Joan Belongia, age 73 of Rhinelander, died suddenly Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016.
She is survived by her children, Laura Clements, Sharon Clements (Rich Nowak), Terry Clements (Tracy Ballweg); her grandchildren, Caitlin Fujisawa (Russell), Spencer Clements-Green, Kelly Clements and Erin Clements; her first great-grandchild due in January, 2017; her siblings James (Ann) Belongia, Jean (Tim Abel), Joseph (Kris) Belongia, and Julaine Hale. She is preceded in death by her parents Wilfred and Dorothy Belongia and sister Janet Pelletier.
Joan loved this time of year, especially Halloween when she often dressed up for the occasion. Ironically, she was attending a fund-raising event wearing one of her costumes and enjoying time with friends when she passed away. Her heart had given all it had left and must have decided it was time to call it a day. It is probably a rare occurrence to have family members pick up personal belongings only to have them be a Halloween costume. That was Joan – the life of the party.
Joan was born in Star Lake on May 31, 1943 before moving with her family to Tomahawk where she graduated from Tomahawk High School in 1961. She attended Nicolet College and received her BA and MA from UW- Stevens Point. She taught in Tomahawk, on the Menominee Indian Reservation, in Colby, Wausau and Rhinelander.
Fulfilling her life-long dream of owning a bookstore, she opened Brown Street Books in 1993. We all know teachers work long hours, yet she taught and ran her business because she loved them both. She was in her element while hosting Harry Potter release parties and selling infamous Beanie Babies in addition to all the latest best sellers and local authors’ books. She made the decision to close her bookstore before e-readers and Amazon took over. She wasn’t one to let others determine her destiny! Needless to say she would never use an e-reader…just on principle. Rumor has it she was a member of at least four book clubs with others still surfacing.
Joan’s life was devoted to helping others. She spent her “retirement” years volunteering with Rhinelander Area Retired Education Association as president, Rural School House, Rhinelander Food Pantry, Delta Kappa Gamma including Food for Mind for Children, Rhinelander School District, Wisconsin Retired Education Association Public Education Outreach, Trinity Association of Churches for Emergency Support (ACES), Library Foundation Board as secretary, Hospital Foundation Board, Learning and Retirement Committee, Mentor For American Association of University Women, Baking For Veterans, Oneida County Fair, Childrens’ Cooperative Book Center and many, many others.
When she wasn’t busy volunteering, she loved spending time outdoors cycling, kayaking, paddle boarding, skiing, camping and walking. She was fortunate to have traveled to China, Vietnam and Cambodia. Just last week she drove to Star Lake to go for a hike around the lake to enjoy the fall colors. It was one of her favorite places in the world.
Joan’s heart was bigger than life. She will always hold a special place in many people’s lives and will be truly missed. Knowing Joan, she has already found a new book club, volunteer activity, or a new place to explore.
Funeral visitation will be held Friday, Oct. 28, 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. at Carlson Funeral Home, Rhinelander. www.carlsonfh.com. Additional viewing will be held at Trinity Lutheran Church Rhinelander Saturday, Oct. 29 10-11 a.m. Funeral service will follow at 11 a.m. followed by a luncheon at Trinity Lutheran Church. www.cometotrinity.com
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to either Rhinelander Food Pantry, 627 Coon St, Rhinelander, WI 54501 or Rhinelander Area Silent Trails Association (RASTA) c/o Bikes and Boards, 1670 N Stevens St, Rhinelander, WI 54501