Where Food, Drinks & Stories Are Shared

Joanne Willson

October 25, 1946 - December 9, 2020
Portage, MI


Private Mass of Christian Burial

Tuesday, December 22, 2020
11:00 AM EST
Live Stream
St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church
1150 W Centre Ave
Portage, MI 49024
(269) 327-5165

Attendance at the church will be by family invitation. The Live Stream will be available through the church website.

Private interment will follow at Portage Central Cemetery.


At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.

Portage Community Center - Emergency Fund
325 E Centre Ave
Portage, MI 49002
(269) 323-1942
Web Site


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

1830 S. Westnedge
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 349-4961
Driving Directions
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


All who knew Joanne Willson would agree that she was truly beautiful on the inside and out. She selflessly lived to love and serve others, and her devotion to her family, friends, and community was unmatched. A woman of faith, Joanne exemplified what it means to be the hands and feet of the Lord she loved. There was never anything that was of greater value to Joanne than her family that grew to include the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who made her so very proud. Life will never be the same without her here, but she leaves behind a timeless legacy that is deeply rooted in unconditional love that her family will proudly carry on in her footsteps.

Life during the mid-forties was a time unlike any other. With the end of WWII in 1945, rationing had become a thing of the past and the baby boom was underway. It was also during this time that C. Gus and Mary (LaForge) Skartsiaris experienced a baby boom in their own lives as they announced the arrival of the baby girl they named Joanne on October 25, 1946. Although she was born in Toledo, Ohio, she was primarily raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Joanne was the oldest of three as she was raised in the family home alongside her brothers, Ted and Mike. Her parents owned restaurants including the Canary in downtown Kalamazoo as well as the Parkview in Richland and the Seasons in Three Rivers. Although work kept her family busy, Joanne loved watching her father and his friends play baseball on the weekends. These games were usually followed by parties at their home on Mulhern.

After graduating from St. Augustine Catholic High School, Joanne was eager for all that life had in store. She went on to graduate from Western Michigan University in 1982. Throughout her life Joanne was known for her strong work ethic, and she enjoyed learning new things and meeting new people. There was no such thing as a job too small, and she loved teaching people new skills. Over the years Joanne worked as a banker, a realtor, a purchasing agent, and a healthcare administrator. Joanne also worked as a substitute teacher and alongside her parents in the many restaurants they owned over the years. She put her heart and soul into each endeavor she undertook whether in her work or just in her life. Joanne always studied up when there was something she was not an expert in as she wanted to gather all of the information to make the best decision. This was especially true if it was to help those in need.

Not to be forgotten during Joanne’s years in school was the introduction to the young man who would forever hold the key to her heart. His name was James A. Willson, and they met at a St. Augustine dance in the Columbia Hotel. At that time these dances were called a “shamrock.” Jim was smitten by Joanne’s beauty right from the start and knew she would be his wife one day. He was also struck by her outgoing and bubbly personality and loved dancing with her. Deeply in love, Joanne and Jim were married on January 9, 1965, at St. Augustine’s in Kalamazoo with a reception following at the Knights of Columbus Hall downtown. Together they were blessed with the births of three children, Maria, James, and Lisa.

There was no greater gift in Joanne’s life than her loved ones. She was there to cheer on her kids in everything they did whether sports or theatre. Every new activity a child took on became a new opportunity for her to become involved with parent teacher organizations or booster clubs. Family time spent at her parents’ house on Gull Lake Creek was the backdrop for so many of their favorite family moments. Their days were often filled with rides on the pontoon boat, plenty of swimming, and family dinner at the house with some sort of play or fashion show to end the day. Joanne loved celebrating all the family’s “victories” including high school and college graduations, career accomplishments, and of course, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Every family gathering was centered around the food as Joanne loved to cook. She also made sure that no one ever left hungry or without lots of leftovers. Joanne and her husband played golf at Pineview, which was often followed by dinner with their golfing friends. She also loved going to the Knollwood Tavern to play shuffleboard on the wooden tables and watching Jim play catcher on their beer league coed softball team. When they lived in England for a few years Joanne and Jim traveled throughout Europe, and they returned again in 2015 to visit England, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, and the Netherlands. They even took in the Notre Dame game in Ireland in 2012 as they were huge Notre Dame fans.

Generous and devoted to the Portage community, Joanne gave of her time in so many ways. She was a member of the Catholic church throughout her life and was most recently a parishioner at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Portage. She always participated in back-to-school supply drives, gift drives for children in need, and in feeding families holiday meals. Joanne loved to volunteer for Little League and the local food bank, PowerUp. She did everything at West Portage Little League including umpiring, grounds keeping, working in the concession stand, and even vice president of baseball. She went on to help Michigan Little League District 15 as an assistant district administrator and later became district administrator in 2014. Joanne spent much of her time obtaining grants for the needs of local little leagues and to feed children in poverty. She also became a member of the Portage School Board in 2010 where she was an advocate for students and teachers. Joanne volunteered for the Christmas gift project at Portage Community Center as a representative of the Portage Rotary. In addition, she helped the Interact Club at Portage Northern High School shop for gifts around the holidays for four years. In fact, to her family and friends, Joanne was so exceptional at finding the best deals while shopping, her middle initial “S” truly stood for “Sales.”

When reflecting on the life of Joanne Willson, it is easy to see her unconditional love and devotion to all those around her. Among her many passions was supporting teachers and the education of all students as she was there to encourage and inspire others. Joanne’s smile was infectious, and her zest for life was contagious to all who were near. Deeply loved, she will be forever missed.

Joanne Willson, Age 74, of Portage, MI, passed away on December 9, 2020. Joanne was preceded in death by a daughter, Maria Willson, and by her parents. Joanne’s family includes her husband, James A. Willson; son, James A. (Kimberly) Willson II; daughter, Lisa (James) Lamb; two brothers: Ted (Pat) Skartsiaris and Michael (Sandy) Skartsiaris; grandchildren: Bradley Willson, Angela (James) Willson-Conrad, Shaun (Kathryn) McIntyre, Andrea (Joseph) Korwin, and Jamie McIntyre; and 2 great-grandchildren: Emma Claire Korwin and Grace Joanne Conrad. Private Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated with close family and friends at 11AM Tuesday (DEC 22) at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, 1150 West Centre Ave, Portage. The service will also be streamed live on the church's website. Private interment will follow at Portage Central Cemetery. The family will also hold a public memorial in July. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in Joanne’s honor may be directed to the Portage Community Center’s Emergency Fund. Please visit Joanne's personal webpage at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com where you may read her Life Story, archive a favorite memory or photo, and sign her online guestbook. Arrangements by Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Dr., Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900.