead of giving gifts to her grown children and grandchildren each Christmas, Joann began making donations in their names to dig wells in villages in Africa or South America that needed water. These are the kind of gifts that keep on giving. Joann loved her friends in Deer Lodge and knew she was dearly loved. As one of her musician friends recently coined, “Joann was a kind, vivacious soul.” While visiting her daughter’s family in Missoula in the Fall, Joann began a hospice program to help guide her Home. Sincere thanks to Big Sky Hospice for all the beauty, help and encouragement they offered Joann and her family in these past weeks. Joann’s passing leaves an enormous void in our lives. Please come join us in remembering her. A memorial service is planned for Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, at St. James Episcopal Church, 307 Cottonwood Ave., Deer Lodge. The service will be at 11 a.m., followed by a luncheon at The Broken Arrow restaurant, 317 Main St., Deer Lodge. In lieu of flowers for Joann’s memorial, please consider giving to a worthy cause that helps people in need, i.e., Habitat for Humanity or your local food shelf.