Joanna Karl was born on Aug. 18, 1951, in Cleveland. After completing a Bachelor of Science degree from Ohio University, she moved out west and completed a second degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara. While living there, she spent much time building banjos, harps, and hammered dulcimers and traveling to outdoor fairs. She also managed a food co-op, typeset the local alternative weekly, and produced community radio programs
In 1987, she moved up to Portland and took a job at Metro, while pursuing a master's degree in environmental engineering. She was licensed as a professional engineer in 1993 and worked at Metro in solid waste management until the time of her death. She spent much of her time working on landfill closure, but was especially excited about working on projects involving water conservation, rainwater harvesting, and rooftop gardens.
For about 10 years in Portland she ran the Appropriate Technology Group which featured a speaker each month on technologies that reduced our ecological footprint by offering small-scale, practical alternatives. During this time she got involved in straw bale construction and helped to design and build a small experimental building on the campus of Portland Community College. Her particular role involved installing moisture sensors in the walls which would then be monitored regularly.
In 2002 she moved to Corvallis, but continued to work at Metro in Portland two days a week and took turns staying over various friends' houses on Monday nights. With her friend "Peace" John Helm she purchased a dilapidated house in south Corvallis and they worked on rebuilding it with straw bale insulation, earthen plaster, sustainably harvested lumber, recycled metal roofing, and an adobe floor with radiant heating. They also built a small well house with cob and prepared an extensive organic garden. Besides the physically hard work, Joanna specialized in creating colorful artistic windows and whimsical designs. Friends and neighbors joined in the project at a number of work parties. Joanna died on Friday, Feb. 29, when she fell while working on her house.
Her large number of friends will miss her dearly. They fondly remember her playfulness, generosity, and constant energy. For many years one of her favorite pastimes was contra dancing and she traveled to many events all around the area, including frequent visits to Camp Westwind on the Oregon coast. She loved hiking and cross-country skiing and commuted almost everywhere on a bicycle on which she could carry amazing amounts of stuff on various racks. In her spare time she took photographs and made calendars, colorful collages, napkins from cloth scraps, playful yet political buttons, clothing, quilts, sleeping bags and a variety of other items which she often gave away as gifts. She believed in making things, if at all possible, rather than just buying them.
She traveled with friends to Alaska, where she climbed the Chilkoot Pass, went up to the rim of Mt. Saint Helens, and rode her bicycle from Vancouver, B.C., to Cremona, Alberta, to visit a friend. She also spent time on the isolated coast of Washington where Peace and she carted out large amounts of trash.
She strongly believed in living by her beliefs and for over 25 years practiced war tax resistance. This involved filing her tax return yet redirecting the money to the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee and various social causes. In an autobiographical sketch written in 1993, Joanna wrote, "I try to live simply, respect life, and to impact the natural environment as little as possible. I attempt to be consistent between my personal belief system and my lifestyle choices (i.e. vegetarianism, bicycle commuting, and war tax resistance, etc.). I am also an activist in (hopefully) teaching by example and organizing around my convictions. It feels good when someone seeks me out either for information or to excitedly report on their own lifestyle changes." She succeeded remarkably in living according to her overall social and environmental values.
Donations can be made in her honor at http://nwtrcc.org/contactdonate.htm or to a peace or environmental cause of your choice.
Her mother, Alice Karl, died in 2000. Survivors are her father, Nelson Karl, and brothers, Louis Karl and Michael Karl.