February 28, 1935 ~ December 6, 2019
Joan H. Lenker, age 84, of Fargo, ND, slipped away peacefully on December 6, 2019, surrounded by her loving family, at the Sanford Broadway Hospital, Fargo.
Joan Elizabeth Havas was born February 28, 1935 at All Souls' Hospital, Morristown, New Jersey, the third of four children born to Jeremiah G. Havas and Elizabeth (Marko) Havas. She grew up a happy little girl in a proud Hungarian-American culture in the nearby village of Mendham. Joan, or "Noanie," as she was known, graduated from Morristown High School in 1952 with accolades in her French, Latin and drama studies.
After a short career as a switchboard operator with New Jersey Bell Telephone Company, Joan longed to spread her wings and enlisted in the United States Air Force, forever after taking immense pride in her service to our country. Joan was stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where she taught typing to the airmen and soon caught the eye of a fellow typing instructor, A/2c Thomas Charles Lenker of Millersburg, Pennsylvania. They were wed on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1956 in Chapel No. 2 on base. As was customary in those days, Joan was honorably discharged from the service shortly after her marriage.
Joan and Tom enjoyed life in Cheyenne, and next moved to Fort Worth, Texas as Tom continued his Air Force service. After the birth of their first child, Tom Jr., in 1959, the young family returned to the northeast, and began their beautiful adventure of Catholic family life on a small acreage in the anthracite coal region of central Pennsylvania, which they dubbed "Fairmeadow Farm."
The Lenkers raised their six children to be resourceful, independent adults. Expectations were high. Joan especially encouraged the kids to explore the world and follow their hearts' desires, even if those plans led them far from their original home.
Joan, who was well-known for her quick wit and considerable intelligence, was a champion of literacy, education and of doing things "the right way." She and Tom worked hard and lived sacrificially to ensure their children obtained a solid Catholic education from grades 1 - 12. Joan's encouragement and discipline led her children to earn college degrees and succeed in diverse careers. Her current delight was in watching her grandchildren begin to do the same, cheering them on in their educational and life choices from across the miles.
Her six children, and Fairmeadow Farm, were Joan's lifelong passions. Selflessly, she never worked outside the home, but she never stopped working in it. One of her favorite stories to tell was about the morning her son, Thaddeus (probably 4 years old), commented during breakfast (as he watched her bustle to and fro), "Mom, I have never seen you sit down." He was right -- she very seldom did, as she was too busy using her many gifts and talents to prosper the family. Joan was an expert seamstress (sewing even formal gowns and elaborate Halloween costumes for her children), a prolific gardener, and a master chef.
Sadly, Joan became a young widow when Tom died suddenly of heart disease in 1982. Despite many hardships, Joan, by choice, remained alone on her small farm, tending to her family, her gardens, and her beloved woods, until a devastating stroke in 2011 made continued independent living impossible.
Following her stroke, Joan moved to Arizona under the loving, watchful care of her daughter Joanie and Joanie's immediate and extended Burley family. When circumstances changed in 2014 due to Eric's job transfer, Joan gamely headed north and settled into life on the prairie, first at St. Catherine's Living Center in Wahpeton but soon finding a home at Rosewood on Broadway where she was bombarded with love and attention by her daughter Caroline and her family.
Although any place that was not her beloved Pennsylvania would only ever rate second-best, if that, Joan did thrill to the extreme weather and pristine natural beauty of the wheat fields, endless skies and open spaces of the Great Plains. Joan sometimes said that she enjoyed North Dakota winters because they reminded her of life as a young bride in Cheyenne. She would casually mention to friends during phone calls, "Yes, we went outside today...oh, yes, it was about 2 degrees -- not even cold!"
Joan was happiest outdoors and was fond of mentioning that mothers in Siberia took their babies outside every day to benefit from the healthful effects of fresh air, even at 50 degrees below zero, and if a Siberian baby could do that, so should we all. In that spirit, Joan and Caroline spent countless hours walking together all over their north Fargo neighborhood, chatting with neighbors and petting their dogs and observing the changing seasons.
Although born and bred a fan of the New York Yankees, Joan grew to love watching the Minnesota Twins and had an opinion about the merits of each player (Eddie Rosario was her favorite). Locally, she took special pleasure in attending several FM Redhawks baseball games each summer with Caroline, Jeff and the boys. Another great joy were her frequent visits to the Koppenhaver home, less than three blocks from Rosewood, especially any time her son-in-law Jeff was cooking Pennsylvania Dutch specialties or grilling bratwurst.
Joan was a favorite among her caregivers at Rosewood and she loved them right back. Although her physical limitations often became a source of frustration and pain, ever gracious, she preferred talking to the nurses and aides about their own families, career plans, hobbies, and pets. Joan especially enjoyed hearing stories from caregivers who had arrived in Fargo from other countries, finding them a source of inspiration and perseverance. Everyone she met was, for her, a book to be opened and savored. Known as a ferocious "prayer warrior," many friends and family confided in Joan about their troubles and without fail she prayed daily for all intentions. Too many times to count, her prayers were remarkably efficacious.
Joan is survived by five children and their families: Caroline (Jeff) Koppenhaver, Fargo; Laura Wallis, Kenner, LA; Susan (Harold) Domino, Williamsport, PA; Thaddeus (Tina) Lenker, Medford, OR; and Joanie (Eric) Burley, Irvine, CA; 10 grandchildren: Nathan (Hannah) Koppenhaver, Fargo; Eli (special friend Juliet Geffre) Koppenhaver, also of Fargo; Gregory and Cecilia Wallis, River Ridge, LA; Bridget Wallis, Lafayette, LA; Malena (Shane) Dunn, Montoursville, PA; Kendra (Billy) Dayton, Williamsport, PA and Marcus Domino, also of Williamsport; Julianna and Isabella Burley of Irvine, CA; and two great-grandchildren: Gavin Scudder and Ava Dunn of Montoursville; her brother, Joseph (Anne) Havas, Dickson, TN, a sister-in-law, Eileen Havas, Randolph, NJ; a special nephew, Robert E. Havas, Morristown, NJ; several other cousins, nieces and nephews, her extended Rosewood family, and countless other friends whose lives she touched deeply.
Joan was preceded in death by her parents; two brothers, Gerald and Robert; her husband Thomas Sr.; her son, Thomas Jr.; and many extended family members.
Visitation for Joan will be held Friday, December 13, from 6:30 -- 7:00 p.m. in the Mystical Rose Chapel at Rosewood on Broadway, with recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 7:00 and funeral Mass to follow. Fr. Ross Laframboise of Holy Spirit parish will preside.
Joan's final resting place will be next to her dear husband Tom in All Saints Cemetery, Elysburg, PA. A further celebration of Joan's life is being planned for June 27, 2020 in central Pennsylvania.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials to Rosewood on Broadway, 1351 Broadway, Fargo, ND, 58102. Joan's family is indebted to everyone at Rosewood for immediately embracing us from Day One of her residency. We are particularly grateful to the dedicated nursing and care staff who worked so lovingly with Joan, first on the third floor, and for the last several years on Fourth Floor North. The family also expresses profound gratitude to Deacon Jim Hunt, Fr. Ross Laframboise and Fr. Petro Ndunguru for their tender ongoing sacramental and spiritual care. Her Catholic faith was foremost in Joan's mind and heart until her very last breath on this earth. Surely, she is somewhere beyond the veil, praying for each of us still.
To honor Joan's parting words of love and concern, which she would say to anyone, at the conclusion of any visit: "Now, be careful!"