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Life Story / Obituary
All who knew Joanne Derhammer would agree that she was one of the sweetest people around. She was very driven and determined to succeed as she didn’t back down from any challenge. Joanne was deeply devoted to her family, and there was nothing that made her happier than being surrounded by their love. She was so proud to become a grandmother, and it was easy to see that her grandchildren were her greatest source of pride and joy. Joanne was the sort of person who was always positive and could see the good in anyone with an open door to anyone who needed it. Life will never be the same without Joanne here, but she leaves behind a priceless collection of memories that her loved ones will forever hold near and dear to their hearts.
As the year 1940 dawned in America, the eyes of our nation were focused overseas as WWII continued to gain momentum. Although we had hopes of remaining neutral, those hopes were soon dashed when WWII landed on our doorstep with the attack on our naval base in Pearl Harbor in 1941. It was just prior to this historic day that Vernon and Letha (Merrill) Johnston were pleased to announce the birth of the baby girl they named Joanne on August 16, 1940, in Bangor, Michigan. The youngest of four, she was raised in the family home alongside her siblings, Dick, Don, and Jeanette. Joanne’s parents were farmers in Bangor, and both also worked at a factory.
In many ways Joanne was a young girl of her generation. She grew up absolutely enthralled with horses, and it was also while growing up that her lifelong love for gardening and the outdoors was born. Joanne began driving a tractor when she was just 12, and she was also responsible for feeding the animals, plucking the hens, and other farm chores. As a student Joanne attended a one-room schoolhouse during her youngest years, and her high school years found her at Bangor High School where she sang in the choir. She had a beautiful singing voice and also took voice lessons. Joanne went on to graduate in 1957 when she was just 16. As a young woman Joanne was eager for all that life had in store. She was so blessed to become a mother to three children, Allen, Brenda, and Kara.
New and exciting changes were in store for Joanne when she met the man of her dreams, Dave Derhammer, at a singles bar at Wayside West. He couldn’t help but notice her with her lime green sweater and her unmistakable auburn hair. Truth be told, Joanne took his breath away. She agreed to a date the following day when they went dancing and she baked him a pie, and they were together from that point forward. It didn’t take them long to fall in love, and with a desire to spend the rest of their lives together Joanne and Dave were married on March 26, 1994, at Second Reformed Church, blending their two families together. The newlyweds took a honeymoon to New Orleans, and they later moved to their dream home in Mattawan. Joanne loved this place as they had ten acres for her to landscape and mow – and she was the only one who was allowed to mow it! Not surprisingly, she did most all of it with a push mower. Joanne had a beautiful yard in all kinds of ways, as she loved flowers – particularly blooming bulbs, and maintained a large vegetable garden. Her incredible passion for mowing lawn may have seemed crazy to some, but if you stopped by anytime during the summer months, it was most likely where you find her! Since they had a walk-out basement with plenty of windows, Joanne always fought off the end-of-the-winter blues in Michigan by starting her plants from seeds in the basement, as early in the year as she could. She was well known for her green thumb. They often had wildlife, and she had several blue bird houses and lots of bird feeders. Turkey and deer were fairly common to see, and Joanne enjoyed watching all the wildlife. Joanne greatly enjoyed hosting parties and holidays, including entertaining out-of-town family, Christmas, and Thanksgiving, and she went all out in the planning. She set about planning well in advance, and her family appreciated her cooking and baking skills. Joanne had all kinds of figurines out for all the holidays as she loved decorating. She was also well known for being able to find a good bargain, as many of her knick knacks and clothes were bought from thrift stores.
As her family and friends can attest, Joanne was ALWAYS on the move. She worked hard in everything she did and took great pride in how much she was able to accomplish in a day. For 16 years she owned Jo Jo’s Beauty Shop in Bangor, and she then worked as a medical transcriptionist for over 20 years. She was proud to graduate at 47 years old with honors from Davenport College alongside her daughter, Brenda. When weather allowed, Joanne easily walked two to three miles a day, and during the winter months she would walk and exercise in her basement. She was thrilled to become a grandmother, and she was there to support her grandchildren in everything they did, always attending football, softball and soccer games, as well as school programs and concerts. She especially loved listening to her grandchildren play music. The love and pride she had for her grandchildren was unmistakable. Joanne greatly enjoyed visiting all the nearby casinos, where she played the slots and prided herself in her gambling “techniques”. Joanne and Dave liked to vacation in Las Vegas, having fun playing the slots and staying down on the old strip – watching the street performers and listening to the music. She enjoyed square dancing and even taught her youngest daughter to be her dance partner. Joanne worked tirelessly to make her home her own, and she made it seem easy to take care of all the decorating, painting, organizing, and more (and not just her own home, she would gladly help at the homes of her children and friends as well!). She was an amazing baker who even won a pie baking contest when she was only a teenager, and it has been said that she made the best apple and cherry pie. Joanne did her best to make sure that her home always smelled like pie when visitors were coming over. She had quite a sweet tooth herself, and she also loved her coffee, sipping wine, and for many years could always be found with a piece of spearmint chewing gum. From the time she was growing up she learned to appreciate what she had and never let anything go to waste. Joanne was amazing at finding bargains, often visiting thrift shops, and she was always more than willing to share her deals. She was a master of knowing how to reuse anything. She loved country music, blue grass, and battling banjos. Joanne was forced to slow down some after being diagnosed with cancer just a few months ago.
Through the life she lived each day, Joanne Derhammer was such an inspiration. She was independent and an eternal optimist with a work ethic that was truly unmatched. Joanne opened her home to all and believed that the more the merrier. Nothing was impossible with Joanne, and she was there to love, support, and encourage all who were within her reach. Truly beautiful on the inside and out, she will be forever missed.
Joanne E. Derhammer, of Mattawan, age 78, died June 13, 2019 at Rose Arbor Hospice in Kalamazoo. Members of her family include her husband of 25 years, David Derhammer; her 3 children: Allen (Tracy) Weber, Brenda (Mark) Lackey and Kara (Shane) Kimble; David’s daughter: Lisa (Paul) DeHaan; 12 grandchildren: Graden, Cole, Seth, David, Garrett, Chase, Teagan, Alyssa, Alex, Lindsey, Nick and Andrea; 3 siblings: Dick (Julie) Johnston, Don Johnston and Jeanette Strasser; and many nieces and nephews. Visit with family and friends Wednesday from 5-7 PM at Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo