Dr. Joan Nelson died at the age of 92. Although Joan earned her Ph.D. in Reading at UCONN, the family determined that the initials stood for Ph.enomenally D.elightful, since (being the brightest star in the family) she uplifted the spirits in every room she entered and gladdened every heart she touched.
She had a naturally radiant intelligence, shrewd awareness and indomitable spirit. Such astuteness was complemented by her compassion and her innate vitality and joy. Throughout her life, whatever the circumstances, Joan glowed.
Joan was born the fifth of seven children, the youngest daughter of parents Edith and William Berndt, with four brothers and two sisters. Because the family was large, the children did things in pairs. Joan and her older sister Virginia were the best of friends and “played” together their whole lives until Virginia passed at 90. They never disagreed and always had fun on their weekly jaunts - golfing, bowling or going to the beach and swimming in the ocean.
She became a teacher at age 17 and got married at the age of 20 to her principal, Arthur Nelson; and a family of three daughters soon followed. Arthur was humble enough to admit that marrying Joan was the best thing that ever happened to him. He was correct. They were married for 70 years.
She served as first mate, navigator, and crew on their power and sail boats. Together they hiked the Appalachian Trail, boated and fished Long Island Sound every weekend (good weather or bad), biked throughout New England, and traveled the world – hopping planes across Africa, driving across Europe, riding trains throughout Asia, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, visiting Machu Picchu and hiking through Nepal.
Joan was very creative and had seemingly boundless energy. She took up SCUBA diving, hang-gliding, sculling, basketry and braiding and hooking rugs, as well as more mundane hobbies like downhill and cross-country skiing, biking, camping, water skiing, painting, knitting, crocheting, gardening and working on a variety of community boards and charitable committees.
Joan raised her family of three children and maintained a household while pursuing her own education, receiving a BA from the University of Delaware, an MA in Education from Bridgeport University, and Ph.D. in Reading from UConn. Joan took several sabbaticals from her career with her husband. They sailed down the east coast and the Intracoastal Waterway to work as teachers in St. Croix, USVI; they worked as university professors in Australia; and they served in 1984 as professors in Beibei, China during the “open door policy” that followed China’s cultural revolution.
After retiring, Joan continued her work contributing to the world at large; she was on the Charlestown’s Cross Mills Library Board, served as a teacher and president of a local chapter of Literacy Volunteers of America where she tutored Chinese students in the English language and traditions of American life, wrote and published a book about the camaraderie between children and horses in St. Croix titled “Fast Friends,” emceed Westerly RI Band concerts, and sculled Ninigret Pond several times a week collecting water samples for ecological research.
Those who knew Joan, knew her as a woman who had a twinkle in her eye, who was adventurous, compassionate and truly beautiful inside and out. She is survived by her brother Bill Berndt, three daughters, April McKay, Jill Nelson and Gay Nelson, and her son-in-law Tom Unger, Sr., all of whom will remember her with a smile and much love.
In lieu of flowers, please give Joan a toast and smile!
Calling hours are respectfully omitted by the family.
A service will take place on Friday, August 20th at 11am at the RI Veteran Memorial Cemetery, 301 South County Trail, Exeter, RI.
For online condolences, please visit www.buckler-johnston.com
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