Former Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association (OPALGA+) board member and editor JoAnn Ziebarth died July 18 after suffering a bad fall. She was 67.
Ziebarth was born Dec. 27, 1955, in DeKalb, where she spent her childhood. She graduated from DeKalb High School, where she was the yearbook editor.
Ziebarth spent two years at the University of Iowa before transferring to Northern Illinois University (NIU); she graduated with a BA in English in 1978. While at NIU, Ziebarth was a member of the English National Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta.
Among Ziebarth's many professional endeavors as an editor was for Applied Learning, the National Association of Realtors, Statistical Package for the Social Sciences and American Institutes for Research (AIR). While working at AIR, she collaborated with authors and educators nationwide to create materials that focused on bullying, high-quality education access and classroom diversity. Work colleagues spoke about and requested to work with her due to her knowledge, dedication and easygoing persona.
When Ziebarth was not working, she focused on a number of projects, among them her board member role at OPALGA+ in the early 2000s; she also edited that organization's newsletter, Empower. Ziebarth also participated in several AIDS Walk Chicago annual walks.
A lifelong aficionado of Broadway and Hollywood, Ziebarth had a particular interest in Barbara Streisand, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli and Andrea Marcovicci's work. She loved attending plays and concerts with her very close friend since high school, Ross Fraser, and also her former longtime partner Karen Lee Osborne.
Ziebarth was also an avid reader of literary fiction, poetry and drama. Her brilliant observations and sparkling wit entertained her friends for many years.
Ziebarth is survived by Osborne, stepsisters Betty (Pierre) Lartigaud and Virginia (John) Pachay and countless chosen family members and friends. She was preceded in death by her father Leon Ziebarth, mother Evelyn Ziebarth, stepfather Ross Young, sister Christine Ziebarth Howe; stepsister Pat (Pete) Darling; and Fraser.
"JoAnn was a very intelligent person who was also kind, generous and thoughtful," said Osborne. "Her coworkers loved working with her and her friends cherished her. The one word many people have used to describe JoAnn is 'lovely.' She was just a lovely, lovely person in so many ways. I was lucky enough to spend many years with her as her significant other, and we remained close ever since. She touched many lives, and we will all miss her."
Former OPALGA+ Co-Chair Ray Johnson said, "JoAnn was a gentle gem. Always ready to step in to get the task done. Thoughtful, kind, warm and supportive, a true leader who never did things for the accolades. She did things to make the world a better place."
"I first met Jody more than 40 years ago, and she was one of the most erudite people I have ever known," said longtime friend Brian McCormick. "She was as well versed in the classics as she was in contemporary pop culture, and with a vocabulary that was best described as intimidating, she sent me to my dictionary after almost every visit. But while she was cerebral, Jody was no stuffed shirt. She definitely had a wry, whimsical streak, and her rapier wit was awesome."
"My paths crossed with JoAnn in a number of ways," said friend and former fellow volunteer Brad Bartels. "She was a neighbor and bright spot on the block along with being active within Oak Park. Yet, it was her work with OPALGA+ that stood out. JoAnn was on the OPALGA board when I was co-chair. She was a wonderful person to work with on a board. Her skills as an editor were so valuable to us. She made us a better organization."
Former fellow volunteer Susan Abbott said, "JoAnn was an OPALGA+ board member when I worked there as Youth Program Director. It was very different then (early 2000's) to be working on issues affecting LGBTQ+ youth and adults. It was pre-cell phone/easy internet access for our youth and there were very few safe resources for them. JoAnn was such a methodical and calming presence as we navigated some very choppy cultural waters. As a staff member, I always felt her support. She listened intently and provided thoughtful insight into our always evolving programming."
A celebration of life will take place Sept. 16 at 1:30 p.m. at Unity Temple, 875 Lake St. in Oak Park with her ashes later interred at Fairview Cemetery in DeKalb, Illinois.
The family has asked that any donations in Ziebarth's memory be made to The Christine Ziebarth Howe Graduate Student Award (which Ziebarth founded to honor her sister), University of Illinois Foundation, Harker Hall, 1305 W. Green St., Urbana, IL 61801-2962 and/or the OPALGA+ Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 1460, Oak Park, IL 60304.