Remembering Joann Justin Brunsell Class of 1948

Kay Kruse reported that her mother, Joann Cathryn (Justin) Brunsell, Class of 1948, has passed away. Kay says her mother "was an amazing woman, wife, mother, and friend.  All who knew her only expressed the utmost respect and admiration for her beautiful nature and kind, loving way, and we were blessed to have her as our mother. She loved Whitefish Bay.  In 1932 her parents built the house at 420 East Birch Ave when most of the land around it was undeveloped.  Her big brother Tom Justin continued to live in the house, raising 3 children who all went to WFB schools.  When his widow Arline died in 2010, the house was sold for the first time." Joann's obituary is below.

Joann Cathryn (Justin) Brunsell, age 93, peacefully passed away on March 10, 2023, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison. Born on February 23, 1930, to Jorgen P. Justin, DDS, and Olga (Nestingen) Justin in Mt. Sinai Hospital, Milwaukee, WI, she was fiercely proud of her 100% Norwegian heritage.

Raised in Whitefish Bay and a 1948 graduate of Whitefish Bay High School, she fondly remembered the fresh air and changing colors of Lake Michigan. As a young classical music lover, she took the streetcar to downtown Milwaukee every week to study violin and piano with renowned musicians of the time, Josef and Elfried Winninger.


A 1952 graduate of St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education/Performance, she played violin in the college orchestra and was honored to be chosen to sing in the St. Olaf Choir, the premier a cappella choir in the United States. This led to a nationwide tour culminating in a performance at the Salt Lake City Tabernacle.

After college, she taught music at three elementary schools in the Milwaukee County school system. During this time friends set her up on a blind date with Robert Fredric Brunsell of Evansville, WI. On June 27, 1953, they were wed at Bay Shore Lutheran Church in Whitefish Bay. Joann was excited to move to Evansville as it was her dream to raise a family in a small town, having spent joyous summers with relatives in Westby, WI.

She was a volunteer choir director at Evansville’s Congregational United Church of Christ for 35 years. Upon retirement from that position, she shocked the congregation by finally joining the church.

Joann was certified by the Library of Congress as a volunteer Braillist through Madison’s Braille Library & Transcribing Services. Using a manual six key braille writer which punched patterns into paper, she transcribed many books over her 20-year commitment. She once transcribed into braille a French textbook for a student. This required learning a completely new braille language.

During several summers, the family worked with a local wildlife officer to rescue orphaned baby raccoons, raising them to be free and independent in order to gradually release them in the fall back to the wilderness.

She treasured summer vacations ‘up north’ with extended family. Fishing, boating, walking in the woods, birdwatching and enjoying nature. Bob and Joann loved traveling by motorhome across the United States with their sweet Westie dog, Frosty. Often, they would travel with, or meet up with friends along the way. They spent many winters in Coleto Creek Park in Texas and took annual autumn “leaf peeping” trips to Lake Superior. International trips included Banff and Norway with brother Tom and Arline Justin, as well as a trip to Spain, Morocco and Portugal with Bob’s brother Bill and Thea Brunsell.

In 2001, they downsized and moved to Stoughton, finding the perfect condo where they could still live near a wooded area and enjoy small town life. Both were avid bridge players.

After 62 years of marriage, Joann’s beloved husband passed away in 2015. Joann immersed herself further in the Stoughton community and was surrounded by wonderful neighbors and friends. She reveled in the Norwegian heritage of the city. Her home-made lefse, rosettes and strules were legendary holiday treats, and she practiced the Norwegian coziness known as “koselig.”

She had an inquisitive and scientific mind, excelling at her computer, tablet and smart phone. When she found something interesting or puzzling, she would research with a tenacious perseverance until she figured it out. She would watch Packers football games with family in different states via group chats! Despite many difficult times, she always felt blessed, lucky, and hopeful, expressing her love of life with positivity, a quiet strength, and welcoming hospitality. Her goal was to live to be 100!

Joann will be remembered for her kindness and generosity to family, friends, and all living creatures. She was curious, strong, fearless, sensible, and practical. She found happiness and joy in putting others before herself. She often said that the meaning of life was love.

Joann is survived by daughters Kay (Richard) Kruse of St. Paul, MN, and Carol (Robert) Schaffner of Kenosha, WI; grandsons Peter Kruse and Drew Schaffner; many beloved cousins, nieces and nephews and sister-in-law Thea Brunsell of Madison. She was preceded in death by her parents, husband Robert, daughter Roberta Lind Brunsell, son Blair David Brunsell, brother and sister-in-law Thomas and Arline Justin, in-laws William C. Brunsell, Dr. Roger S. and Elizabeth Gray, and Nimmer and Barbara Adamany.

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