Joseph L. Wilson

Mar 10, 2020
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10:30 a.m. Friday, March 13, 2020 at Orchard Hill Church
3900 Orchard Hill Drive
Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613


4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Thursday, March 12, 2020 at Orchard Hill Church in the sanctuary
3900 Orchard Hill Drive
Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613


Greenwood Cemetery, Cedar Falls


In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to Special Olympics Iowa, 551 SE Dovetail Road Box 620, Grimes, IA 50111-0620


Joseph L. Wilson, 71, of Cedar Falls, died Tuesday, March 10, 2020 at MercyOne Cedar Falls Medical Center.

Joe was born October 16, 1948, in Sioux City, Iowa, the son of Bernard and Frances Marousek Wilson; after his mother’s passing in 1952, he was adopted by Ethel Chittick Wilson at the age of five. He attended Atkinson High School in Nebraska. He graduated from Kemper Military School in 1966. He earned an AA degree from Kemper Military School & College in Boonville, Missouri in 1968. He then obtained his BA from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1970, MA from the University of Iowa in 1973, and EdD in 1985 from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

He married Eileen DeWaard on December 29, 1969 at the Christian Reformed Church in Britt, IA. Joe and Eileen have two children and four grandchildren. Son, Scott (Jenny) Wilson of Spencer, IA, grandchildren Katy Wilson of Mason City, and Nathan Wilson of Clear Lake. Daughter, Sarah (Cory) Levendusky of Cedar Falls, IA, grandchildren Emily Levendusky of Waterloo, and Jonah Levendusky of Cedar Falls.

Joe leaves behind one brother, Ed Wilson of Lincoln, NE; and many brothers in-law and sisters in-law, nieces, nephews - all of which he loved dearly.

Joe was an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology, Allied Health and Human Services at the University of Northern Iowa for 32 years, retiring in 2017. Before UNI, he also taught four years at the University of South Alabama, and four years at Old Dominion University (Virginia). His students were an extension of his family. He was an active leader in the Therapeutic Recreation field.

In 1968, Joe volunteered at the first national Special Olympics event. This led to a lifetime of involvement with Special Olympics. In 1985 Joe and Eileen became the area directors for the Northeast Iowa Special Olympics; retiring in 2017. He pursed life by the Special Olympic oath “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let be brave in the attempt.”

Joe loved: traveling to see former students, traveling to new places, visiting with family and friends, meeting new people, watching sports, attending Chicago Cubs games, and anything Nebraska Cornhusker related.

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  1. Twyla Misselhorn | Apr 11, 2020
    I loved you dear friend.
  2. Twyla Misselhorn | Apr 11, 2020

    Eileen and the Wilson Family,

    I am so very sorry to hear of Joe's passing.  Not only was he an incredible TR professional, Joe was also a longtime and dear friend. Can't believe I first met Joe in January 1973; he was my graduate TA in Leadership class. Joe never hesitated to help a student or another professional. I loved presenting at conferences with him and writing our activity book together. (Thanks Eileen for all the typing.) Joe was a pioneer in the field and such a kind, compassionate, and creative individual.  The TR profession has lost a great leader.  He will be missed.

    Twyla Misselhorn

    Minneapolis, MN




  3. Chris Champ | Mar 20, 2020
    Eileen, so sorry to hear of Joe's passing.  I always enjoyed seeing the both of you anytime you came to ISS or if we saw each other out in the community.  Did not know Joe was born in Sioux City, as that where I grew up.  I do remember him as a Cubs fan, and being a Cardinal fan, I can forgive him for that!!  I wish you and your family only warm thoughts as you reminisce about Joe.  He was one of the best.  
  4. Syd Sklar | Mar 15, 2020
    So sorry to hear of Joe's passing. He was a bright light and and leader in the therapeutic recreation field, and I always appreciated his warm presence. Joe will be missed.
  5. Jim Higgins | Mar 14, 2020
    Eileen and family, I am so sorry to hear of my dear old friend Joe's leaving us. He was a very special person in the lives of so many people. I enjoyed over 25 + years on SO board and activities with him. God bless him, he was truly one of the good guys!!!
  6. Anne Brownstone | Mar 14, 2020
    Eileen - I'm so sorry for your loss.  I really enjoyed my time working with Joe on the Special Olympics Board.  He has been an inspiration to all who knew him.  No one will ever forget what he did for Special Athletes and the many volunteers and students who were lucky enough to participate in his classes and Special Olympics activities.  My best wishes go out to you.
  7. Charlie Becker | Mar 13, 2020
    Wow...I am so sorry, Eileen...I just read about Joe's passing through a staff person's daily report...So many wonderful was a person that made incredible inroads in the field of therapeutic rec...starting out many leaders in the field today.  What a beautiful legacy he so many of his students...Special Olympics...and family.  He will be dearly missed....
  8. Paulette and Giovanni. Romano | Mar 13, 2020

