Joan (Jo) Johnson Baeza died Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, at her Pinetop home. She was born April 28, 1931, in New Ulm, Minn. to a pioneer family that came to the territory in 1856 and established the Dacotah House, a small hotel on the edge of the frontier. She grew up in her great-grandparents’ hotel with an intense interest in western American history. In 1943 she moved with her parents to Renton, Washington to work for Boeing for the duration of World War II.
Returning to the Midwest, her parents owned small businesses in Nebraska and then Kansas. Jo graduated from high school in Belleville, Kansas in 1949. Following her graduation, her parents bought a motel on old Route 66 in Holbrook. From 1949-1954 she attended Stanford University, spending her junior year at the University of Nottingham, England. She also spent one summer studying southwestern anthropology and archaeology at the University of New Mexico. She graduated from Stanford in1954 with a bachelor's degree in English literature and a minor in history. She came home and began exploring northern Arizona and writing for Arizona Highways.
In 1956 she married Cooney Jeffers, a cattleman. They lived on a 100-section cow/calf ranch south of Holbrook. She wrote about those years in her book "Ranch Wife" (by Jo Jeffers), published by Doubleday in 1964 and reprinted by the University of Arizona Press in 1994.
Following a divorce in 1965, she moved to Pinetop, her primary residence ever since. She has made her living writing, editing, teaching part time as associate faculty at Northland Pioneer College and working for the USDA Forest Service as a lookout during fire seasons. She married western author J.P.S. Brown in 1966 and was blessed with two stepchildren, Paula and Bill Brown. Joe and Jo were divorced in 1974.
In 1975 she married horse trainer Luis Mario Baeza, who had cared for her during a serious illness. They ended their marriage amicably in 1981 and were still close friends.
In 1981, at the age of 50, she began a newspaper career, writing for the White Mountain Independent.
In 1999 she received an Arizona Highways Silver Award for her story “Springtime in the Mountains,” and she has received five first-place awards from the Arizona Newspapers Association for columns in The Independent.
In 2001 she received the Sharlot Hall Award from Prescott’s Sharlot Hall Museum for her work in preserving Arizona history and culture through her writing. In 2006 she was named a “Culturekeeper” by the Arizona Historical Foundation and Westin Kierland Resorts.
She self-published "Eagles at Noon," a collection of poems, in 2011. Her territorial history, "Arizona: The Making of a State," was published by White Mountain Publishing Co. in 2012 as an official Arizona Centennial Legacy Project, sponsored by the Arizona Historical Advisory Board.
Arcadia Press published her latest book "Pinetop-Lakeside" as part of its “Images of America” series. As the consummate writer, Jo continued to talk about her next story and books she wanted to write until just before her passing.
Baeza contracted scleroderma, a debilitating disease that affected her autoimmune system with severe rheumatic pain. As the disease affected her, Jo became more limited in her ability to do the things she loved. She continued to reside at her Pinetop home until her passing. Always the picture of grace and compassion, even in her suffering Jo prayed for her caregivers and friends before herself.
A memorial service for Jo will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, in St. Mary of the Angels Catholic church, 1915 S. Penrod Lane in Pinetop. Her dear friend, Father Bill Day will officiate.
The extended family and friends of Jo are asking that donations to White Mountain Hospice Foundation, Humane Society of the White Mountains and The National Forest Foundation be made in her honor in lieu of flowers. Her ashes will be interned at the Johnson Family plot in New Ulm, Minnesota.
Owens Livingston Mortuary of Show Low handled arrangements. For those who have special memories and would like to send private condolences or sign an online guest book, visit www.owenslivingstonmortuary.com.