Joan Rose Schilmoeller Theisen Cronin never complained, and she accepted loss – unless she was playing Scrabble.
She died July 23 at age 92 in Marcus, Iowa, where she retired in 1982 after a life on the farm. Joan was a devoted Roman Catholic and tireless daughter, mother, and wife whose life overflowed with family and with hard work.
Joan was born on a farm near Granville, Iowa on April 20, 1928, the second of seven children born to Joseph Schilmoeller and Agnes Laddusaw Schilmoeller. She grew up in a primarily German-Catholic family in an area so heavily German Catholic that nearly all of Granville was a member of the same Catholic church, St. Joseph. In Joan’s childhood, the presiding priest was bilingual and conducted masses in German in the parish’s early years. Joan loved church, especially the music. She excelled at the organ and was a natural at her studies, graduating from St. Joseph High School in 1946. She got all A’s – and she was not afraid to say so.
A year later, she married Elmer Theisen, whom she had first spotted at Mass when he was home on R&R from the war. She fancied him. He was tall and handsome and he was Catholic, of the Luxembourg strain. She was pretty and sweet and small but tough. He found that she believed in God and good manners and modesty. She believed in moving forward. So he fancied her too.
They farmed near Marcus, Iowa and started a family. Joan had 14 children but lost three as babies: Jack, Joseph and Mary. She suffered those losses while continuing to mother her surviving children and partnering in the farm labor – cooking and butchering and canning and gardening and laundering soiled work clothes by hand. It was several years before she had indoor plumbing. Together, she and Elmer raised 11 boisterous children who swarmed dance floors at weddings while she was content to look on.
Elmer died in 1988. Two years later, Joan married Joe Cronin, another retired farmer. He was her second love. They loved to play games and travel until his death in 2008.
Joan played the organ at Holy Name Parish, where she was a member for 70 years. She joined Hobby Club. She took up golf in retirement. Among her children and grandchildren, she developed a reputation as a fierce player of board games like Scrabble and card games like Pinochle and Five Hundred. She watched Judge Judy and Jeopardy on TV and embroidered dish towels. She was not a globe trotter but she loved to see new places. She visited Alaska on a cruise.
Joan possessed an infallible and capacious memory, a virtual encyclopedia of details -- many about family. She would follow up with children and grandchildren about their jobs and personal lives. She decorated her bulletin board with their photos. She kept track of who visited, and who did not.
Joan saw the death of her son, Randy, also in 2008, and the death of her daughter, Denise, in 2019. In grief she said, “I have lived too long.” Still, Joan fought cancer until the end. She lived longer than anyone thought possible for such a small person who had endured so much.
Joan will be remembered by her family for her strength.
She is preceded in death by husbands: Elmer Theisen and Joe Cronin. Parents: Joe and Agnes (Laddusaw) Schilmoeller. Children: John, Mary, Joseph, Randy and Denise. Grandson: Ryan Grzywa. Son in law: Dennis La Fleur. Sisters: Vera Mae (Wally) Nilles, Eileen (Joe) Schueder. Brother: Joe (Fran) Schilmoeller, and stepson Pat Cronin. In laws: Therry and Gib Weiler, Reynold and Rita Theisen, Sally and Richard Henke, Cyril Theisen, Ivan Theisen, Rita and Dave McCarty, Shirley and Sonny Gengler, and Lois Theisen.
She is survived by children: Mick (Jean) Theisen of Marcus, IA; Deb (Rick) Hellman of Burt, Iowa; Patty (Joe) Schulte of Omaha, NE; Gail (Rich) Grzywa of Omaha, NE; Kim Theisen of Le Mars, IA: Christy (Scott) Carlson of Marcus, IA; Paula (Tom) Kleen of Sioux City, IA; Brian (Lorie) Theisen of LeMars, IA; Marilyn (Rod) Wellman of Sioux City, IA; Mark (Julie) Theisen of LeMars, IA; thirty-three grandchildren, forty-two great grandchildren, one great, great granddaughter. Sisters: Helen Theisen, Janice (Dick) Wurth, and Diane (Dennis) Haupert. Sister-in-law: Yvonne Theisen. Eleven step children, thirty-four step grandchildren, and twenty-five step great grandchildren. Many nieces and nephews.