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Jo Ann B. Ward

October 26, 1933 ~ February 1, 2024 (age 90) 90 Years Old


Jo Ann B. Ward, 90, whose career and philanthropic pursuits spanned 70 decades in Chicago, Fond du Lac, and Naples passed away peacefully surrounded by friends and family on Thursday, February 1, 2024, at NCH Hospital in Naples, Florida. 

Born October 26, 1933, in Freeport, Illinois to Mildred and Roscoe Boettner, she attended high school in Rockford, Illinois, and then graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1954. 

Jo Ann launched her career in Chicago as Publicity and Special Events Director at Carson, Pirie Scott & Co, a billion-dollar retail corporation.  She was best known in the business world for her ability to develop concepts to achieve a purpose.  Initially in her career she created and introduced “Breakfast with Santa”, to bring 5000 youngsters and parents down to State Street early in the shopping day.  She was chosen to create and chair a decade of city-wide fortnight festivals along with the late Richard Daley, Mayor of Chicago.  Vive la France, La Bella Italia, etc. were multi-million dollar nationally recognized award-winning import festivals. 

While at Carson's, Jo Ann enjoyed a vibrant and challenging career working with designers, media, authors, and heads of state and traveled extensively abroad receiving many recognitions for her innovations and events. 

She created the “Special Saturday in September” annual benefit series with the Chicago Symphony.  She also obtained NASA’s 1969 first moon landing boot and permission for the first official footprint from the landing.  It was then bronzed for the entrance of the W. Clement Stone Pavilion at Illinois Masonic Medical Center from which was created replica jewelry with Tiffany’s. 

When chairing the official opening of the O’Hare International building, Jo Ann commissioned the Illinois Room collection by famed miniaturist Eugene Kupjack.  The collection is now on display at the State Museum in Springfield. 

Jo Ann transitioned from Chicago to Fond du Lac in the 1970’s and was named Executive Director of the Fond du Lac Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in 1976 – a role she served in for 22 years.  While in Fond du Lac, Jo Ann developed the Walleye Weekend Festival bringing Mercury Marine’s National Walleye Contest to the community for identity.  She also developed Taste of Fond du Lac to showcase the restaurants, Fond du Lac’s Fall Flyway around the migration to Horicon Marsh, co-developed the Wisconsin Jazz Festival which later became the Fond du Lac Jazz Festival to add a cultural event.   

Other programs she created included Fond du Lac’s Talking Houses and Fond du Lac’s Wander Our Country Roads taped series.  She established the tourism consumer and motor coach marketing programs, a county Visitor Guide magazine, and supporting special events.  She spent years first bidding on conventions and then servicing them and later developing the support and marketing materials as her staff grew.  Fond du Lac became popular with associations as well as government, fraternal, military, and sports groups.  Other conventions in the area included International Aerobatics, EAA Hospitality and Housing, Wisconsin Street Rods, and Road America. 

While she wouldn’t want to have anyone list off the accolades she received in her lifetime, we can name just a few: Best Corporate Spot Campaign, City of Chicago for her British Fortnight, Chicago advertising Woman of the Year, NRMA Gold Award for Best Event in the Nation for Vive La France, International Festival Association Hall of Fame, Wisconsin Festivals and Events Association 1st recipient of the Jo Ann Award (award named in her honor), Wisconsin Convention and Visitor’s Bureau President’s Award, 2010 Windy Award, and no less than 2 dozen lifetime achievement awards from various organizations. 

Jo Ann also served as president and board member of many local, state, and national organizations.  In Fond du Lac she was a member of Service League (President), Noon Rotary, First Presbyterian Church, and the THELMA Center for the Arts.  She also served on the United Way Board, Marian College’s President’s Task Force, delivered mobile meals to elderly shut-ins, taught Sunday School, and served as a Brownie Troop leader. 

A special joy for Jo Ann was as a Board member of the International Festival Association, she was invited to be a judge at the Kentucky Derby Parade, the Minneapolis Aquatennial, the SW Michigan Blossom Time, and the Florida Festival of States. 

Jo Ann was also very active in Wisconsin state tourism, serving on many boards including founding the Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Association and one of the founders of the Wisconsin Festival and Events Association. 

Jo Ann has always credited her grandmother, Anna Mae Hermann, as her greatest influence saying, “She inspired me to take the risk of attempting something great with the possibility of failure, rather than attempting to do nothing at all and succeeding”. 

