Cover photo for Joann Elder's Obituary
Joann Elder Profile Photo
1929 Joann 2022

Joann Elder

March 30, 1929 — August 25, 2022


Jo (Joann) Finley Elder, 93, passed away on August 25, 2022. Jo was born to Mabel and Howard Finley in Dayton, Ohio, March 30, 1929.  After her parents divorced in 1936, she and her mother lived with her grandparents, George and Rebecca Davis.

Jo graduated with honors from Roosevelt High School in 1947, then went to Oberlin College, supported by her much loved step-father Hershel Byers. She met Joe (Joseph) Elder in her sophomore year. They were married August 4, 1951 and just celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary.

Jo and Joe sailed for Madurai, India in September 1951 on a Shansi teaching fellowship from Oberlin. Their daughter Shonti was born in India. Afterwards they returned to Oberlin, where she and Joe completed their Masters Degrees based on research they had done in India.

The Elders had three children; Shonti married to Bill Frey, with daughter, Kluonie and son Devin and wife Lily; John married to Leslie Kennedy Elder with daughters Linden married to Daniel Thayer, parents of great granddaughters Lyra and Rowen and Anna married to Rodrigo Canedo-Gattegno; and Ed married to Danny Ashkenasi.  Jo treasured this wonderful, talented family.

She taught Sociology to nurses when Joe was a professor at Oberlin.

The family came to Madison in 1961 where Joe taught in Sociology, South Asian Studies, and Integrated Liberal Studies. Jo taught Sociology in Extension and taught the Intro to Sociology course one summer at UW, before she was asked to become the Undergraduate Adviser in 1965. As adviser, she averaged 400 advisees yearly, and received a number of awards for her work in Student Personnel, including the Letters and Science Student Advising Award.

Jo was an active organizer of academic staff governance; The Madison Academic Staff Association, and chaired the Academic Staff Committee. She was also an active Member of  AFT #223 and believed in the social justice of labor unions.

Jo and Joe joined the Society of Friends (Quakers) in the late fifties, and were inspired by Friends' peace testimony, and Friends’ belief in human equality. Both were active in the local Friends Meeting. Jo and Joe were active opponents of the Vietnam War, indeed every war, and demonstrated against them all.

Jo was a lifetime member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, The United Nations Association, the Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters, and served as civil rights person on the Legislative Committee of the League of Women Voters.

Thanks to having a gay son, Ed, who came out to his parents in the’80’s, Jo and Joe were early members (1980’s) of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), served on committees of Outreach, and spoke out locally and nationally on gay issues. When Jo was awarded the Woman of Distinction in 1993 she talked about homophobia in our society and her luck of having a gay son to enlighten her views.

Jo Elder won a seat on the Madison School Board in 1998 and introduced more awareness of LGBT issues in the schools. She served on the Superintendents’ Human Relations Committee.

Throughout her life, Jo studied voice and sang beautifully. She enjoyed opera, the classics, popular” music, and was active in U.W. Choral Union, Madison Savoyards (Gilbert and Sullivan), The Euterpe Classical music group, and the Raging Grannies, singing socially relevant songs.

She treasured her lifetime with her husband Joe.  Jo is survived by her beloved husband, Joe Elder, her children and families, sisters-in-law Azzie Leake and Weezie Lund, brother-in-law David Elder, and many relatives and friends around the world.

There will be a Quaker memorial service for Jo Elder, beloved wife of Joseph Elder, on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 11 am in the Atrium at the First Unitarian Meeting House, 900 University Bay Dr., Madison. Friends are welcome.

The link for the YouTube livestream, which begins at 10:45, is It will be recorded, and available to watch later.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to WILPF, League of Women Voters, PFLAG, and other progressive social justice causes.

Anyone who knew her is welcome to come.

Cress Funeral & Cremation Service Speedway


To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Joann Elder, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Memorial Service

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Starts at 11:00 am (Central time)

First Unitarian Meeting House


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