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Worth Knowing: Minnesota teacher's curiosity drove her career and civic engagement

English teacher Joan Marie Quinn advised her students' newspaper and was a member of the League of Women Voters. A celebration of life for Quinn, who died at age 72, will be July 20.

JOAN QUINN .jpg
Joan Quinn

Editor's note: Each week reporter Matthew Guerry shares the life stories of residents of Minnesota or the Dakotas who have died recently. Maybe you don't know them, but their stories are worth knowing. If you have a suggestion for someone to be featured, email mguerry@forumcomm.com or call 651-321-4314.

The English language was many things to Joan Quinn.

As a teacher, it was the stuff of many classroom lessons. As an inquiring mind, it was a means of conveyance for fiction novels and current events both.

Reading was a habit she shared with husband Kevin Quinn. As the early riser of the two, he said in an interview, he was the first to skim the paper.

"And for decades," he said, "I'd skim through much of the front page items and everything, and I'd put a little check mark by something and think, 'Joanie's going to want to see that. I want to be sure to show that to her."

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Joan Quinn, of Spicer, Minn., died last year at the age of 72 of complications from multiple strokes. A celebration of life will be July 20.

She was the daughter of John and LaDonna Adkins. Born in Minot, N.D., on Oct. 31, 1947, she grew up in Breckenridge, Minn., and graduated from high school there in 1965.

Though her father hoped she would become a nurse, Quinn graduated from Moorhead State University in 1969 ready to pursue a career in education. That year, she moved to Benson, Minn., got married and started teaching English at the local high school.

Quinn taught at the high school until 1971, and spent the next several years raising a family. She returned in 1980 and in 1985 enrolled at St. Cloud State University, where she earned her master's degree.

That year was marked by another move, this time to Willmar, Minn., and by Quinn's acceptance of a job teaching English and mass communications at Ridgewater College when it was still called the Willmar Community College. She retired from the college in 2003.

"You could tell right away that she was probably a teacher's teacher," Colleen Thompson Michels, the former college president and a close friend of Quinn's said. "A great deal of enthusiasm, very passionate about her subject matter, and a sparkling personality ... students were always seeking out her classes. They were always full."

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As the advisor to the student paper, a role in which she spent many late nights working with students under deadline, Quinn found a new appreciation for the work that newspaper production required. The experience altered how she looked at newspapers, according to Kevin Quinn.
"Before it was just a news source. Now she'd look at it, critique it, she'd get involved in all kinds of discussions about placement, of what story should be placed in this part of the story and another one should be over here, and your eyes follow some of these images this way but not that way, all that kind of stuff," he recalled. "And she loved that. Boy, did she put a lot into that."

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Curious and energetic, Joan read several newspapers a day.

Her interest in current affairs was matched by a passion for civic involvement. She served for time on the United Way of West Central Minnesota's board of directors and was also involved in the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, which helped to organize local candidate forums and debates.

Outside of work, Quinn enjoyed pontoon rides and tending to her flower garden. But her "biggest thrill in life," Kevin Quinn said, was being a mother and grandmother. A mother of three and grandmother of six, she delighted in family visits and attending youth sports.

"You could pretty much count on her being there every one of those tough," he said.

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