Cover photo for Joanne M. Kurtz's Obituary
Joanne M. Kurtz Profile Photo
1933 Joanne 2023

Joanne M. Kurtz

February 2, 1933 — September 20, 2023

Joanne Marie Kurtz (née Bornstein) passed away on Wednesday, September 20, 2023, after a brief fight with cancer. Joanne was surrounded by family at the time of her passing. A woman of incomparable spirit, enthusiasm, and zest for life, she had an unbounded love for her family that we will now draw upon forever as we mourn her loss.

Joanne was born in Bellingham on February 2, 1933 to Teresa C. Bornstein (née Tiscornia) and Myer A. Bornstein, the oldest of six children. She grew up as part of a large extended family of not only her five siblings but aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins, who were basically extra siblings. Family always came first.

With the exception of her college years, Joanne was a lifelong Bellingham resident. She attended Assumption Catholic School, Fairhaven Junior High School, and Bellingham High School, graduating in 1950. She then sought a college education, with dreams of becoming a pilot or working in a medical profession. Immediately after high school, she enrolled in Colorado Women’s College, which had initiated an aviation program for its all-female student body 7 years earlier, during the height of World War II.

After a year of college in Colorado, however, Joanne returned to the Northwest and enrolled at Seattle University to pursue her interest in medical science. While enjoying all that Seattle had to offer a young person in the 1950s, she applied for a job posted by a young Jesuit priest, William Treacy, who was looking for an assistant. Fr. Treacy focused much of his work on interfaith relations, and when he saw an application from Joanne Bornstein, he was excited to interview someone with a Jewish background for the job. While Joanne’s Bornstein surname relates to her Jewish ancestry, she had in fact been a practicing Catholic since her childhood. In the end, she was hired as Fr. Treacy’s assistant, and this began a 70-year friendship between her and Fr. Treacy that later included her family.

Joanne graduated from Seattle University in 1954 with a Bachelor of Science degree and embarked on a 40-year career as a Medical Technologist. Throughout her career, Joanne conducted innumerable laboratory tests on fluid and tissue samples to support the process of medical pathology, diagnosis, and treatment for countless patients. Her kids will always remember calling her work number and hearing her answer the phone with her matter-of-fact “Laboratory, Joanne.” During the course of her career, she worked for Gibb Lab, St. Joseph Hospital Lab, and Northwest Medical Center Lab, until her retirement in 1995.

On May 25, 1957, Joanne married F. Stephen “Steve” Kurtz, another Bellingham native. Steve was a writer and editor for the Bellingham Herald who seemed to know everybody in town. They had met through close mutual friends who also happened to be married to one another: Bill and Dorothy Jolley. In their own marriage, Joanne and Steve merged their personal, social, and professional lives. They were perfect complements – one left brain, one right brain (although who was which depended on the situation). Together they had six children and began accumulating a lifetime of stories involving their kids, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, a large extended family, friends, and neighbors.

Joanne Kurtz had an incredible drive and seemed to be endlessly active. She never stopped promoting physical activity, and usually required her kids (and their visitors) to go outside and play instead of hanging out in the house. Those who knew her will remember how she was a long-time bicycle commuter, with her trademark wire basket mounted over the rear wheel. She also instilled in her kids the value of using public transportation – or of just simply walking to your destination. Her kids will recall her “run a block, walk a block” mantra, for those able to do so, as a reminder to get in that extra bit of exercise. And while she never realized her goal of having her kids become lifeguards (or astronauts, for that matter), she did make sure that we all became competent swimmers, like her.

