Joan Connor Toenniessen, 86, of Drexel Hill, former managing editor of the Main Line Times and News of Delaware County, a reporter and columnist, and the first female president of the Rotary Club of Ardmore, died Tuesday, April 19, of cardiac arrest at home.
Beginning in the 1960s until her retirement in 2004, Mrs. Toenniessen wrote stories for the Daily Local News in Chester County and covered local events, wrote poignant columns, and edited stories for the Main Line Times and News of Delaware County. She joined the Main Line Times as a local news correspondent in 1966 and served as the paper’s managing editor from 1976 to 1995, overseeing its evolution to colorization, computerized publishing and other innovations.
She knew well the police officers, school board members, politicians and typical locals in Ardmore, Radnor, Upper Merion, and the other towns she covered. Her columns, called “Bits ‘n Pieces, This ‘n That,” were often inside peeks at her vibrant family life or well-considered views on local issues.
“We used typewriters and copy paper, and stories were typed on typesetting machines by men who were longtime employees of Acme Newspapers,” she said in a Main Line Times story that was first published online in 2010.
She became managing editor of the News of Delaware County in 1995 and said in 2010 that her goal as a newsroom leader was simple: “My philosophy was to give the community a local newspaper which reflected the community and served the people and organizations in the community.”
A lifelong social activist and longtime member of the Rotary Club of Ardmore, Mrs. Toenniessen was named the group’s first female president in 1998, served as an assistant district governor after that, and won an award for outstanding service from Rotary International in 2006. She was still active with the Ardmore chapter, serving as writer and editor for its newsletter, when she died.
She was named 2002 Woman of the Year by the Delaware County Woman’s Commission, and earned its Spirit of Excellence Award for individual business achievement. In 2013, she won the Good Neighbor Award from ElderNet of Lower Merion and Narberth.
“My mother was the hardest-working person I knew,” said her son, Mat. “She worked full time as I was growing up, would come home and make dinner, go back to work at the newspaper, and come home after midnight. She would sleep a few hours and get up to get us off to school and then go back to work. I still don’t know how she lived on four hours of sleep a night.”
Born April 20, 1935, in Bryn Mawr, Joan Connor grew up in Paoli and Berwyn and graduated from Tredyffrin Easttown High School, now Conestoga High, in 1953. Her mother was a writer for a local newspaper, and Mrs. Toenniessen graduated from Syracuse University in 1957 after majoring in American studies and journalism.
She met fellow writer and editor Lowell Toenniessen when they both worked for the Daily Orange, the independent newspaper at Syracuse, and convinced him that she could write a sports story. They married after she graduated, had daughters Linda, Katie, and JoAnna, and son Mat, and lived in Drexel Hill for more than five decades. Her husband worked as a writer and editor for more than three decades at The Inquirer.
Mrs. Toenniessen and her husband spent many summers in Maine, and she belonged to several conservation groups. She was a Girl Scouts leader, hospice volunteer at Delaware County Memorial Hospital, and avid Phillies fan. She liked to bake, garden, and work jigsaw puzzles.
She was a member of St. Bernadette Church in Drexel Hill for more than 50 years, serving as Lay Eucharistic Minister, lecturer, teacher, volunteer gardener and member of the finance committee. She liked to say “rise and shine” and “love and God bless.”
“She had the unique ability to make each person feel special and loved even if she had not known them for long,” said her daughter, Katie. Mrs. Toenniessen’s husband said: “She always looked to help people.”
In addition to her husband and children, Mrs. Toenniessen is survived by 11 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, five sisters, a brother, and other relatives. Two brothers died earlier.
Services were April 25 and 26.
Donations in her name may be made to the Rotary Club of Ardmore, Merion Cricket Club, 325 Montgomery Ave., Haverford, Pa. 19041.