Joanna Willimetz

Apr 11, 2017
Joanna Willimetz

Rockland — Joanna Willimetz died April 10, 2017.

She graduated from schools in Hamburg, N.Y., Wellesley College, Bank Street College of Education and Queens College Special Education. In Tennessee, she was on the staff of Highlander Folk School, an adult leadership training school for union labor groups. It was a pioneer in the Civil Rights movements and its participants included Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. This was particularly challenging during the McCarthy period, when Joanna was executive secretary of the school.

She moved with her husband, Emil, and two children to Lima, Peru, where for 13 years she had an enameled jewelry business and a nursery school. In conjunction with the school, she trained (In Spanish) young girls from the barriadas who would later become educators. While in Peru, her family camped all over Peru in deserts, the Andes and jungles.

After returning to the U.S., she taught psychotic children for several years before joining the New York City Board of Education as a special education teachers. Upon retiring to the Thomaston area from which her ancestors came, she and her husband became ardent birdwatchers. This led to their leading nature tours around the world for 22 years. These included New Guinea, New Zealand and many countries in Asia, Africa and South America.

Since they had started birding in Peru, one of the world's top birding spots, they would have liked to continue there, but the birding areas were controlled by the terrorist group The Shining Path. Consequently, they switched to all the other Latin American countries. She spent many years working with the Friendship-Cushing Food Pantry. She lived her last three years at Bartlett Woods.

All her life, she was a political activist and had headed the Queens County, N.Y., telephone chain for Common Cause and wrote letters for Amnesty International for prisons imprisoned without trials. She also was a worker for the Obama campaign, volunteered at the Farnsworth Art Museum and fundraised for the Cushing Community School.

She had many watercolor art shows and particularly enjoyed illustrating letters and envelopes and wrote birthday poems for her Cushing and Thomaston friends. For many years, she designed and printed whimsical bird greeting cards. Her hobbies included bridge, Mah Jong and her book club.

In reflecting on her life, there were five things of which she was very proud: her husband, two sons and two musicals that she wrote and produced. One was a series of skits for special education children in "how not to become a fire victim in New York City." The second, for the Cushing Historical Society, was based on her childhood summer memories of Maine, "Straw Hats and Sou'westers."

She was predeceased by her husband, Emil, and her brother, James Creighton. She is survived by her sons, James, and his wife, Silvia, Andrew and his wife, Wenjuan Fan; two grandchildren, Andrea Willimetz and Andrew Fan; her sister, Lois Abbott; her sister-in-law, Jean Scott Creighton; and many nieces and nephews.

A service will be held this summer.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Debra Damon | Jul 19, 2017 15:26

I have to say she was an amazing lady. I loved to hear her stories on her travels it was like you were there with her. She will be missed that is for sure. I'm glad I had the opportunity to meet her.


Posted by: Chris Mcintosh | Apr 11, 2017 19:04

I had the pleasure of traveling with her and her late husband Emil to South America on one of their fantastic trips to Ecuador, the Amazon, and the Galapagos in 1989.  They were both amazing guides, and displayed a true love of South America.  His book, Gringo, is well worth the read.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Apr 11, 2017 14:34

Wow! I wish I had known her. Such a full life!

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