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Joanne Burnett

1938 - 2017
Joanne Burnett Obituary
Joanne Burnett

February 20, 1938

July 14, 2017

Joanne W. ("Burnie") Burnett, aged 79, died peacefully on July 14, 2017 at St. Mary's Hospital after a courageous struggle with multiple medical problems at several medical facilities. Joanne/Burnie was born February 20, 1938 in St. Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of Daniel and Eleanor Hersinger.

Joanne was a gifted student, teacher, and lover of the arts from early in her life. She was a prolific reader since childhood, winning the St. Paul Public Library's Children's Reading Program contest in first, second and third grades and she never stopped reading and passionately discussing books for the rest of her life. She also loved singing, music, and theater (cinema and plays) with a deep-seated passion. She sang so well in her church's Children's Choir as a 9 year old that she and her 6 year old sister, Marilyn, recorded several hymns onto a vinyl 45 at their pastor's insistence. As a high school student in Flagstaff, Arizona, she was in the All-State Orchestra as a cellist. Later adult performances included wonderful harmonizing as a madrigal singer with dear friends.

She graduated first in her class from Arizona State College, (now Northern Arizona University - NAU) in 1960 with a B.A. in English and later went on to earn a Master's Degree in English from the University of Nevada, Reno.

Joanne taught for one year in Flagstaff Junior High School, Flagstaff, Arizona before moving to the Reno/Sparks area in 1963. In addition to raising her two children, she was probably best known to thousands of Wooster High School Alumni for her almost magical touch in the classroom as a teacher of English, Fantasy, and Science Fiction from 1965 to 1995. As one former student eloquently described it "She made C-13 at Wooster High School a safe haven for the artists, the dreamers and the socially awkward teenagers who are usually devoured by the high school atmosphere. She created a place where we learned to be comfortable within our skins, and lent us a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on when emotions (and hormones) overtook us. She taught us the love of the written word and helped feed the desire for learning." Many of the students who most enjoyed her classes and teaching also were members of Wooster's Tolkien Society, which she founded in the late 1960s upon discovering and becoming captivated by the Middle Earth fantasy world that J.R.R. Tolkien created in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Many of those students became her lifelong dear friends as she and they continued their relationships and discussions even up until the last days of her life in a group called Crickhollow and through ongoing individual relationships with other former students.

During her teaching career at Wooster she also founded an environmental group, STOP (Students To Oppose Pollution). For many years she was a member of the scholarship committee at Wooster, assuring the most deserving students had the best opportunities for future academic success. Both of these efforts were consistent with and examples of her lifelong passionate advocacy for environmental, educational, and other progressive efforts. In one of her final teaching years "Burnie" was recognized by the entire student body as the outstanding teacher at Wooster for her lifetime efforts at the school.

She also formed exceptionally close relationships with many of her former teaching colleagues, whom she loved to go to lunch with in as many months as possible. Three teaching friends were particularly dear to Joanne in her retired years: Laura Lessly, Diane Howard, and Charlotte Voitoff. Laura's relationship interactions were nearly daily over the last seven years of her life and together with Crickhollow and other friends' contributions allowed Joanne to remain in her beloved Sparks home up until shortly before her death. Diane and Charlotte shared their joint love of the arts with Joanne by going to many performances, including regular trips to Sand Harbor for Shakespeare under the stars, and an annual trek to Ashland, Oregon for the Shakespearean festival. She enjoyed little in life more than eating a good meal with dear friends before or after watching a movie or play that she thought was well done.

Joanne is survived by her dearly loved and cherished children, Dan and Anne Burnett, and their families, Sara Burnett, and Chris and Jesse Lopez; her beloved sister and brother-in-law, Marilyn and Philip Downum; a niece and a nephew, Denell and Gene Downum, and their families; an ex-husband, Richard E. Burnett; and a legion of friends from her time at Wooster and other walks of life who loved her dearly and who treated her like family until the very end of her life.

Everyone who was touched by her knew of and benefited from her intelligent, but compassionate listening and her ability to empathize and inspire a child-like joy from reading, learning, and experiencing art and life omnivorously. She is gone sooner than she or we wanted her to be and hope she is experiencing the "white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise" which gave her so much pleasure to imagine in this lifetime.

A celebration of life is planned on Saturday, July 22, 2017 at 2 PM at the McKinley Building at 925 Riverside Drive with reception to follow. Birkenstocks and Mumus are welcome.

Donations to the Mythopoeic Society and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation in her name are also welcomed.
Published in Reno Gazette-Journal on July 20, 2017
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