JoAnn Harper, 85, died from Alzheimer’s at SeniorCare Homes, Friday, May 13, 2022.
She was born June 27, 1936, in Kansas City, Missouri, the only child to Irene Poulsen and Orville J. Lawson. In 1962, JoAnn Lawson married Gerald Harper. The two grew up together, attending Epworth Methodist Church nursery and Sunday school, E.F. Swinney Elementary School, and Westport High School, where JoAnn was a member of the Honor Society and Promethean Literary Society. They both went on to attend Baker University, where JoAnn was a member of the Omicron Chapter of Alpha Chi Omega sorority.
JoAnn had a heart for the community and found great joy in using her gifts to serve others. Over the years, she volunteered as an American Red Cross Gray Lady, volunteered at her children’s school, served on the Prairie Village Park Board for many years, and worked with her sorority sisters to develop Santa House – an immersive winter wonderland experience for children benefitting the Children’s Rehabilitation Unit at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
JoAnn’s intellect and expertise led her to several career endeavors. In addition to an impactful teaching career, JoAnn also worked at In the Spirit Gallery and with her friends at Noel’s Gifts and Interiors. One of her most treasured accomplishments was conceptualizing and distributing educational doll sets, Twigs & Wigs, with a fellow mom from The Barstow School. Their product, like their business, was ahead of its time. The wooden dolls featured interchangeable clothing and accessories for community occupations that even encouraged girls to explore traditionally male professions such as firefighting or policing. The dolls were used in preschools across the country, displayed at Colonial Williamsburg’s Bicentennial Celebration, and a special set was commissioned by Nieman Marcus for their stores. JoAnn and her business partner had great success as 40-something female entrepreneurs in the 1970s, embodying JoAnn’s philosophy that children could pursue any career at any age.
Her own children, Matthew Blake and Ashley Paige, experienced a childhood JoAnn created for them filled with wonder and possibility, arts and music, and magical holidays and birthday celebrations. When not exploring every garden and nursery in the area, JoAnn loved to spend time with her family at the home she designed, directing Gerald in the garden, and designing and hand painting the crafts he created in the woodshop. She loved tending to her birds, planning elaborate summer vacations, reading, and watching KU basketball – Rock Chalk!
JoAnn was preceded in death by her parents and husband. She is survived by her two children, a daughter-in-law, Deanne Harper, two grandchildren, as well as a host of fierce friends.
The family would like to thank the numerous friends, neighbors, and former colleagues who have supported JoAnn during this time. The family would also like to thank the amazing caretakers at SeniorCare Homes who so lovingly cared for JoAnn through her dementia, and the team at Kansas City Hospice for providing her comfort during the last stages of her illness.
JoAnn requested that there be no service. Ever the animal lover, she would be honored if you chose, in lieu of flowers, to donate to Guiding Eyes for the Blind at https://donate.guidingeyes.org or your favorite animal rescue.
To send flowers to JoAnn's family, please visit our floral store.