Cover photo for Jonna Rusk's Obituary
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2001 Jonna 2022

Jonna Rusk

June 18, 2001 — July 11, 2022

Waunakee / Iowa City

Jonna Irene Rusk, Waunakee/Iowa City

Jonna Irene Rusk passed away suddenly in the early hours of July 11, 2022, in Solon, Iowa. She was among the trees - especially the oaks, the hickories, and the maples - and under the fullness of a waxing gibbous moon. Jonna was born June 18, 2001, in Richland Center, Wisconsin. She is the daughter of Diane Treis Rusk and stepdaughter of Steven Pilewski of Waunakee and is the daughter of Jeffrey Rusk of Richland Center.

Jonna loved and adored her friends and families, and they adored her. She deeply impacted the lives she touched. Her beautiful, brave, and curious soul inspired us to be more courageous, more adventurous, and more comfortable within ourselves.

Jonna was entering her fourth year at the University of Iowa. She studied health sciences, aging, and nursing and was a good student and an applied and critical thinker. Jonna believed every human should be empowered to be who they are, free to exist as they are, and to have access to healthcare and basic needs. Principles of peace, justice, inclusion, and universal human kindness were central to her being. She believed that, above all, we have a responsibility to each other to think beyond our own interests. In life she served her community by volunteering at The River Food Pantry in Madison, the Salvation Army Pantry in Iowa City, and helped to plant a community access vegetable garden in Iowa City. She was a head lifeguard for the University of Iowa Recreation Services, and previously worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor for the Waunakee Community School District Aquatic Center. In death she continues to make a difference, donating organs and tissues via the Iowa Donor Network.

Jonna was a voracious reader and enjoyed exploring and making meaning of imagery in prose and poetry. She composed the same, inspired by teachers and favorite authors including her namesake. She took advantage of the creative writing courses and workshops abundant at the University of Iowa. We wish we could share these writings with you but, alas, they exist locked - concealed by a cyber veil woven of usernames, passwords, and two-part authentication.

Jonna was happiest active and in nature. She carried an “activity box” in her cars (known to us as Fred and Hank), so that she was prepared for fun at a moment’s notice. She was an explorer. She relished sunsets, camping, hiking, climbing to the highest point of any terrain or structure, and was talented in a kayak and as a swimmer. She patiently coached her family and friends in water and on land. When we fell in play or in life, she helped us up and encouraged us on. She shared in our tears, laughter, and victories. When we fell-short, she forgave with ease. Jonna was fearless except for the spiders. She was highly dependent on friends to manage these unexpected guests.

Jonna was a collector and aficionado of t-shirts and sweatshirts. While she was a minimalist in most respects, she never let go of a good t-shirt. She scoured second-hand stores to find unique and funny shirts. She was on her way to collecting a sweatshirt from each of the ever expanding Big Ten universities. On occasion, she walked around the University of Iowa campus wearing a rival’s sweatshirt just to see the reaction she might get.

Jonna is survived by many. Maternally, she is survived by her mother and stepfather; grandparents Barbara and Ronald Treis; aunts/uncles Debbie and Bob Weidenfeld and Dawn and Chris Webster; cousins Bobby, Brian, Christian, and Matthew; great aunts Gerry and Joan; and many extended cousins. Paternally, she is survived by her father; sister Jennifer Pfaff and nephew Tristan Rice; uncle/aunt Raymond and Linda Babb; aunt Kay Wortman; and numerous cousins and extended cousins. She is also survived by countless friends. She was treasured as a soul sister and bonus daughter by multiple families. Furthermore, she is survived by her favorite four-legged fuzz face, her dog Yeti Brows.

Jonna is preceded in death by her paternal grandparents Clayton and Irene Rusk, all of her great-grandparents, and a very special bonus mom. We expect she is reconnecting with them and imagine her snacking on Werther caramels, sipping tea, and sharing the news of the day.

A gathering of remembrance and celebration of Jonna’s life will be held on July 28th from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. at Cress Funeral Services, 6021 University Ave, Madison/Middleton. A prayer and reflections will be held at 2:00 p.m. In honor of Jonna, we invite you to come as who you are. We welcome you to dress casually and wear your favorite t-shirt or sweatshirt. If it is a bit worn or second-hand, all the better.

Jonna will rest in nature. She will be memorialized in private remembrance at the Natural Path Sanctuary, a green cemetery that lies within the nature reserve of the Farley Center for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability. There she will rest under the sun, moon, and stars in a meadow of grass and wildflowers near the trees, especially a 300-year-old and a baby Oak.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks by visiting , or to the food pantry of your choice.

Though we may feel that Jonna left a void, she also equipped us to fill it and, over time, move forward as individuals and collectively. She raised us well. We remember that sometimes painful experiences also can provide us the strength and learning we and the world can’t live without. In the meantime, and in the words of poet Mary Oliver (and the trees) remember that, “it’s simple […] and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”

Cress Center

6021 University Ave. Madison

(608) 238-8406

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

Service Schedule

Past Services

Celebration of Life Gathering

Thursday, July 28, 2022

1:00 - 3:00 pm (Central time)

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Time of Sharing

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Starts at 2:00 pm (Central time)

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