Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Joanne Zerkel, former Features Editor, passes away

I received word today that Joanne Zerkel, an editor from my early days in journalism, passed away. She hired me as a freelancer when I was first starting out and was instrumental in helping me succeed as a writer.

I had sent a story to my local paper, The Star in Chicago Heights, IL, and that editor passed it on to Joanne, who was features editor. She called me, said they would publish the article and asked if I would like to write more stories for the paper. That was my entree into journalism.

The first assignment I got was to write a story about autism. I had no idea what autism was, but I learned with Joanne's guidance. Over the 13 years I wrote for the paper, three of them on staff, I interviewed school children, medical professionals, local residents who had a story to tell, and any number of other people Joanne considered newsworthy.

The most fascinating story I ever wrote was about abdominal aortic aneurysms! That's because I was able to enter two operating rooms to witness the operations. Since Joanne hired me, I have written more than 1,000 articles for various publications.

The irony is that I never wanted to write for newspapers. My forte, however, has been feature writing. Joanne fostered that. She encouraged me and never criticized. She guided me to be a better writer.  My dream as a writer is to get a novel published, a goal I continue to pursue, but writing features articles is where I started.

Joanne is responsible for introducing me to National Federation of Press Women, an organization of which I've been a member for nearly thirty years. She was an advocate for women and was active in organizations that assisted women. She started several programs that helped the underpriveleged.

She will be missed, of course, and I will always remember her as the person who thought enough of my writing to hire me to write feature stories for a legitimate newspaper.


  1. This is so wonderful to read. I am Joanne's granddaughter Heather. It is so interesting that the first assignment you had from her was on Autism. I work with children with Autism, what a strange coincidence. I am so happy that she had such a positive impact on you. She will be missed dearly!

  2. Heather,
    I feel I know you! Your grandmother would talk about you all the time. She cared so much about you and your brothers.
    So happy to hear that you work with autistic children. My daughter-in-law does, too. I still remember covering that story so long ago. Let's keep in touch.