The Family of Joan Morrissey Reese Establishes a Legacy in Her Memory and For Her Love of Helping Others, Especially Children
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- July 16, 2020
The family of Joan Morrissey Reese has established a legacy fund in her memory for her love of helping others, especially children, with Let It Be Us, a nonprofit dedicated to children in Illinois foster care. Joan passed away peacefully and surrounded by her family on May 14 from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease. She was 83 years old. Joan was born in New York on November 10, 1936. Orphaned at birth, she spent her entire childhood in foster care moving from “place to place to place,” until she met Gunther, her husband of 63 years when they were teenagers.
Joan and Gunther’s unconditional love for each other was inspiring. She frequently referred to him as her “lover and best friend” and Gunther says marrying Joan “was the best thing that ever happened to me.” Gunther learned to fry an egg, do laundry and other household chores for the first time in his 80s and, even as her illness progressed further, Joan still “came alive” when Gunther entered the room with his familiar “hello my sweetheart” refrain. Joan “smiled with her eyes,” as a childhood friend remarked. She found something unique about everyone she encountered and made them feel special and treasured, most especially her children and grandchildren. Joan’s daughter Michelle described Joan always referring to her “as my onliest dark-eyed beauty in the whole wide world” since she was the only child with brown eyes. She had a radar for making people feel accepted; no one felt excluded in Joan’s company.
Not having a place to call home as a child, Joan was not bitter which she attributed to feeling God’s presence throughout her life, in addition to some very caring social workers and foster parents. She began her day before dawn in God’s word, enjoyed attending church and bible studies and – up until her final days – waved her hands to the beat of familiar hymns and recited parts of the Lord’s Prayer. One of her favorite lines was “God is good…all the time.”
Joan often described never really “growing up,” which was adored by her friends, kids, and grandkids, especially. She added “Monkey” as her “business” on school forms, her kids recalled, and was always the first and last to stay in a cold pool if a child wanted to go for a swim. Joan was also typically the last to leave a dance floor, even as recently as her granddaughter Shelby’s wedding last summer. Some of her famous lines: “Hiya young fella” and “Hiya boys and girls” to the 90 year olds in the retirement community; “Which ear…the left or the right?” responding to a “let’s play it by ear” line; “gotta have fun, fun, fun;” and “arrivederci ya’ll!”
Attributing it to her New York upbringing, Joan sometimes drove too fast and was no pushover, getting particularly feisty when she thought someone was trying to cut one of her grandkids in line. Her daughters recalled her yelling out a window growing up: “What do you need, girlie, a written invitation?” when a car ahead of them missed one too many opportunities to merge into traffic. Statistically consistent with a lot of foster kids, Joan gave a teenage baby up for adoption but was gloriously and graciously reunited with her adult birth-daughter Laurie decades later.
Joan was generous — with her time, talents and treasure. She always volunteered for the “grunt work,” as she called it — cleaning up was her favorite. Joan took the time to join her neighbors’ elderly parent for frequent strolls down the block and helped her other neighbors’ kids when their mom fell ill with MS. Joan always stayed to help…even after others went home.
Joan is survived by her loving husband, Gunther Reese; her four married children; 13 adoring grandchildren; and 3 “fuzzy” grandchildren (as Joan referred to the dogs of the family). A memorial service will be held on July 23 at 10 am for family only at the Village Church in Lincolnshire, Illinois, with a live stream option available. Please click on this link to attend the service virtually:
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Joan’s memory at www.letitbeus.org or mailed to Let It Be Us at 145 W. Main Street, Barrington, Illinois 60010.