Joan O’Steen, 89, Oak Ridge

Joan O’Steen, 89, of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, passed away on January 20, 2021, from COVID-19 complications.

Joan is survived by her daughters, Kathryn Hill and Jennifer Hill, and her son, Jeff Hill; son-in-law, Jeff Sherman, and grandchildren Lauren Glaser, Emma Glaser, and Max Sherman; son-in-law Paul Baldauf and grandchild Billie Joan Hill-Baldauf; daughter-in-law Michele Johnson and grandchildren Thomas Hill, James Hill, and Henry Hill; brother, Lee O’Steen; and dear friends and extended family, Margaret and Bill Baldauf, Erin Glaser Rains and Edward Glaser; and Rosemary and Kenny Williamson. Joan was preceded in death by her husband, Thomas A. Hill.

Joan was born on December 9, 1931, in West Palm Beach, Florida, to John Leonard O’Steen and Mary Icel Myers. She and her brother were raised by their grandparents, Dora Egerton and Harry Myers, after the death at a young age of her mother. Joan’s family had roots in Florida since before its statehood in 1845, making her eligible to be counted as a Florida Pioneer.
Joan learned from a very young age to dance, draw, and knit. She drew on these talents to win cash and other prizes in local contests to contribute to the family’s wherewithal. She won her first competition when she was just four, reciting The Owl and the Pussycat. From that time on, she became a clear-headed, businesslike competitor.

She was trained in dance by Reba Chalfonte, for whose generous support Joan was grateful throughout her life. As a teenager, she performed as part of an acrobatic roller skating duo at sites around Palm Beach County and won several beauty contests.

Joan was dedicated to community service from a young age. She, like many others, used her knitting skills to support the war effort during World War II. She also received a 50-hour certificate and ribbon when she was twelve years old in recognition of her dancing in USO shows for troops stationed in Palm Beach County.

Joan started baton twirling at age 14, graduated from high school at the age of 16, and received a majorette scholarship to the University of Miami. She was the first in her family to attend college. There, she studied journalism, was a member of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, and was a member of the university’s Band of the Hour marching band, making lifelong friends and memories. She also played competitive basketball and fast-pitch softball in intramural and community leagues.

Joan always had a feminist consciousness combined with a wickedly sharp sense of humor. When she was in college, for example, the school had in place a sexist rule: women had to wear a cover-up from shoulders to knees when walking back to their dorms after ball games or marching band practice, while men could just walk home in their shorts and t-shirts. Joan and Rosie, her friend and fellow majorette, decided to wear see-through raincoats—following the letter of the law while flaunting its discriminatory spirit.

Joan worked as a stewardess during and after college, flying with Pan American Airways, National Airlines, and three smaller charter airlines. She met her future husband, Tom Hill, when she interned with the Miami Herald. She agreed to go out with him, she said, because he had convinced her that he gave out the grades when he hired her. He hired her, he said, because she was a beauty, but he asked her out because he’d heard she was a good shot. So, when he picked her up for a date, she was dressed for dinner and dancing, and he was dressed for basketball. He took her to the basketball court, they played horse, she beat him soundly, he was intrigued, and a shared love of games and banter was established. One year later, in 1956, they were married.

Joan and Tom spent a lively first five years together in Miami. Joan worked as a special rep for the airlines and taught baton twirling lessons, Tom continued in the newspaper trade, and they bought their first dog, a Doberman pinscher.

In 1961, they moved to Oak Ridge. Tom began working at The Oak Ridger, the newspaper his parents had founded, and eventually became publisher. Joan soon got involved in community activities, including choreographing dance numbers for The Playhouse, leading dog obedience classes with Tom for the Oak Ridge Kennel Club, and being active with the Oak Ridge Panhellenic Association and Oak Ridge Arts Center.

Joan had three children and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis soon after. She approached the challenges of chronic illness like other challenges. She learned as much as she could, she maintained a pragmatic attitude, and she stayed busy—raising children, coaching, and serving in the community. She served on the founding board of the Girls Club (now Girls, Inc.), started a neighborhood watch association, and taught twirling lessons. She coached several softball teams. The longest-running franchise was the Saints 59ers, a team made up of girls from First United Methodist and St. Stephen’s Churches. Joan was head coach and Tom assistant coach, with their son as bat boy and girls in the infield. Joan considered all players on teams she coached and all twirlers she taught to be family, and nothing made her happier in later years than to hear from or about her former ball players or students.

In 1973, Joan began writing Joanographs, a weekly column of humor and reflections on daily life that ran in The Oak Ridger for 14 years. Joan wrote about the absurdities of childrearing and family life but also shared thoughts on more serious themes of illness, loneliness, and the importance of home and family.

Joan was a painter and an extraordinary fiber artist. In the 1980s, she formed Joan O’Steen Designs, through which she created, exhibited, and sold one-of-a-kind knit and crochet sweaters. Joan considered the Art Center a community gem and was grateful when the Center held a retrospective exhibit of her paintings and fiber arts pieces in 2019.
Joan believed deeply that every family should have a safe, stable home and every child an accessible, quality education. She endowed scholarships at the University of Miami and Indian River State College and supported a food pantry in Florida and a mentoring program at Girls, Inc. in Oak Ridge. She donated to the Historical Society of Palm Beach County in honor of her mother and her early dance teacher and to support summer camp transportation and civics education for low-income students. She also donated to the Oak Ridge Art Center to expand access for disabled individuals.

Joan was a member of First United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge. She admired the church’s creative, inclusive ministries and was deeply grateful for the spiritual support she received through its active ministry for seniors. She was happy to donate to FUMC to assist veterans and their families and to assist women and children in domestic violence situations.

In living with MS for almost five decades, Joan faced and discussed the many ups and downs of illness—and all of life—with forthrightness. This did not always make her an easy conversationalist, but she was always was honest and insightful as a sister, wife, mother, friend, and grandmother. Joan was immensely proud of her grandchildren, who received from her an abiding love and an appreciation for humor, art, music, dance, community service, and faith.

Joan said goodbye best, in her fashion, in her last newspaper column: “I hope that the fact that I like people has seeped through the black print. I hope that it’s been evident when I poked fun at something or someone, I was usually laughing at myself. I’ll miss your phone calls [and] letters. You took the time, you shared, and it’s appreciated. Pat yourself on the back and hug yourself for me. . . . Goodbye gang.”

No public service will be held at this time. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Oak Ridge Art Center or to First United Methodist Church.

Weatherford Mortuary is handling the arrangements. An online guestbook can be signed at www.weatherfordmortuary.com.

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