Remembering Joan Schilling

ENNIS – When a person passes from this world, it is those who are left behind who feel the impact of that loss. Often, the person who has lost their struggle requests no services or recognition because they are a very private person and have totally underestimated their influence on those whose lives they touched. Such was the case when Joan Schilling died on June 13 of this year, just a few days past her 66th birthday.

Joannie didn’t realize how much she was loved and the need of those people to recognize this remarkable lady.

After graduating from Northern Montana College in Havre and beginning her teaching career in Circle, she came to Ennis in 1977 as a high school art and PE teacher, and girls basketball coach.  She would never leave, since this soon became her forever home.  Even though she retired in January of 2016 after 41 years of teaching – 39 years in Ennis – she told folks that it didn’t make sense to seek out somewhere warmer because all of her friends were here.  And friends she had; you could safely say that she had thousands!  All of the students, and their families, she came in touch with considered her so much more than a teacher.  Joan inspired the kids in art and challenged them in PE.  She was a track coach for 14 years, served as the golf coach for 21 years and led the Ennis girls basketball program for an amazing 27 years.

 In 1990, during her tenure as the Lady Mustang’s basketball coach, she led a scrappy bunch of ladies to the school’s only state basketball title.

It was a tough battle that didn’t come easy, the team had to go through challenge games to get to the state level and there were more than 100 Class C schools at that time. 

Coach Schilling was an intense lady, as her former players can attest, but her fighting spirit and knowledge of the game made those girls dig down and come out with the win. One of her players recalled that during their challenge game, they came out dead and were losing 10 to 0.  Joanie called a time out and in motivating fashion she bopped her clipboard over that girl’s head! She relates that they went right back out and caught up, winning that game in a double overtime and earning their berth to the state tournament. 

Coach Schilling didn’t believe in belittling anyone and motivated her players with love and concern, but was stern when they needed it, according to her girls.  Winning the state girls basketball title was a big deal for their families and Ennis and we can confirm that it was an inspiration for many young players from all over the valley to see what was possible with a lot of hard work. Representing EHS in a positive way was important to Joanie and you can imagine what her reaction was when a player mooned the world from a hotel room in Butte.  Not pretty! 

It wasn’t all business though, her superstitions played a role too. The team swears they ate every meal at Perkins that season because of course they had won an important game after the first meal consumed.

Joan also took her teams to state as the golf coach.

She devoted many hours to helping the kids perfect their game and had state finishes for many. As anyone who follows Class C golf in Montana knows, the spring is not the most conducive time to have competition in our northern climate. Players and coaches alike endure some pretty awful weather to compete in the game.  But Joan had a love for golf, and a greater love for the kids, so she willingly coached the high school team as well as volunteered for the Junior Program at Madison Meadows Golf Course. She also worked at the golf course for many summers and was the smiling face behind the counter that knew what was going on.

A sign still remains that reserves a spot for Joan Schilling Parking, although you never knew if it would be her trusty Toyota, or her moped.

She was a member of the Ladies League from its’ inception and loved the competition and the camaraderie. 

At the 19th hole, she loved her cocktail but lamented when it was her turn to cook—however, she became a master of chips and salsa. Although she never gave birth, she counted hundreds of kids as “hers”.  Because state golf competition often falls on Mother’s Day weekend, she lovingly told one player’s Mom that her daughter was “hers” on Mother’s Day, “You can have her the rest of the year.”

This was a feeling that she had for so many. She loved them and it was mutual. In fact, there was a time when she was asked how she would describe herself. She replied, “I bleed green.” Boy did she!

Although some of her greatest influence was connected to athletics, her goal as a teacher was to see anyone excel in anything that interested them. Many non-athletes went on to explore new adventures in life because she encouraged them.  She often lamented that kids today needed time to “just play” and learn what they loved most. Encouragement and compassion were not just words, they were vowels in her world. Students responded to this by sharing their lives with her.

One former student made a Christmas ornament for her every year, all of which were found in a special place after her passing.  Some families were lucky enough to have both parents and students taught by her. She was a caregiver for her mother and disabled sister and loved having her nephew with her.

Joan’s struggles with health began 14 years ago with a diagnosis of cancer. 

It was something that would never leave her and eventually took her from us.  Friends and family rallied around her and were encouraged when she showed signs of remission several times.  Madison Meadows had fundraisers during tournaments to help her struggle, and she humbly said, “Someone else should have it.”

The Ennis school dedicated fundraisers, including Pack It In Pink Nights.  The showing of support was overwhelming for the lady loved by all. 

The player that got the motivational bop during that challenge game eventually became one of Joan’s fellow teachers and coaches and arranged for the track kids to clean Joan’s yard each spring after she became ill.  She evoked that kind of loyalty and love from virtually everyone who was blessed enough to call her friend or teacher. People gave back for all she had given them.

Not honoring Joan after she was gone was not an option for those whose lives she touched.

The Madison Meadows Ladies Association gives a scholastic scholarship every year and voted unanimously to rename that scholarship The Joan Schilling Memorial Scholarship. 

Joan also loved softball and members of the Co-Ed softball teams will hold a softball tournament next spring that will have proceeds given to the scholarship fund.   Joan’s fellow teachers in The Madison Valley Education Association also hope to hold a golf tournament next year that will donate funds to the scholarship.  The Madison Valley Women’s Association, through the Nearly New, will donate proceeds from Joan’s belongings to that fund also.  What better way to honor a true educator!

The community will have a permanent reminder of this awesome lady.  The Madison Valley Education Association requested that a group of buildings that house the art, building trades, and shop classes be named The Joan Schilling Memorial Complex, and donated funds to purchase a metal cutout from Fury Metalworks that was designed by Mariah Oliver of Signs West. 

They are very appreciative that the Ennis School Board voted unanimously to honor Joan in this way.  The school will hold a dedication of the buildings at the conclusion of the C Squad volleyball game in the high school, during the Senior Night volleyball on Thursday, October 11.

The game will be their annual “Pack It In Pink” night, something that was dedicated to Joan in the past.  Members of the Volleyball Squad will hold a bake sale that evening, with all proceeds going to the purchase of the metal lettering that will honor Joan.  Please join them, to “Pack it In Pink” one more time for this woman who made a difference in so many lives.

Joan is so missed, but will never be forgotten.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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