Longtime AWARE staff member dies at 76

Joanne Hansen surprised with hug by neighbor Dominick Thane Boerem. (Photo courtesy of Roxanne Thomas)

For nearly twenty years, Joanne Hansen served the Juneau community at AWARE, Juneau’s domestic violence support organization, where she worked as a women’s advocate and a shelter manager. 

She died earlier this month at the age of 76.

Her daughter, Roxanne Thomas, talks about who her mom was and the impact she had on the community.

Listen:

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Roxanne Thomas: At one time, there were three generations of us working at AWARE, which is really a testament to her, that her granddaughter was up for the summer and wanted to volunteer there. But AWARE was really her life. I mean, she was so dedicated. 

We were headed to the store one Thanksgiving for a forgotten ingredient, and there was a hitchhiker. And she pulled over to kidnap them and insisted that they come for Thanksgiving and they became a lifelong friend. 

Yvonne Krumrey: Did she grow up in Juneau? 

Roxanne Thomas: She grew up in the Midwest, but I always say that her life began in Juneau. She came to Juneau a shy, quiet woman with really no confidence… She must have been right around 30. 

And she came into her own and found her voice at AWARE. And I think by being a fierce defender of women, you know, she first started speaking up and finding her voice, but then she found it for herself. And honestly, my dad even had to change because as she grew stronger and wanted her rights, you know. He just went along and changed from kind of a chauvinist… And he just changed right along with her. But, so yes, she grew up there, but really, she bloomed in Juneau.

Yvonne Krumrey: How did she find AWARE when she got here? 

Roxanne Thomas: I’m glad you asked that! I had worked at AWARE… And when I moved for college, and I got married, I suggested her to go work there. And she thought I was making fun of her… she didn’t think I was serious, because she didn’t think she was good enough. And she didn’t think she had anything to offer. She only made it through the seventh grade.

But she braved her fears and went to work and bloomed. In fact, she worked there way longer than me. 

Yvonne Krumrey: Can you tell me a bit more about the celebration of life you’ve planned?

My brother died taking care of her. And so we had a service for him out at Skaters Cabin because that’s what he would have wanted. But she loved it. It was so comforting to her out there on the water and so peaceful. So we selected that, more than the traditional church funeral we had for my dad.

We anticipate people not having rides, so I’m going to make sure that we have rides for anybody who doesn’t have rides. And in fact, someone said, you know, probably people will come that didn’t even know her because there’s free food and rides. And they said it kind of in a bad way. And I said, you know, if people need a meal and want to come, my mom would be happy with that.

Do you have memories of Joanne Hansen? Share them with us and we’ll add them to this story.

Claudia Antonov-Anderson:

Joanne was a classmate back in Butte, ND. She had some disabilities back then and was not treated well by a few students at our school. I was her friend until my family moved to California when I was 16-years-old. We reconnected a few years ago and I was happy to hear from her and how her adult life turned out. It was FANTASTIC! Also, I became friends with her daughter, Roxanne, and her son, Edward. It was great to hear stories and see pictures about Joanne from Roxanne. I wish I had known her more during her adult years – what a lovely lady she turned out to be!

Michelle Boerem:

She was a lifelong friend of my family and she was such an inspiration to my mom, who was also an advocate at AWARE. I even took the training 18 years ago. She is an amazing person. She (is) gone but never forgotten.

Amy Newman:

I worked with Joanne at AWARE for about two years when I first moved to Juneau. I remember her being friendly, gregarious and a fierce advocate of the women who came to the shelter seeking assistance. I remember, too, making her a celebration cake when she got her GED. She always reminded me of my grandmother.

Memories of Joanne Hansen

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Yvonne Krumrey

Local News Reporter, KTOO

Juneau is built on hidden and assumed layers of power and access, influencing how we interact with identity, with the law and with each other. I bring you stories of the gaps in access to power, and those who are working to close those gaps.

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