Joyce “Jo” Horak, Social Worker, Conservationist, Social Justice Advocate, Eastern Star Member and Community Volunteer Leader, dies at 77.
Joyce “Jo” Horak, a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, Member of Eastern Star, Alpha Xi Delta Sorority “Mom of the Year”, Literacy Champion, Conservation and Social Justice Advocate was an inspirational woman who dedicated her life to service.
While Jo was in the hospital, she had a beautiful Mother’s Day celebration with the entire family, including her joyful grandchildren, Elise and Carson, sharing stories, laughing, and reminiscing. She passed away peacefully with her family around her holding her hands on May 16, 2023. She was 77.
She looked so peaceful. The sunlight was streaming through the windows and her face looked luminous like an angel. She was brave and courageous to the end, not letting the ovarian cancer deter her from selflessly helping others.
Jo’s life was an example of a life well lived. Jo believed in living a full, productive life and making a difference to the very end. As a childhood polio survivor, her strength and inner resilience were honed early in life. Her wise doctor recommended a horse as the best physical therapy and she and her horse were inseparable throughout her childhood. This piqued an interest in the popular cowboy stars, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and fueled her lifelong passion of America’s Wild West history and literature.
A spirit of adventure shared with husband, Robert led them to purchase the first of their two airplanes as newlyweds when he returned from serving in the Navy on the USS Walke DD-723. Robert piloted the sporty, red and white Piper Tri-Pacer, with Jo co-piloting, as they flew frequently to Texas and then continued flying to different states to explore the country, visiting numerous air shows, fly-ins and family and friends along the way, many to this day who recall flying in their plane and having a bird’s eye view of the country. Jo also worked for the Federal Aviation Administration as an FAA Testing Administrator early in her career.
Jo’s true calling and formal degree studies were a career as a social worker, where she focused on youth and restorative justice, helping them get back on a positive and productive path. She believed that if one person believed in child or youth, it could turn his or her whole life around. This was seen not only in Jo’s technical knowledge, but in practical ways as well, networking to open up doors to give kids a chance at their first jobs and even driving them on the first day of their jobs with positive encouragement and coaching on the way.
A gifted, natural artist and designer, Jo found joy in creating beautiful home and garden environments. Her home was a welcome sanctuary, and her Christmas holiday decorating was the stuff of legend, with 12 separate themed Christmas trees, that awed family and friends and served to create joyful memories.
Her other great love was nature. In nature she found her solace and soul uplifted. As a long time volunteer at the Carpenter Nature Center in Hastings, MN she planted trees, educated visitors, and participated in field trips. At her own home in Walker, the family of Pileated Woodpeckers were her day brightener.
Jo is preceded in death by her beloved parents, Lillian and Laddie, her in-laws, Lottie and Jerry
Those left behind to cherish the loving memory of Jo are her loving husband of nearly 58 years, Robert “Bob”, daughters, Kari Oeltjen and Kristy (Robert) Meyer, grandchildren, Elise and Carson Meyer, Elise and Carson’s godparents, Linda Will and David Roussopoulous, sister-in-law, Marilyn Blazek, niece, Teri (Rodney) Dostal, nephew, Marc Hlavac, great nephew and niece, Charles (Jacki) Dostal family, Susan (Randy) Mushman family, great nephew and niece, E.J. (Beth) Hlavac family and great nephew, Riley Hlavac; and gratitude for the blessing of amazing and supportive friends, who are truly more like family on the journey of life’s adventures these many years. Plus, we are grateful for the added blessing of the friends of Jo’s daughters, whose friendship, love and support have bolstered our spirits and brought more love and laughter into our lives.
The Celebration of Life will be held on Tuesday, June 13, 2023, at 1:00 p.m. at Community Church of Walker, United Church of Christ, Walker, Minnesota. Pastor Michael Small will officiate.
In lieu of flowers, it was Jo’s wishes that a Memorial Tree be planted at the Carpenter Nature Center Arboretum in Hastings, MN as a living legacy. Robert and Jo choose to do this for each of their parents when they passed and enjoyed seeing the living legacy trees, now 40 feet tall, and their memorial plaques, when they walked their beloved and much spoiled beagle, Bailey, there overlooking the Mississippi River and watching the Bald Eagles soaring over the bluffs.
Carpenter Nature Center, 12805 St. Croix Trail S., Hastings, MN 55033 (Attn: Erika Jensen, Development Coordinator). Erika@carpenternaturecenter.org (651) 437-4359 ext. 101. On-line memorial tributes: carpenternaturecenter.org (Select “Donate to CNC” and then select “Tribute Gifts”)
Online condolences for the family may be left at www.northernpeace.com
Jo’s care has been entrusted to the Northern Peace Funeral Home of Walker, Minnesota.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Joyce "Jo" Mae (Wirka) Horak, please visit our floral store.