Joyce Jo Ann (Rich) Wheeler, 86, passed away early Saturday morning November 26, 2022, at Poplar Spring Nursing Facility in Meridian, Mississippi
Jo Ann, as she was known, was born February 3, 1936 in Battle Creek, Michigan to William and Lular (Stella) Rich. Jo Ann graduated from Central High School in Battle Creek, Class of ‘54. She earned a Bachelors’ degree in Social Work at Illinois State University in 1981.
Growing up, Jo Ann always knew that she wanted to help people. When her family joined The Salvation Army during her teen years she fell in love with the church and the work they did for others. She worked as a secretary in the Battle Creek Salvation Army after graduating from High School. She became active as a Sunday School teacher, a Corp Cadet Counselor, and The Young People’s Sergeant Major (Leader). This was when she felt a calling to become a Salvation Army Officer.
Jo Ann met “a boy who is nice”, Don, whom she married on February 11, 1956. They both entered the Salvation Army School for Officers Training earning their formal Ordination and Commissioning as Officers of The Salvation Army at the rank of Lieutenant in 1960. They continued their calling together for 30 years.
JoAnn and Don worked in the Citadel Corps and Men’s Social Service Centers, where she was able to provide counseling, played in the brass band, and helped those struggling with addiction. Being an officer in the Salvation Army took her from Michigan throughout the Midwest, into Indiana, Minnesota, Kansas and eventually to Phoenix, Arizona. After leaving The Salvation Army, Jo Ann used her degree in Social Work with the City of Phoenix, continuing to help others.
Jo Ann loved to see new things. She loved to travel and explore with Don and her family. Her family of five would travel across the lower 48 states every year for their annual three-week vacation, seeing all the landmarks and history the US provided. Even after her children were grown, she still enjoyed traveling with Don and her siblings with their spouses to more tropical areas like Mexico.
After retiring in Phoenix, Arizona, Jo Ann and Don set off on a trip throughout the US, ending up in Meridian, Mississippi 20 years ago where they put down roots as they loved the community and people. She used her love of helping others and became active in Poplar Springs Drive United Methodist Church as well as Meals on Wheels and other organizations around town.
Jo Ann had a strong love of animals. She lived in the country growing up with farm animals surrounding her. She loved being with all types of animals, especially cats. She even used to ride a blind horse to school and it was there waiting for her when her classes finished. She continued her love of cats into her adult life where she always had one that brought her so much joy.
The family gives a very special thanks to, and for, the staff of Poplar Springs Nursing Facility. They made Jo Ann feel loved and special throughout her time there.
She is survived by her son Daniel (Cindy) Wheeler, daughter Vicky (Jim) Gardner, along with Grandchildren: Sean Wheeler, Aimee (Mike) Cousineau, Jacob (Ashley) Wheeler, Desiree and Marcus Wheeler, as well as six Great Grandchildren and her brother Calvin A Rich.
She was preceded in death by her husband of 64 years, Donald G. Wheeler; parents, son Lewis Wheeler; two Grandchildren – Cassandra and Justin; and siblings Ermie Jane Hicks and William Allen Rich.
Memorial Donations can be made in his name to the Battle Creek Salvation Army, 400 Capital Avenue NE, Battle Creek, Michigan, 49017.
Jo Ann and Don will be interred together in a private ceremony on their wedding anniversary in 2023 at Floral Gardens Cemetery, Battle Creek, Michigan