    Eileen and family, I received the call from my daughter Anna Maassen when she first heard of Joe's earthly death. It  has been a long time since I have heard her cry out in such deep sorrow. Joe encouraged and polished so many God given gifts that she did not see in herself.  We met  Joe only once at a ceremony whereby Anna was given an award, chosen by Joe.  My husband and I immediately knew Anna was going to be OK.  We praise God for his life and the Thanksgiving we give that Joe and  your family encouraged Anna when I was unable to.

  9. Cindy Coffin | Mar 12, 2020

    Eileen and family, 

    So sorry for your loss.  Joe had a very positive influence on so many students, and also on our colleagues in the Therapeutic Recreation profession.   It was a pleasure to work with him over the years and he was a great friend.

    He will be truly missed.



  10. Tyann Rouw | Mar 12, 2020
    I'm so sorry to learn of Joe's passing. My son is involved in Special Olympics, and Joe was someone we saw often at events. My deepest condolences to everyone who knew and loved him. 
  11. Tracey Crawford | Mar 12, 2020

    Eileen and family, My heart is so heavy with the news of Joe's passing. He truly was an inspiration to so many of us in this profession. His love for his Rt students, his passion for the profession and his commitment to mentoring so many professionals, like me, has made a huge impact on hundreds of people that will never be forgotten.

    Sending love and prayers of comfort,

    Tracey Crawford


  12. Cathy O’Keefe | Mar 12, 2020

    Eileen and family,

    I was sad to hear of Joe’s death this morning, but after reading the wonderful comments from past students and colleagues, I wondered “Does life get any better than this?”  What can be better than knowing you’ve impacted so many lives for the better.  At South Alabama Joe was loved and appreciated for the culture of kindness that he created.  I benefitted from that as a teaching colleague.  Joe’s friendship and support for the inclusion of both community and clinical services under the umbrella of therapeutic recreation was wise and good.  

  13. Matt Boggess | Mar 12, 2020
    Eileen and family, I am so sorry to hear about Joe's passing.  He was a phenomenal educator and man.  He definitely had a big impact on me as a student and as a professional.  He is will truly be missed.  
  14. Jeff Witman | Mar 12, 2020
    Sorry for your loss. Joe was a wonderful colleague. His empathy, integrity, humility, passion and perseverance made a difference in the lives of all who knew him. Take good care.
  15. John Shank | Mar 12, 2020
    Joe will be remembered for his kindness and devoted servant leadership in his profession. I always smiled broadly when meeting up with Joe at conferences throughout our parallel careers. 
  16. Michael McNicholas | Mar 12, 2020
    I am so sad to hear about this. He was a treasure, a true friend in the field. He was part of my TR family and I am grateful for the conversations, the laughs and the advocacy. 
  17. Dean and Ellie Zoerink | Mar 12, 2020
    So sorry to hear of Joe’s passing. I have fond memories of our time at Iowa and the good times we had a Midwest, where his light continued to shine in each of his students. He was a servant-leader in the truest sense. He ran the good race and will continue to be a champion to us all. Blessings to you, Scott, Sarah and your grandchildren.
  18. Tab Ray | Mar 11, 2020

    Eilene and family. So sorry to hear about Joe's passing. He was a special guy and will be missed

    I was proud to work with him professionally helping to set up education sessions for conferences. But I was even more proud to call him friend. I always enjoyed our Jimmy Johns lunches when we would complain about being public employees. I also looked forward to the yearly KCs awards banquets when both of you attended.

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Tab and Marge Ray

  19. Kim Hames | Mar 11, 2020

    So sorry for the loss of Joe, he made such an impact in my life and college career. One of the best!

    Kim Hames (Weber) UNI TR Class of 2009

  20. Allison | Mar 11, 2020
    I am very sorry to hear of Joe's passing. He was not only a professor and friend, but a mentor to me throughout school and after. I loved being able to meet with Joe for lunch and catching up when we could. He was an outstanding person and will definitely be missed.
  21. Lorene Hynes | Mar 11, 2020

    So sorry to learn of Joe's passing.  He was always a familiar face at our Winter Olympics here in Dubuque.  My thoughts and prayers are with your family.


