Obituary: Joanna G. Wappler

Joanna McLester Garber Wappler, 79, of Jonesboro, Georgia, died in the early morning on October 30, 2017, with her son James Wappler and her daughter-in-law Ingrid at her side. She struggled with cancer for the last eight months of her life, but died peacefully at Piedmont Henry Hospital in Stockbridge, Georgia.

Joanna was born in Opelika, Alabama on January 24, 1938 to Margaret and Eugene Keenan Garber of Birmingham. She had a twin brother who, sadly, didn’t survive long past the infants’ premature birth. Her older brother Eugene, as older brothers will do, teased her, but also watched out for her. It was a soulful kinship that continued to the end of her life.

In a rare move for her deep-rooted Southern family, after graduating from Shades Valley High School, she ventured north to Chicago to attend Northwestern University. At a church youth group, she met the love of her life, Edwin Gould Wappler, a student at the Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.

In 1959, the two were married in Alabama. The young couple then moved to suburban Chicago, where Mr. Wappler, a newly ordained Episcopalian priest, was curate at St. Gregory Episcopal­ church in Deerfield, Illinois. The couple both pursued degrees at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina. In 1972, Ms. Wappler graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s in comparative religion. Mr. Wappler earned a doctorate in ethics. 

The couple spent the next several years serving churches and religious institutions across the country, including Bloy House Episcopal Theological School, in Claremont, California, where Mr. Wappler was dean from 1972 to 1981. During their nine-year residency in Claremont, Ms. Wappler was a homemaker, with a bustling home of five children, all of whom attended Claremont public schools and enjoyed the town’s many amenities.

Their final destination was Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1986. Unfortunately, Mr. Wappler had to retire from Grace in 1988 due to a brain cancer diagnosis. The disease ultimately claimed him in 1991, a devastating loss for the family.

Suddenly faced with being the family’s sole breadwinner, Ms. Wappler went back to college, and in 1995 earned her master’s degree in library science from Dominican University, in River Forest, Illinois. After Dominican, she spent nearly a decade working for Berwyn Public Library, in Riverside, Illinois, where she remained until her retirement in 2006.

After retirement, she moved to Jonesboro, Georgia to be close to her sons and grandchildren. She called bingo and played bridge at her senior living residence, The Palms at Lake Spivey, and was a fierce competitor at Scrabble, playing in the occasional tournament.

Her family shared that she was a gentle mother, wife and friend, and that she had a bright laugh, a sweet smile, and a forgiving, generous heart. She was a model of grace and dignity, and never lost her temper or raised her voice. She loved mysteries and religious philosophy, which she read voraciously in her cozy living room in the company of her two cats, Samantha and Barnabas.

She is survived by her five beloved children, sons Edwin E. (Janice Garcia), David, James (Ingrid) and Benjamin (Annette Augst), and her daughter Margaret (David P. Earle); brother Eugene Garber (Barbara); and grandchildren Savannah, Louis and Dakota Wappler, and Silas Edwin Earle.

Her life was honored with a memorial service led by Father Barry Griffin at St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Morrow, Georgia, on Sunday, November 5, 2017, with a reception following in the parish hall.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made in Ms. Wappler’s name to St. Augustine at, or by mail at 1221 Morrow Rd., Morrow, GA 30260; or to DeKoven Center, where she spent many peaceful days, at, or by mail at 600 21st St., Racine, WI 53403.


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