Abby and Alex Wheatley, with family and friends, grieve the passing of their mother, Joanne Wentworth Wheatley, 70, who died at home with her children on July 28. The third of seven, Joanne was born in Berkeley, CA on Feb. 25, 1950 to parents Dorothy Zaccor and Harry Wentworth. In addition to her children, she is survived by daughter-in-law Tana, granddaughter Mia, and siblings Sandra Delay, Jay, Cheryl, Michael, Deborah and Stuart Wentworth. Joanne is preceded in death by her husband Robert (Bob) Wheatley. She is known as “Grandma Jo” to the youngest of the family, and will forever be remembered this way.
Joanne had fond memories of growing up in Berkeley and The Uplands neighborhood. She loved to explore and go on adventures, which she could do from within the pages of a book, on her bicycle, or in a car. As a young girl, Joanne would get up early on Saturday mornings and ride her bike to a secret spot under a gathering of trees to read her books in quiet. At the age of 8, she accompanied her older brother, Jay, on a paper route—not an easy task considering that the neighborhood spread over a steep hill at the base of the Berkeley Hills. Even as a child, Joanne was a tireless advocate of children, including her four younger siblings, who remember her as their trusted leader. While most of her siblings went to public school, Joanne attended Catholic schools to accompany her younger sister Cheryl and graduated from Holy Names High in 1968.
Joanne had a profound appreciation for Mexican culture and Mexico City, having spent two summers there as a child. Her openness to the world and all its richness was fostered during these early trips, and later handed over to Abby, who now works with Mexican and Central American migrants. Joanne was happy to return to Mexico City later in her life and thought often of Chapultepec Park, fresh fruit on the street, and coming of age in a foreign country.
Joanne discovered her passion for teaching when she volunteered in her younger brother, Stuart’s, 2nd-grade classroom at John Muir Elementary School. After a year at the University of Portland, Joanne’s sheer enthusiasm and passion convinced the headmaster at The Academy in Berkeley to hire her even though she did not have a teaching credential. Under the mentorship of Mr. Lombardo, Joanne grew into a highly qualified and confident teacher. She taught at The Academy for five years, stepping back in 1977 to stay home with Alex. While she loved to teach, being home and available to her children was a high priority for Joanne.
In May of 1973, Joanne married Bob whom she met in San Francisco after he hitchhiked out west from Ohio. In 1981, they moved to Port Townsend, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula to raise their children. As a young mother in a new place, Joanne was grateful to make friends and find support through La Leche League, the Co-op preschool, Char’s preschool, OPEPO, and Patti’s class. Making new friends and reaching out to newcomers, as Abby recalls, was one of the many ideals that Joanne practiced and taught to her children. In fact, at the beginning of each new school year, Abby’s only instruction was to move beyond her comfort zone and make at least one new friend.
Though not formally involved in the schools, Joanne volunteered many hours in classrooms and continued to support her children’s education. Between 1989-1990, she homeschooled Alex, creating real-world learning experiences that tapped into his passion for sports and numbers in ways that lasted a lifetime. A highlight of the year (and long before the advent of the internet made it a common occurrence) was the creation of a fantasy baseball league coordinated through the high school and consisting of Alex and nine of his peers.
Joanne was a lifelong learner who cared about the journey rather than the destination, the process rather than the product. Embodying this philosophy, she led her children on countless adventures on the Olympic Peninsula, into the redwoods, and up and down Highways 1 and 101. She made her first road trip from Port Townsend to Berkeley when her children were 6 and almost 2, camping the entire way. When asked how she managed this alone, Joanne responded: “I wasn’t alone, I had Alex.” This became a biennial trip with routine stops along the Oregon Coast, the sand dunes at Jessie M. Honeyman State Park, the Avenue of the Giants, the Samoa Cookhouse near Eureka, and many others. She took her children on frequent adventures to Chetzemoka, Cherry Street and Sather Parks, Fort Worden, Fort Flagler, the KOA campground in Sequim, and Port Ludlow for swimming and picnic lunches. Alex and Abby also remember visits to Hurricane Ridge, Sol Duc Hot Springs, Blue Lake, Victoria, BC, and Raratonga. As a family, they rode the ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle for Mariners’ games, played the horses at the Longacres Racetrack, and made weekend trips to the Silverdale Inn, which had a superb Sunday brunch.
Joanne and Bob owned multiple small businesses in Port Townsend until Joanne returned to her passion in teaching, completing her BA in Education, and receiving her teaching credential at the age of 58! Before Bob died, the couple enjoyed sipping coffee and reading mystery novels outside their RV in Farmington, New Mexico. They paused to enjoy the simple moments and each other’s company.
With credential in hand, Joanne took up teaching assignments around the world, spending two and a half years at an American school in Kiev, Ukraine and shorter stints in Cairo, Caracas, and Mexico City. She also traveled to Italy, Turkey, Prague, Russia, and the Netherlands. As an educator, Joanne believed that learning should be fun, creative, and oriented around the students’ own interests. Though she was an avid reader, she loved to teach math because it was something she herself had struggled with. In 2012, Joanne relocated to Tucson, Arizona, alongside Abby, opening yet another chapter of her life, and teaching her final years at Al Huda Islamic School.
Joanne had an incredible capacity to take things as they came. She was open and accepting of what unfolded, of herself, and others. She was present to the moment and those around her. When confronted with death she said calmly: “Well then, I kind of think somebody up there really likes me,” followed by: “I guess we have to be ready for all the excitement and thrills that come with it.” We are incredibly proud and humbled to have known Joanne. She is and will continue to be deeply missed.
A small backyard service was held on Aug. 5, to memorialize Joanne’s life. The family plans to hold a celebration of life in Port Townsend when it is safe to travel and gather. Please send memories of Joanne to the Wheatley Family at 260 E. Rio Salado Pkwy, Apt 3058, Tempe, Arizona, 85281. A donation can be made in Joanne’s name to her granddaughter’s tribe, the Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes (earmarked for education) at fortpecktribes.org/giving.html.