JoAnne Ruth Olson Blake, 85, of Kalispell, died peacefully in her sleep on Sunday, August 9, 2020, at her residence at the Spring Creek Inn in Bozeman. “Jo” was born on July 20, 1935 in Missoula, Montana to Ellen (Shaffer) Olson and Carl Olson. Carl was a 100% Swedish first generation Montanan and Ellen was from Howard, Kansas, a standard mix of early American heritage. Ellen was cutting hair in her late teens in Butte when she first met Carl, a Butte native and mine laborer. From this marriage came Charles “Snooky” Olson and later, JoAnne herself.
JoAnne spent her early years in Missoula living in the house that her grandfather Davidson Samuel Shaffer built, just West of Reserve Road, now Reserve Street. She recalled the times in Missoula during the War, with rationing, eating from the family garden and orchard, and raising an illegal pig that was eventually stolen by a hungrier neighbor. Her big brother, Snooky would often tell how Salish Indians pitched their Teepees during the summer months near the railroad tracks not far from the family home. In the early 1940’s Snooky and JoAnne performed with a dance group, tap dancing at the historic Wilma Theatre in Missoula, wearing beautiful costumes sewn by their seamstress mother Ellen.
When JoAnne was in 5th grade, the family moved to Kalispell, though Dad took a job at the railroad stop in historic Lombard, MT, operating a teletype machine for the railroad. JoAnne’s fondest memories growing up were the summers she spent with Snooky and her Dad in Lombard, swimming and fishing in the Missouri River and even sifting through the old ghost town’s dump pile and finding curios and ancient relics from long ago Montana.
JoAnne then navigated through her school years in Kalispell, making life-long friends and enjoying the beautiful Flathead Valley. She was active in school activities and learned to play the clarinet, became a drummer on the Flathead County High School marching band, once drumming, and marching with the band in a parade in Chicago. Joanne also became a skilled marksman and captured a national individual title as a rifle sharpshooter. She graduated from Flathead County High School in 1953.
She met and married Dudley Charles Blake, the grandson of a Kalispell pioneer and son of Leah and Morris “Blake the Wood Carver” out of Hungry Horse. The couple brought three children into the world, Danny Morris, Dudley David, and Carol Leah Ellen. Sadly, Dudley Charles died in 1958, five days before daughter Carol was born, Dudley was 2, and Danny was 4 years old. Tragedy struck again within a year when JoAnne’s father, Carl, died after a series of debilitating strokes. In search of jobs and affordable living, JoAnne moved with her children to Phoenix for a year and then around Montana, to Conrad, Choteau, Great Falls, and back to Kalispell before moving in 1964 to Burien, Washington next to Puget Sound near Seattle. JoAnne moved the family down to San Jose, California in 1967 just as Dionne Warwick’s song, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” became an international hit. During that year in California, JoAnne was inspired to bring all three kids to a Robert F. Kennedy campaign stop held at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium, which opened their eyes to national politics and history, but tragically Senator Kennedy was assassinated five days later in Los Angeles. Months later, JoAnne moved the kids back home to Kalispell.
And what a wonder-filled move! JoAnne joined the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and became a “friend of Bill W.” in February 1970. In her over 50 years of sobriety through AA, JoAnne helped many people in Montana and other states in finding their own sobriety and to build better lives. In returning home to Kalispell, JoAnne was able to watch her children grow and complete high school where she also had graduated; JoAnne started college, taking night classes at FVCC. JoAnne was most proud of her children’s successes in Kalispell, watching Danny go to Montana Boy’s State and play as a starting offensive guard on the Braves’ 1971 undefeated State Championship Football team, Dudley in wrestling and serving as co-captain on Flathead’s 1973 State Championship Wrestling team, and Carol competing for the Junior Miss Pageant and being an enthusiastic member of Flathead High’s 1973-76 cheerleading squads.
JoAnne went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Montana in 1978, majoring in Interpersonal Communication, followed by a Master of Arts degree from Washington State University in 1980 in Addiction Counseling. Proudly, she watched all three children also attend the University of Montana, and then, collectively, earn seven university diplomas. JoAnne went on to work as an Addiction Counselor in Pasco, Washington and then also in Galen, Montana. She finished her professional career as a counselor at the University of Montana Counseling Center, retiring in 1998.
JoAnne’s retirement brought another joyous chapter in her life, with her traveling several times to Europe and Alaska, nomading across America in her 23 foot Itasca Spirit motorhome with license plates that read, “Gypsy Jo”, and visiting long-lost family in Sweden. Closer to home, she also helped establish and direct Kalispell’s “Home Grocery Delivery” program, serving low-income, homebound, and senior citizens, and was an active participant in Montana Democrats. JoAnne was also a vocal activist, supporting all causes aimed at ending civil injustice and unjustified war (e.g., Iraq). JoAnne also reclaimed her talents at playing the clarinet as a member of the Flathead Valley’s New Horizons Band, and by taking acrylic painting and pastel art classes, creating many beautiful landscape, wildlife, and portrait paintings.
Throughout her life, JoAnne was a passionate lover of children and animals, and maintained a deep faith in her higher power God. Later in life, she became a seasoned world traveler, an indomitable “birder”, and an avid “rock hound”. JoAnne was a blessing to all who knew her and will be sadly missed by all who survive her.
JoAnne’s favorite poem, Though of Fortune Be Bereft, attributed to the abolitionist Quaker, John Greenleaf Whittier, captures a belief she carried throughout her life:
“If thou of fortune be bereft,
and in thy store there be but left
two loaves, sell one, and with the
dole, buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.”
JoAnne is preceded in death by her treasured mother and father, Ellen and Carl, her beloved step-father Theodore “Ted” Paola, her dear husband, Dudley Charles Blake, her adored brother, Chuck, and most recently by Chuck’s daughter and JoAnne’s niece, Cindy Olson Butler. She is survived by her three children, Danny (Vony) in Murs-Erigné, France, Dudley (Deb) in Bozeman, Montana, and Carol (Mike) in Big Lake, Alaska, eight grandkids, William (Maggie), Aurora (Jan), Thomas (Mariah), Benjamin, Cody (Amanda), Samuel (Cristina), Emma (Clint), and Laura, seven great-grandchildren, Myles, Ashley, Rowan, Lola, Kade, River, and Sam, and her nephew, Carl (Joy) and son, Shannon.
At her request, JoAnne will be cremated, with ashes interred at Conrad Memorial Cemetery in Kalispell and spread in memorable locations in Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake. A Celebration of Life is planned to gather and honor JoAnne’s life in the next year, with date/time and location to be announced at a later date, JoAnne’s favorite music and the memories of the joy she spread will be celebrated.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Flathead Audubon Society (https://www.flatheadaudubon.org/donate/, or mail check to Flathead Audubon Society, PO Box 9173, Kalispell, MT 59904, or to the Flathead Democratic Women Scholarship Fund (https://www.flatheaddemocraticwomen.com/annual-scholarships/scholarship-donations).