Over the past 20-plus years of retirement, Jo Ann has split her time between Sister Bay, Wisconsin, and Naples, Florida.  Her philanthropic pursuits continued in Naples where she joined up with fellow Chicagoan Myra Janco Daniels and supported the Naples Philharmonic (now known as Artis-Naples) and the Latchkey League, and became involved with the Pelican Bay Women’s League, The Shelter, Avow Hospice, Naples Panhellenic and Tri-Delta Sorority Alumni.  All these groups sustained her need to give back and provided her with wonderful friendships. 

Jo Ann always said she was “celebrating her existence”.   She didn’t just say that and other positive phrases – she espoused them.  Some others of note, “Think you can, think you can’t – either way, you’ll be right” (a modification of a Henry Ford quote), “Believe you can and you’re halfway there” (Teddy Roosevelt), “Never, never, never, give up” (Winston Churchill), “If it is to be, it’s up to me” (William Johnsen), “Walk with the courageous, the dreamers, the cheerful, the believers, the doers, successful people with their head in the clouds and their feet on the ground”.  And she lived by the creed her mother told her – “Do something good often, and if you get caught, it doesn’t count”. 

Words and phrases uttered and written in the past week referring to Jo Ann - mentor, legend, trailblazer, inspirational, enthusiastic, one of a kind, fearless, generous, larger than life, visionary, consensus builder, team leader, engaging, intelligent, humble, icon, influential, positive, and headstrong.  Of all these words and phrases – the ones that would make her the proudest would be “mentor” and “humble” as she wanted to “do good” and she didn’t want to get caught. 

The family would like to give special thanks to Deb G and Juanita, two extraordinary CCU nurses at NCH who showed the utmost respect, kindness, and compassion for Jo Ann in her final days.  We also have the greatest appreciation for Stephen Bradley, Director of Spiritual Care at NCH who came to Jo Ann’s bedside multiple times during her final hours sharing prayers and wishes for peace.  All three of these individuals truly went above and beyond.  Many thanks also to Avow Hospice who kept Jo Ann comfortable in her final hours.

Jo Ann is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Cyndi and Darwin Cusack of Goffstown, NH, granddaughter, Katharine Cusack of Concord, NH, and grandson, Jack Cusack of Sandy Springs, Georgia.  She was predeceased by her grandmother, Anna Mae Hermann of Galena, Illinois; her mother and stepfather, Mildred and Fred Hansen of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; her father, Roscoe Boettner of Woodbine, Illinois; and her great aunt and uncle, Margaret and Lisle Menzimer of Rockford, Illinois.

Jo Ann once said that her life has been filled with incomparable experiences throughout her career and that her primary job was empowering thousands of people to accomplish amazing things.  She was always truly impressed by the hearts and kindness of the people of Fond du Lac and across Wisconsin.  So many from various organizations supporting their community so generously by volunteering their time.  And she credited her staff as well – Lisa, Wendy, Mary, Dorothy, and others whom she loved working with side by side.  She said that after Peter Stone and others held “Jo Ann Ward Day” in her honor, what more could she ask for when she died?  Despite that, we will honor her memory in both Naples and Fond du Lac in the weeks and months to come.

All friends and family who knew and loved Jo Ann are invited to celebrate her life on Sunday, February 25, 2024, at 3:00 pm at Club Pelican Bay, 707 Gulf Park Drive, Naples, Florida 34108.  The Reverend Sheila Zellers will officiate. 

A second Celebration of Life will take place in Fond du Lac in the late Spring at the First Presbyterian Church with a reception to follow.  Details for that service will be spread through social media, civic groups, etc.

She will be buried following the Fond du Lac service in a private ceremony in Woodbine, Illinois where she will be laid to rest next to her dear mother, Mildred Irene Hansen.

In her memory and in lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in her honor to the following organizations that she enthusiastically supported during her lifetime - Avow Hospice of Collier County, https://avowcares.org/ways-to-give/ The Shelter https://naplesshelter.org/, and the Fond du Lac Foundation.https://fdlareafoundation.com/donate/


Celebration of Life
February 25, 2024

3:00 PM to 7:00 PM
The Club Pelican Bay
707 Gulf Park Drive
Naples, FL 34108


Avow Hospice
1095 Whippoorwill Lane, Naples FL 34105
Tel: 1-239-261-4404
Web: http://www.avowcares.org/donate


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