Joanne Ellen Senak Conroy (Jo) died at 1:40 a.m. on Sunday, August 4th, 2019, in the care of Mercy Hospital Compassionate Care Hospice and her children. She was 83 years old. She resided in Iowa City with two of her sons.
She was born on September 15, 1935 to Marie (O’ Neil) Senak and John Senak, in Gillespie, Illinois. She was raised by her mother and stepfather, Stephen Walsh, in Chicago.
She was married to Michael Joseph Conroy, Jr., on March 2nd, 1957, and had five children. The family moved to Cedar Rapids in 1963. She divorced in 1974.
She went to Catholic schools in Chicago, where she excelled in all subjects, including Latin. She won a city-wide competition for a high-school scholarship. Although she was a star student, she told her Latin teacher she “hated it”, but, as an adult, claimed it one of the most useful things she learned in high-school, as it gave her a much better understanding of both English and Spanish.
Although she had five children in under six years, her passion for learning never dimmed. She did not drive a car, but she took classes at Kirkwood Community College as time and money permitted, taking an arduous bus route to make her classes. It took her ten years to finish her two-year degree, in bits and pieces between kids needs, cooking, shopping, school schedules. She never missed one of her children’s important events, never failed to pack a lunch, was never too impatient or exhausted to listen and comfort. And she got that degree.
She went on to complete her bachelors in Psychology, graduating from Mt. Mercy College, Summa Cum Laude, with an emphasis in Jungian psychology. She practiced yoga for many years.
Jo had a number of jobs, excelled at all, but her landing place was the University of Iowa School of Social Work, from which she retired. She was self-educated far beyond her academic credentials, a voracious reader, on subjects from politics, history, sociology, comparative religion and more. She loved British crime novels in her later days. She was still reading five books a week until shortly before her death.
After growing up in a cold water flat in the concrete of near west side Chicago, she discovered a love for growing in Iowa. She had a tiny house on Dodge St., with a big lot, and turned a sad looking big patch of grass into a magical garden of mostly vegetables and fruit, but also the flowers she most loved, an abundance of peonies, lilacs and roses. Throughout each season, she packed some of her garden into a handcart and wheeled it to the Iowa City soup kitchen to give fresh organic produce to the hungry.
Her social activism was a constant in her life. She became one of the earliest members of the Cedar Rapids chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women). She sued the Cedar Rapids school district for sexual discrimination, not for money, but for equal rights. The decision was on her side. She used to say, “Civil rights, women’s rights, we are talking about human rights”. She continued her fight for justice until she could no longer walk or speak.
She is survived by her children, Michael Conroy III, Jane Conroy (Gary Oliveri), Patrick Conroy, Annie Conroy, and Barney Conroy (Tina Conroy).
She is also survived by seven grandchildren: Jessica Hobart, JoEllen Keenan (Annie), Emma, Lucy, Liam, Clara and Alice Conroy (Barney).