WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. – Joanne M. Penza, 80, of Wisconsin Rapids, a former resident of Woodstock, died Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, at Riverview Hospital in Wisconsin Rapids.
Joanne was born Dec. 3, 1932, in Racine, Wis., daughter of Frank Braun and Clara (Mueller) Braun. She raised seven children in a small midstate town. With a sound German upbringing to lean on, she strode forward down the aisle on the arm of the recently graduated captain of the '53 Fighting Irish football team, Don Penza. They started a life together in 1954 that would one day shape the lives of their own children and those of countless other young people. She grew up the fifth of seven children, honing skills and disciplines taught to her generation on a strong German farm in the Midwest. Growing strawberries, excelling in sports and mastering the art of sewing became lifelong activities that she made look effortless.
Joanne's athleticism rivaled that of her husband. A fearless competitor, even the occasional black eye from playing baseball with the boys didn't discourage her zeal for the game. A Junior Belle in the 1940s, she was said to have scored the tying run in the 3-2 extra-inning victory over the Rockford Peaches. She'd find every opportunity to finish chores and hustle off to the ball field to challenge whoever was up for playing. In her athleticism, she passed on her dexterity and balance to her children and grandchildren, along with common sense, the gumption to get it done and a practicality that is truly a rare package.
Joanne raised her seven children in a time and with a perspective that valued faith, family and the proper order of things. She kept her house and its rituals in line with how her mother taught her: Meals each week have their proper day; laundry and washing are done according to schedule; and planting tomatoes, strawberries and canning fruit all can be done while the children nap. Teaching her children schedules and filling their lives with predictable, comforting patterns gave them the courage to one day as adults feel confident In their abilities to get things done – well and on time.
She knew the responsibilities of the wife of a prominent citizen, too. In Jacqueline Kennedyesque fashion, she wore the pill box hat well, kept her children neatly dressed and on task and took her place as the Newcomer's Club President. She hosted morning Coffee Klutch gatherings and looked beautiful at the victory celebration when Don was elected to the first of five terms as mayor. She contributed the elements of confidence in her husband, support for his ambitions and a guide during times of change and turmoil. She would help her husband govern a city, run a small business and one day stand next to him after receiving his third consecutive state football championship.
She knew her role for his success and still sought out her own opportunities to grow and expand her skills. She eventually obtained her real-estate license and became one of the top selling agents in her community. She knew how important a home was and it was a natural fit that she helped so many people find their own homes.
It would be in her mid-50s when life would suddenly get more taxing than all of the previous events combined. She would become a widow at 56. With two children in high school and the rest still wading through the issues of young adult life, Joanne would become the sole support for her family. The death of her husband wasn't just a family tragedy; she would help a whole community mourn the death of a well-respected and well-loved leader. She grieved her own personal loss and then turned immediately to become the solitary head of her family.
Over the next 24 years, Joanne would be the matriarch of a family that comprised 21 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, new sons and daughters through marriage, and the deaths of a son-in-law and her own mother. She comforted, counseled, made jokes and passed on nuggets of wisdom sometimes so subtle they almost eluded you.
Joanne truly deserves a great story of her own intertwined with the role she played in the great story of her husband, Don. As a couple, their shared disciplines, faith and values imparted gifts of character, leadership, selflessness and humility to all those they touched. Her contribution to their marriage, children and accomplishments won't be forgotten and will be indescribably missed by those left behind.
Survivors include her children, Don (Cherie), Pat (Sue), Jan (Dan), Rich (Karen), Beth (Walter), Greg (Brandi) and Kris (Matt); 21 grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and two brothers, Jerry (Sue) and Don (Carol) Braun.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Don; twin daughters, Rose Mary and Mary Clare; her parents; and siblings, Cecilia Dailey, Edmund Braun, Evelyn Jonas and Frank Braun.
The visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, at Schneider-Leucht-Merwin & Cooney Funeral Home, 1211 N. Seminary Ave., Woodstock. The funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, 451 W. Terra Cotta Ave., Crystal Lake.
Interment will be in the Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Woodstock
In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes donations to The Donald F. Penza College Scholarship Trust, in care of Beth McKinney, 27044 Channel Lane, Valencia, CA 91355.
For information, call the funeral home at 815-338-1710.