Joan C. McNeil, 84, Manhattan, died on Jan. 10, 2014

Joan Catherine (Newcomer) Sistrunk McNeil, 84, of Manhattan, a beloved wife, sister, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, and great-grandmother, passed on to her heavenly home on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, at Meadowlark Hills nursing home following a lenghty illness.

Cremation is planned with memorial services to be held at 1 p.m. , Saturday, March 22, 2014, , at the First Congregational Church (UCC) in Manhattan, Kan., with Rev. Dr. Patty Brown-Barnett officiating. Private family inurnment will be in the Sunrise Cemetery in Manhattan.

Born in El Dorado, on April 27, 1929, to Mable and L.W. “Newc” Newcomer, she was the eldest of three children. She showed an early talent for writing. At the age of 17, she had her story, “His Armor All Shining”, published in Seventeen Magazine, which won her a place as a columnist for her local paper. “Joni”, as her immediate family called her, used the name, “Joni’s Notes,” to pen folksy descriptions of home life featuring ”Pop” (Newc) ,”Mom” (Mable), “Kid Brother” or “KB” (Graham), “Little Sis” (Janet), and later her husband and four young children. These columns were published in various newspapers around the country between 1941 and 1971 and copies of many issues later donated to the Kansas State Historical Society.

Joan left El Dorado for college in 1947 and majored in Technical Journalism at Kansas State University between 1947-1951 where, among many awards and honors, she helped edit the Royal Purple yearbook and The Collegian campus newspaper. As a freshman, she pledged to Pi Beta Phi and was an active member of the sorority. She wrote one of their well-loved songs and created and directed many musical and comedy skits.

After graduation, she landed a stint in New York as an editorial assistant for a publishing company and then, moved to Gatlinburg, Tenn. to accept a position as Assistant Director and Creative Writing Instructor at the Pi Phi Settlement School. Following this, Joan attended the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1956 with a master’s degree in Educational Psychology. From there, she interviewed and was immediately hired as the first dean of women’s services and the Student Activities Advisor at the California State Polytechnic College of San Luis Obispo in California. While at “CalPoly,” she met Jim Sistrunk, whom she married in 1957. Four children soon followed, and in 1964 they moved back to her home state of Kansas, and settled in Manhattan, where Jim pursued an M.S. degree in Horticulture and later a doctorate at KSU. During this time, Joan was hired at K-State as a part-time research assistant at the university’s Extension Department, and then at the K-State Center for Student Development and after the death of her husband in 1969, as an instructor in the Department of Family and Child Development.

She quickly developed a devoted following as result of teaching classes on adolescence, family and life cycles, writing many of the textbooks used in the courses. Among her many other accomplishments, she developed and taught a new class dealing with death and bereavement. In 1972, she was one of four faculty members to receive an award for excellence for her teaching and service.

In 1973 Joan married a prominent local pediatrician, Dr. Elbert D. “Mac” McNeil and she welcomed his four step-children and a dog, combining with her own four children and two cats! Some time following, Joan received her PhD from the College of Education, and in 1980, building upon her research from her doctoral dissertation Young Mothers’ Communication About Death with Their Children, she co-authored an influential publication entitled Adolescence and Death. Many articles, textbooks, workbooks, editorships, along with other professional activities and accolades continued. This included being named “Outstanding Contributor to the Field” in 1982 for the Forum for Death Education and Counseling, for which she served as President 1982-1984. As a nod to her academic career, she penned the following “Epitaph” in May of 1984:

Here lies Joan Newcomer Sistrunk McNeil,

A teacher, mother, daughter, wife,

Who taught many others about death

And how to live a fuller life.

Now she's researching the Great Beyond,

And hopes to publish what she's found.

The opportunity she couldn't pass

To perish first and publish last!

Joan retired from Kansas-State in 1988 and Mac retired from his medical practice in 1989, where they had many happy years together dining out, traveling, and rooting for their favorite college sports teams, the Wildcats (hers) and the Jayhawks (his), before his death in December of 2006.

Joan was a supporter of the arts, the theatre, the music, the culture, indeed-the soul and heartbeat of the town. She was an active member of the Congregational Church of Manhattan. Between 1987 and 1996, she wrote, directed and performed in the popular yearly church musical dinner theatre skits to benefit the church’s outreach and growth. She also donated a rank of Celeste pipes for the church organ in memory of her mother, Mable Newcomer, who was a well-beloved organist.

Joan was also very active in the Manhattan Civic Theatre and the Manhattan Arts Center. She sat on the board, chaired committees, helped write and direct plays, organize fundraisers, and many other activities. She even donated an entire set of comfortable theatre chairs for the entire audience area.

It is very difficult to distill into a few columns a lifetime of giving, creativity, passion, soul and spirit that was Joan Catherine Newcomer Sistrunk McNeil. She loved life. She loved her friends. She loved her family. She will be greatly missed by so many. The family would like to thank Meadowlark Hills and the numerous faithful caregivers over the years who showed dedicated love and care to Joan during her time there. Much appreciation also goes to University Christians Church and the ladies group for their faithful prayers and loving actions showered on Joan which sustained her and her family as well.

Joan’s first husband, Jim Sistrunk, preceded her in death on Sept. 11, 1969 and her second husband, Elbert D. McNeil, preceded her in death on Dec. 3, 2006, as did her brother, Graham Newcomer, on July 31, 1999.

Survivors include: a sister, Janet Mitchell of Titus, Ala.; a son, Ted Sistrunk and his wife Frizz Allen of Phoenix, Ariz.; a daughter, Holly Friesen and her husband Rob of Manhattan; a daughter, Wendy Sistrunk of Independence, Mo.; a son, Tim Sistrunk of Chico, Calif.; a step-daughter, Nancy Meidinger and her husband Bob of Olathe, Kan.; a step-son, John McNeil of Leawood, Kan.; a step-son, Tom McNeil and his wife Marie of Corpus Christie, Texas; a step-daughter, Susan McCaskill and her husband Jerry of Tulsa, Okla.; 11 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to Homecare & Hospice, Inc. Contributions may be left in care of the Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen Funeral Home, 1616 Poyntz Avenue, Manhattan, KS 66502.

Online condolences may be left for the family through the funeral home website at