Somehow Joanne combined the quality of being strait-laced and even naïve with a willingness to always try something new and different. While the 1970s might have meant bad fashion for some, for Joanne Kurtz, curious nerd from the 1950s, it was a time to thrive, with homemade clothes, hand-me-downs (often from her kids’ wardrobes), weird sunglasses, and clothing of her own styles. Her wardrobe was a perfect manifestation of her “waste not” ethos. She could never just get rid of something if it could still be used even one more time. She often meted out facial tissues into multiple uses (saving them in a sleeve or pocket in-between), and she chewed gum a half-stick at a time. But she made it all uniquely her own, without even trying, because that was simply who she was. Who else but Joanne could step out in an outfit consisting of old tennis shoes, a mended pair of her son’s socks from middle school, sweatpants, a nice (but used) sweater, a necklace, and full makeup, and still be the most beautiful woman in the room?

Joanne also enjoyed traveling. With her husband Steve she enjoyed years of annual outings with a group of friends (an anniversary group), and other annual trips across the U.S. and Canada to conventions or music competitions. With the kids, there were annual outings to set up camp in Washington Park near Anacortes, and occasionally longer trips to visit family – more logistically complicated due to moving a family of 8 from point to point. She was also able to enjoy world travel on trips to Israel, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Ecuador, Mexico, and South Korea.

Incredibly, despite the inevitable chaos of life in the Kurtz household and her full-time job, Joanne was active in community organizations. She was a participant in numerous groups and activities at Church of the Assumption and Sacred Heart Catholic Church, a founding organizer of the Bellingham Community Meal Program, a longtime volunteer for Hospice of Whatcom County, and a volunteer for the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, in addition to countless other events or programs to which she gave her time.

She never stopped wanting to learn, and she was always on a spiritual journey, which often was the focus of her private reading. Many who knew her will undoubtedly recall her willingness to engage in thoughtful debate and intellectual conversation – sometimes uproariously, but in a good way, and often with laughter. And although she might not surrender her own convictions, she recognized the space necessary for others to retain their own.

As her kids began their own families, Joanne particularly enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren, to whom she will always be “Grandma Jo” (or simply “GJ”). Famous for sending greeting cards with her own, unique version of what can only be described as extemporaneous, stream-of-consciousness poetic messages, Joanne never failed to celebrate each grandchild’s uniqueness, worthiness, and beauty. Each can recall their own special call-outs, GJ-style, in both greeting card form and in person. She attended countless special events in celebration of her grandkids but was always ready to be their loudest cheerleader (and she could cheer loudly) wherever they found themselves.

Joanne was preceded in death by her parents, younger brother Anton “Andy” Bornstein, and husband F. Stephen “Steve” Kurtz. She is survived by her siblings, Janice Stuhr, Myrna Bailey, Judy Rodriguez, and Myer Jay Bornstein, children and grandchildren: Kevin Kurtz (wife Jennifer and children Travis Kurtz and Lauren Kurtz), Mary “Maria” Thurston (children Gabriel “Gabe” LeBeau, Jade Trapp, and Dane Thurston), Helen Null (children Angela Null, Jackson Null, and Parker Null), Ann Kurtz (child Brad Wiegand, grandchildren Lily Wiegand and Poppy Wiegand), Anthony “Tony” Kurtz (wife Shannon McCarty and children Finn Kurtz and Bitanya Kurtz), and Max Kurtz (children Grace Kurtz, Stephanie Kurtz, and Nicole Kurtz); as well as beloved cousins and a large extended family including in-laws, nieces and nephews.

Joanne Marie Bornstein Kurtz made an impact on everyone around her. She always strove to make the world a better place, to help people, to spread love. We will miss her.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Joanne’s name to Whatcom Hospice Foundation or to Bellingham Community Meal.

A Vigil Prayer Service will be held on Thursday, October 5th at 5PM at Westford Funeral Home. Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Friday, October 6th at 10:30AM at Church of the Assumption, followed by a graveside committal at Bayview Cemetery.
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Joanne M. Kurtz, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Vigil Service

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Starts at 5:00 pm (Pacific time)

Westford Funeral Home & Cremation Services

1301 Broadway, Bellingham, WA 98225

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Mass of Christian Burial

Friday, October 6, 2023

Starts at 10:30 am (Pacific time)

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

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