Cover photo for Ruth Joan Zumwalt's Obituary
Ruth Joan Zumwalt Profile Photo
1938 Ruth 2024

Ruth Joan Zumwalt

December 25, 1938 — June 22, 2024

Grants Pass

Ruth Joan “Joanne” Keele Zumwalt, 85, died June 22, 2024.

She was the oldest child of Robert and Marilyn Walters and grew up on a ranch near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. For several years she rode horseback to one-room schools where her grandmother was her teacher. In 1959 she graduated from McPherson College in Kansas, where she was active in debate and speech contests and was a member of honorary fraternities in forensics, drama, and journalism. There she met and married Gordon Keele, who preceded her in death. They had two daughters, Jolie Fern and Janelle Faye. 

Joan started her teaching career in Pueblo, Colorado, where she taught for ten years at a new treatment facility for children at Colorado State Hospital. Nominated by several of her peers, Joan received Honorable mention as Colorado Teacher of the Year and was listed in Outstanding Young Women of America. 

 Joan earned advanced degrees from Western Colorado University and from Instituto Allende while the family lived in San Miguel Allende, Mexico. She worked there as a school psychologist at the John F. Kennedy School in Queretaro and directed an ESL program at the Instituto. In 1974 Joan and her daughters moved to Prescott, Arizona, where she taught at Yavapai College for nine years. In 1979 she married Mark Zumwalt in Flagstaff, Arizona, and joined him there in 1983 where she taught at Northern Arizona University and was a founding faculty of Coconino Community College. Joan loved teaching, but not the administrative duties she was promoted to. She felt fortunate that her career was so varied including the inception of many programs. She was able to contribute to floor plans, develop many new courses from ESL classes in Mexico to sex education for troubled young students and creative writing and philosophy for college students. She welcomed challenges such as writing strategic plans and grant applications. Starting in 4-H, Joan sewed hundreds of items, from clothing to throw pillows, drapes and bedspreads. She also started “creative” writing as a child, and produced many speeches, orations, articles and poems. She was honored to give the commencement speech at Coconino Community College in 1997.

 Joan always favored rural living. In one mountain home she shot a bear threatening their livestock. Their country home near pueblo included a garden, orchard, and a few horses, goats, sheep, chickens and other fowl as well as many cats and dogs. Mark and Joan enjoyed hunting, fishing, and doing crafts together, including stained glass and woodworking. They also renovated several rentals. Joan loved drawing house plans, from small homes for Habitat for Humanity to bigger houses, culminating in building a secluded octagon home with a view of San Francisco Peaks. They retired to Grants Pass, Oregon, in 2000 where they renovated another secluded house. The continued their volunteer work with habitat as Board members, as well active builders, and Joan obtained many grants. They also volunteered at the food bank, the Literary Council, and the local library. Joan resumed her favorite activities: reading, writing, and traveling. She visited Mexico and Canada several times, as well as over 50 other countries and 46 states. She was a life-long learner who took several college classes after retirement.

 Joan was preceded in death by her parents and a young brother. She is survived by her husband, Mark, daughters Jolie Cox, Janelle Toelkes (Doug), brother, Jim Walters, sister Jean Gibbons, five grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren.

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