Joan S. Thomson
July 7, 1941 - March 25, 2021
Warriors Mark, Pennsylvania - Joan S. Thomson, born Joan Reich Schurch, passed away peacefully at home on March 25, 2021. Born on July 7, 1941 to Alfred and Velma Mae (Reich) Schurch, Joan grew up an only child on a dairy farm near Barneveld, Wisconsin. In 1957 the family moved to nearby Mount Horeb where she completed high school. After graduating valedictorian of her high school "Class of 59," she continued her education completing B.S., M.S., and PhD degrees in Agricultural Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW).
It was in high school that she first met her husband Dennis. While both were in graduate school, they were married in 1965 and since shared nearly 56 years together.
Dr. Thomson began her academic career, spanning 42 years, in the College of Agriculture at Penn State University (PSU). Her early responsibilities included managing Extension and Staff Development Programs. After transitioning to primarily teaching and research, development of new curricula became her focus. She was then recognized as the College's first Professor of Agricultural Communications. One of her greatest joys was advising and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in Agriculture and other diverse inter-college programs. She believed strong writing was foundational to every discipline and strived to instill this skill in each of her students. Throughout her academic career she served on numerous university-wide faculty committees and was Penn State's first Administrative Fellow in the Provost's office. She also enjoyed two sabbatical leaves in Roskilde, Denmark and Monterey, California, respectively.
Joan held life-time memberships to the American Association of Family and Consumer Science (AAFCS), the American Association of Adult and Continuing Education, Epsilon Sigma Phi, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Phi Delta Kappa, Phi Upsilon Omicron, and the Rural Sociological Society. Additionally, she was active in the Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Life and Human Sciences (ACE), the Journal of Extension and the Journal of Applied Communication.
A life-long member of the UW's Alumni Association, in recognition of her many academic contributions she was named a Distinguished Alumna of the School of Human Ecology at the UW (1994) and later a Distinguished Leader in AAFCS (1997). She also received the Research in Excellence Award from ACE (2003) and was the first recipient of PSU's Graduate School Alumni Society Graduate Program Chair Leadership Award (2003).
Strongly supportive of education and natural conservation on many fronts, contributions by Joan and Dennis include collaborating with other high school classmates to organize an Alumni Endowment for Academic Excellence at Mt. Horeb High School, establishment of the Dennis and Joan Thomson Distinguished Graduate Fellowship in Meteorology (PSU), strengthening the Schurch-Thomson Graduate Research Excellence Award in Agricultural Communications (UW), supporting the Olive and John Thomson Internship in Restoration Ecology at The Prairie Enthusiasts (TPE), and the gift of their "Nittany Knoll" farm in Iowa County, WI (along with an endowment to support restoration) to TPE. The latter, recognized as the Schurch-Thomson Prairie is the nucleus for what has become the nearly 600-acre, Mounds View Grassland reserve. The Thomson's most recent preservation contribution was protection of their home farm property in Halfmoon Township through the Pennsylvania Farmland Trust and a conservation easement to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
At home, Joan loved spending time with family, especially her grandchildren, and friends, sampling and cooking different foods, and cheering on the Lady Lion basketball team. While still able, she greatly enjoyed traveling to Alaska and Europe for family visits. She was also eager to visit new places where she could take in the sights and tour museums. Her heart-felt laughs, thoughtful questions and never-ending quest for knowledge are missed. During her life Joan encountered many physical health obstacles but always kept a positive outlook and was committed to maintaining her independence. In the past five years she faced several formidable health challenges and extended hospitalizations. Her family is grateful for her wonderful care helpers who made life at home possible, and for the family-like relationships that formed.
In addition to her husband Dennis, Joan is survived by their son Erik (wife, Sarah Weiss) and their children Anika and Elliot in Gothenburg, Sweden, and daughter Heather Rinke (husband Hans) and their daughters Olivia and Heidi in Soldotna, Alaska. Due to the current public health restrictions, no public services have been scheduled. For friends wishing to make a memorial contribution, please consider one of the family endowments at PSU or UW, The Prairie Enthusiasts, or the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
Published in & from May 1 to May 2, 2021.