By Joselyn Watkins
It is hard to realize why some people give in to adversity while others rise above it all. The life story so far of Joanne Ellingson is one of rising above difficulties and singing as she goes.
Born in 1939 in Indiana, Joanne was one of four children left with their mother at a time when women, for the most part, didn’t work outside of their homes. Jobs were few and the kind of jobs women would qualify for didn’t pay a decent wage.
Joanne said that her mother held things together for herself and the other children by demonstrating appliances and that was a very low paying position. She smiled as she said that she was not raised in plenty monetarily, but rather raised in the,” lap of love.”
After high school and two years at Butler University where she had been an accounting major, her schooling was interrupted by the family move to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Due to family circumstances there was a real need to work and Joanne went to work as secretary to the controller of an insurance company. She still remembers all of the insurance ratings used at that time and the laborious methods used in that line of work. After a year of that kind of work she managed to land a position as a waitress in a very nice hotel on the Fort Lauderdale beach. Joanne remembers this as a fun job with lots of young singles with whom she became friends.
Subsequently, Joanne ended up in real estate. This is when she joined a choir and met her first husband Ron at a choir party. He was in the United States Army Air Force and was a part of the “Singing Sergeants”. But unfortunately, there was a cut back of funds in the Air Force as soon as they moved to Washington, DC and his job was eliminated. Joanne found a position in the Audit Division of National Geographic Society. Their first son David was born at Walter Reed Army Hospital at that time.
After three years, her husband decided that he wanted to go back to school and so the family moved to Mars Hill, North Carolina. At this time Joanne was eight months pregnant with their second son Michael. It was amazing, Joanne said, that as soon as the baby was born the hometown people in Mars Hills showed the family so much love bringing all kinds of food and help to their door. At this point, Joanne took a job at a paint store in Mars Hill.
After her husband was out of school and couldn’t get a job, Joanne called her old boss in D. C. at National Geographic. Her boss was only too glad to know that she was available and hired her back even paying the families moving expenses to the DC area. The family resided in D. C. for four more years, but then moved to Florida to be near the grandparents. Here Ron had several jobs but was also a choir director and a paid tenor soloist at various churches which gave Joanne the opportunity to continue singing. Joanne shortly started working for a large laundry and dry cleaning company and was comptroller there for thirty four years. Ron and Joanne eventually divorced.
During all the years of Joanne’s life she has been singing since she utilized her amazing soprano voice. One of the more notable places that she has sung is Carnegie Hall where she sang with the Nova Singers performing John Rutter’s Requiem. She was also able to sing Gian Carlo’s Menotti-opera “The Saint of Bleeker Street”.
Additionally Joanne sang with the New World Symphony which was a teaching experience with young students from all over the world led by Michael Tillson Thomas. She sang with the Florida Philharmonic and performed twice in “Madame Butterfly” made up in all of the lovely Japanese costuming.
In Florida when working for a large dry cleaning establishment Joanne met her second husband Les, but that marriage lasted three and one half years when sadly Les died of congestive heart failure.
Joanne feels that music led her to meet Curt Ellingson, her third and current husband, she met him in the Coral Springs Church in Florida when they were singing at the ordination of a new priest.
Curt then joined the Nova Singers that Joanne had belonged to for years and they traveled to Italy, even singing a mass at the Vatican. Only a few people know that in years past Joanne was a paid soloist for several area churches.
In 2005 the Ellingsons found the Bat Cave Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration and as Joanne says, “we knew this was the place we were meant to be”. They built their house on Bald Mountain Crescent in the Rumbling Bald Resort and moved in to it in 2005.
From there on joining and volunteering became part of their lives as the Ellingsons settled into their new home. They joined Transfiguration and Lake Lure Newcomers in which Joanne served as Vice President for two years and then President. Other organizations and offices held by Joanne were: Transfiguration Church Women President for seven years as well as being the church choir director and church Treasurer for the past 10 years. Both Joanne and Curt sing in the Asheville Symphony Chorus where she is in charge of the women’s uniforms. She also keeps up with opera and just attended La Traviata.
Out and about in the community Joanne became Treasurer of the Home Owners Association. She also serves as the treasurer for the Olympiad held each year at Lake Lure. Kay Dittmer, chair person of that organization was quoted saying that,” Joanne is a true asset to the Olympiad Board where she serves as treasurer. She not only keeps the bank account perfectly balanced, she contributes to Board discussions with intelligence, common sense and good humor when needed! ”In addition, Joanne serves as Fund-Raiser Chair of the Friends of the Mountains Branch Library and she is President of the nine hole golf league. If Joanne has any pride at all it is her thankfulness that she has been able to serve in accounting positions through experience without benefit of a CPA degree. She now feels blessed to use her experience as a volunteer and give back to the community.
Joanne is a lady of real determination as evidenced by a recent fall. She was chased by a nest of hornets near her home on the hill. Unfortunately, she collided with the car bumper that lay in her path of descent. Upon examination the doctors determined that her humerus was broken which called for a plate and screws to support the bone. Undeterred, Joanne sporting her arm in a sling after surgery, didn’t’ miss a Sunday directing the choir.
Wes Shields, Priest of Transfiguration, says that, ”Joanne is one of the most willing, competent and compassionate people I have ever had the pleasure of working with.”
And if that is not enough, Harriet Taylor, a friend of Joanne’s says,” I hold Joanne’s friendship close to my heart.”
Joanne Ellingson truly walks in beauty singing as she goes.