Joanne Shaw Corning passed away peacefully at her home on Nov. 19, 2021, at the age of 90. All who knew her were touched by her genuine warmth, quick laugh, optimism and graciousness.
Joanne Shaw was born in Dillon on March 19, 1931, to Esther “Chris” Christensen and Joseph Warren Shaw, who raised sheep on a high swath of land in the nearby Big Hole Valley. Growing up in Wisdom, Montana, in the 1930s without electricity or running water, Joanne's early days laid the foundation for who she would become: hard working, whip-smart, levelheaded, and gracious — with an absolute focus on family. Joanne exemplified the best of Montana ranch values. She loved to share the lore of the Big Hole with stories of her cherished parents, brother Joe and lifelong friends like the Huntleys. After her father's sudden death when Joanne was only 12, the family moved to Missoula, where she thrived in school with numerous accomplishments. To the ongoing delight of her children and grandchildren (and probably a few cowboys at the time), the barrel-racing redhead, Joanne Shaw, was crowned the Missoula Jaycee Stampede Rodeo Queen of 1948. She attended the University of Montana, where she made lifelong friends as a member of the Delta Gamma sorority and met the dashing Jim Corning who lived in the Phi Delt house across the street.
Joanne and Jim married in 1949 and soon moved to Billings as opportunity called. Over the next 16 years, the couple expanded their family with six children while building Radio Equipment Company. Never forgetting the mountains of western Montana, Joanne made Billings her home and jumped heart-first into the community. She was a tireless parent-volunteer for the countless activities of her children and their friends. Joanne was also a founding member of Chapter BL PEO, a Stephens Minister at the First Presbyterian Church, and a perennial volunteer with Billings Young Families. She embodied the generosity and grace which she inspired in others.
In addition to her charitable and volunteer work, Joanne lovingly nurtured and maintained friendships from all stages of her life. Stacks of correspondences, mountains of Christmas cards, and a phone cord that could span the length of the house evidenced her strength of community. Like her mother before her, Joanne opened her home to the world. Always centered around the kitchen, she created a space for people to relax and be themselves. She cooked with love and always had room for one more. Joanne's relationships were precious, authentic and reciprocated.
No one benefited more from Joanne's joy of togetherness than her own family. Between Joanne and Jim, their family cultivated a love of laughing, sharing life's little outrages and storytelling. (Have you heard the story of Grammy enchanting Arnold Palmer in Palm Springs?) Time together has always been graced by a chorus of laughter and conversation that grows steadily louder as the evening draws on. No one could possibly accuse the Cornings of being a quiet people.
When not at home in Billings, Jim and Joanne split their time between Indian Wells, California, and Flathead Lake. For 38 years, the entire extended family reconnected at “Camp Corning” on Finley Point in the Flathead. Those 38 summers on the lake forever bonded four generations of her family who remain close, connected and inspired by her legacy.
Joanne will be missed by her many, many friends, but especially by her six children, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, all of whom adored their “Grammy Jo.” She is predeceased by her husband, Jim, of 71 years; her parents; her brother Joe; and her son-in-law Mark Hoard. She is survived by five daughters and one son: Sherri Eastman, Steve Corning (Jennifer), Suzanne Goan, Cynthia Hoard, Sally Corning (Ted), and Carolyn Mitchell (Jeff).
Her 12 grandchildren, and their love for their grandparents and one another, were her greatest pleasure: Andrew Eastman (Candace), Elizabeth Mogno (Nick), John Philip Goan (Anna), Caroline Goan, Joe Corning, Lilly Corning Thompson (Will), Elinor Mitchell (Andrew), Harry Mitchell, Lauren Buchanan (Ben), Jimmy Buchanan, Alec Hoard, and Will Hoard; and three great-grandchildren: Lola Eastman, Evie Mogno, and Max Mogno.
Our family sends its sincere gratitude to Denise Rivette, Bernadine Grays, and the St. Johns At Home team who entered Joanne's life after Jim died and so lovingly cared for her over the past 14 months.
A celebration of Joanne and Jim's life together will take place at the Yellowstone Country Club on Thursday, Dec. 9, from 12 noon to 2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the University of Montana Foundation, Young Families Head Start, First Presbyterian Church, or the Alberta Bair Theatre.