When friends of Joanne Schumacher ‘55 gathered for a luncheon in her memory, their stories were so vivid and spirited, it was as if Joanne herself was seated at the table. Laughter abounded as Mary Welch ’69 and ‘75, Sally Keane ‘54, Janie Bolton and Jackie Tamfer recalled their friend Joanne, a College of Education alumnae and former Seattle elementary school teacher who showered those in her life with affection, loyalty and the occasional course correction.
Joanne passed away in April 2015, leaving a sizable bequest to Seattle University to establish the Schumacher Scholarship Endowment Fund. Her gift will generate annual scholarships for students with financial need who are pursuing teaching careers through the College of Education.
Given Joanne’s modest career as a public school teacher, her friends marveled at her legacy and celebrated how her gift reflected who she was and what she valued.
“She was a giving person,” said Sally Keane. With tears in her eyes, she looked around the room at Joanne’s other friends, some of whom Sally had only recently met. “Even when you die, Joanne, you’re giving me new friends.”
Like a sewing circle, Joanne’s friends stitched together the themes of her life. She was always busy, always on the move, always doing something to help someone else. It made no difference whether the person in need was a family member, a close friend, or complete stranger.
“She took care of us all,” Janie Bolton said.
Her acts of service and kindness seemed to second nature to her. Jackie Tamfer recalled a time when she and Joanne were cooking for a luncheon, and Joanne asked for a lemon zester. Jackie didn’t own one and jokes that they managed without it. “But you know what I got as a gift two days later?” Jackie asks. The women nodded knowingly. Each of them had stories of a similar vein.
Organization was another of Joanne’s signature traits.
“Joanne is one of a kind, and heaven will never be the same,” Mary Welch said.
“She’s organizing it,” quipped Sally Keane, evoking peals of laughter.
The women remembered Joanne’s “Quiet Christmas,” an open house before the holidays when friends could stop in for quiche in the morning, soup in the afternoon or cocktails in the evening. As guests dropped by, Joanne picked up the thread of a previous conversation from wherever it had last been.
“When I first realized her age, I was surprised,” Jackie said. “She was so young in her interests, so interested in you and who was in your life.”
Mary added, “I wasn’t sure if she was a big sister, a mother…” Jackie piggy backs on Mary’s thought. “I could never pinpoint it either. She gave such wonderful guidance.
“She transcended her age,” Janie concludes.
Apparently, offering guidance or “course correction” was something Joanne managed without bruising the egos of her friends or people in authority. The friends who attended Joanne’s parish, Our Lady of Fatima, tittered as they recalled Joanne putting several priests in line over the years. “Every priest got their training through Joanne,” Mary said, laughing. Yet, in Joanne’s final days, those priests were at her bedside. “All her ‘boys’ came to see her,” Mary said fondly.
The focus of Joanne’s life was children. Though she never married and had no children of her own, she devoted herself to helping children in need. She made sandwiches for St. Francis House, sorted clothing at Catholic Community Services and knitted hats for homeless men, women and children.
A Board member for the Association for Catholic Childhood, Joanne often chaired the organization’s signature fundraiser, the Magnolia Holiday Home Tour. Her own warm and welcoming home with its meticulously organized craft room was always a crowd favorite.
Joanne did just as much for her friends – knitting beautiful blankets for their grandchildren or making herself available to help on short notice.
As the conversation turned to Joanne’s final months and days, the friends shared the telltale signs of her illness. She had begun slowing down and scaling back her social interactions. A blanket for a friend’s grandchild couldn’t be finished.
Lest the remembrance turn too sad, Joanne continued to provide plenty of humorous anecdotes even as her body began to fail. When her cane was not enough to support her, she improvised by holding onto a Swiffer with her other hand. When Jackie’s husband volunteered to put up Joanne’s Christmas tree, Joanne showed her appreciation by joining him in a double Scotch.
Until the end, her mind and her life were as organized as ever. Mary recalls going to Joanne’s home to pick up some things Joanne needed when she was in the hospital. She discovered a home where every drawer and closet was in perfect order.
As the women considered their friend’s organized, joyful, bountiful legacy, Janie seemed to speak for them all: “We were just happy to have known Joanne and to have had her in our life and to be able to enjoy this endowment living on in her name.”
Sally closed the luncheon with one last laugh for the group. “We’re all going to go home now and clean our drawers,” she said.