  22. Sarah Sindlinger | Mar 11, 2020

    Eileen and family,

    Sorry for your loss. I’m glad to have met Joe while pursuing a degree in Therapeutic Recreation. He was an excellent teacher and very passionate. Joe was an inspiration to me and his students. I enjoyed the program and also enjoyed Special Olympics. He had a connection with his students. Thank you Joe for all you did. I will miss you! 

  23. Barb Parker | Mar 11, 2020
    Miss Sarah and family: I am so sorry to her the news  of your Father's death. May  the beautiful memories you hold so near and dear help with your aching heart. Sending a big hug and my deepest sympathy. Take care Barb Parker
  24. Joe Fernau | Mar 11, 2020
    To Eileen and the Wilson family... words cannot express the amount of sympathy I want to pour out to you all.  You all know the deep impact Joe had on my life and the life of thousands over the years!  His heart for people was a shinning light in everything he did from running SO events to teaching his TR students to being a mentor and a friend to pretty much anyone who needed it.  I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today if it were not for Joe Wilson and for that I am forever grateful to not only him, but also you, his family, who helped him, supported him and made sacrifices along the way to do so.  If you need anything, do not hesitate to reach out!  Love and support to you all!
  25. Jeff Franzen | Mar 11, 2020
    So sorry for your loss Eileen.  I always enjoyed our time together volunteering with Special Olympics events and fundraisers, especially the Tip a Cop events as well as being in the Color Guard at the Opening Ceremony’s at the UNI-Dome events.  Prayers to you and your family.
  26. Ashley Evans | Mar 11, 2020
    Eileen and Family, so sorry to hear about your loss. Joe was an amazing teacher and a great inspiration to all his students. Joe had lead me to do great things.   His involvement with Special Olympics was a blessings and will continue follow in these steps as I will continue to volunteer with Special Olympics for many years. we will miss you Joe!! 
  27. Taylor | Mar 10, 2020
    Eileen and family, I am so sorry for your loss. As countless others are saying, Joe changed my life. Without his guidance and unconditional support, I would not be half the person I am today. He taught me so many things and helped to shape me into a rec therapist. I am so lucky to have met Joe, and to be a part of his lasting impact in this community. 
  28. Kim Reed | Mar 10, 2020
    Sometimes you get that text or call that just stops you in your tracks, tonight this was it.  Joe Wilson was my guiding light when I decided to change my major and found Recreation Therapy.  It was where I should have been all along and he knew that.  He taught me how to truly advocate for what you love.  He lived and breathed Recreation Therapy and never let the haters sway him.  He embraced every challenge and taught with love and passion.  He continued to keep tabs on me after graduation and always told me I was "one of his favorites" I am confident he did all of his students❤.  He celebrated with me when I decided to switch gears after 20+ years in the field.  He knew that he prepared me for any direction I went.  I am forever in debt to Joe for all the love and knowledge that he shared....about Recreation Therapy and life in general.  I will miss our yearly run-ins, I will simply just miss you Joe!
  29. Jeff Burkgren | Mar 10, 2020
    This guy right here is the reason I started my therapeutic recreation degree. He taught us so much while at UNI and was always available to talk to no matter the time of day. We spent 4 years together doing Special Olympic events, going to different conferences and many hours spent in the classroom. He was the best professor anybody could ask for. You will be missed by numerous amounts of people. RIP Joe!
  30. Joni and Nate Osmundson | Mar 10, 2020
    Eileen and family, We are so sorry for your loss!! Joe truly was a great man with a passion for TR that was unlike any other. He was a mentor and friend and I will always appreciate his visits and advice! His impact on this world is far reaching and his legacy will live on forever!! Miss you Joe!! 

  31. Ashley Devaney | Mar 10, 2020
    What an amazing person. I am so sorry for your loss.  He made such an impact on his students lives.  All of us felt like an extra kid of his.  He honestly is that one teacher in my life that has taught me things I share with others today.  My heart goes to all!
  32. April | Mar 10, 2020
    So sad to hear about the loss of Professor Wilson. I would not be the person I am if it weren't for his never ending support, guidance and faith in me. Always pushing be to my full potential which was always more than I knew I had. He will be greatly missed and forever remember by many.
  33. Ken Mobily | Mar 10, 2020

    I am very sorry to learn of Joe's passing, he was a positive force for TR and SO in Iowa.


    Ken Mobily

    University of Iowa

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