Highlighting Inspiring Women: She has done it all

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Joanne Strutt

Jo Strutt was a church choir director for 60 years. She still sings every day.

In a lifetime of learning and experiences, Jo said the family she and Don raised is what she’s most proud of. The couple is pictured with children Charles, David, Dawson, Craig and Darci.

Throughout March, which is Women’s History Month, the North Iowa Times is again publishing a series of articles highlighting local women. Whether it’s through their careers, hobbies, volunteer efforts or unique personalities, these women have become an inspiration to others.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Many women strive to “do it all,” balancing raising kids with working, volunteering and enjoying hobbies. For one of McGregor’s beloved icons, Joanne Strutt, she’s actually done it.

The Wisconsin native moved with her chiropractor husband, Don, to McGregor in December 1952. The couple, then in their early 20s, selected the quaint community for its proximity to the Mississippi River and the bridge that connects Marquette and McGregor with nearby Prairie du Chien, Wis.

In the nearly 70 years since, Jo raised five successful children (resulting in over 20 grandchildren and 35 great grandchildren), ran the North Iowa Times newspaper for 10 years, obtained her pilot’s license, led the church and community choir and served on countless community organizations and boards. She also worked the front desk at Strutt Chiropractic Clinic until age 89. 

She’s treasured the time spent on the river with family, making friends and interacting with patients and fellow residents.

“I am a people person,” Jo quipped. “I really love talking to people.”

Integrating yourself into a tight-knit community isn’t easy. The Strutts started by attending church.

“We are Methodist,” she said, “so we went to church and they had a choir.”

The service was nice, Jo added, but a week later, she and Don ventured to the Congregational Church instead, just to see what it was like.

That same day, they got a call from a concerned Methodist: “What are you doing going to the Congregational Church?”

Jo was also unceremoniously “told” she’d be the new choir director at the Methodist Church. The command wasn’t unwelcome—she came from a musical family.

“My mother was a good pianist,” Jo explained. “We all loved to sing and all played instruments in band. My older sister was one of the first woman band directors.”

Jo loved the new gig. And soon, she was leading the community choir too.

“It was the most fun I had,” she said.

Jo was a choir director for 60 years, and even had stints directing the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra and Lawrence Welk Orchestra in Branson, Mo. She was an accompanist for the school for a number of contests.

At 89, she still sings every day and plays the piano if she can. It’s a love she’s instilled in her family.

“I would say, ‘How old can you be and play football?’ Then, ‘How old can you be and sing?’” she remarked. “It’s forever—a lifetime thing. Music is our lives and makes us happy.”

Jo got involved in the community in other ways as well. She joined the Tourist Club, a group that studied different countries, gave reports and put on plays. 

“Then we got into Eastern Star and the Masons, then the Rainbow Girls,” Jo said. “We jumped right in.”

Jo was also a member of the library and park boards and served on a committee that spearheaded Main Street beautification projects.

In 1963, the Strutts bought the town’s newspaper, the North Iowa Times, to keep it from closing.

“It’s a tradition,” Jo said. “We wanted to keep it going.”

The family modernized the paper, transitioning away from linotype—typesetting with hot lead—to typing the words out. Jo still remembers the photography dark room and the light table used to lay out the pages.

Although the newspaper had other staff members, Jo handled many of the duties. It was her first experience in the journalism field. 

One of her favorite jobs was a half-page section each week that featured a local family.

“It was fun,” she said, “and readers loved it.”

The North Iowa Times was a whole family affair. The Strutt boys all had jobs, such as typesetting or covering sports.

“I couldn’t wait until someone was old enough to get ads,” Jo said, smiling.

One of the most monumental events the Strutts covered was the record-breaking 1965 flood. Don and Jo traveled from Dubuque to La Crosse, Wis., snapping photos of the swollen Mississippi River.

“My husband was piloting,” Jo recalled, “and I was hanging out the window taking the pictures.”

Jo could’ve also piloted the plane. She earned her license, along with an instrument ticket allowing her to navigate in the clouds with help from people on the ground, not long after Don.

“He wanted to fly, but we had four little kids at home,” she shared. “I said, ‘When you’re up in the air, I don’t know where you are. I don’t like you flying alone.’ So I got my license too.”

Jo was an accomplished pilot, flying into her early 80s. She had some famous passengers, including Sen. Chet Culver and his wife, who sometimes stayed with the Strutts in McGregor.

“We had to put a private line in the bedroom [for him], and had to make sure he had the paper every day,” Jo commented. “I flew he and his wife back and forth to Waterloo. One time, I took her alone and she said she’d flown in many planes and never seen anyone fly without a hundred maps.”

Looking back, said Jo, “It was a good thing to learn. It was something else to know.”

But in a lifetime of learning and experiences—of doing it all—Jo said the family she and Don raised is what she’s most proud of now.

“The pride and joy, for me, is to have such successful children,” she shared.

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