In Memoriam: Joanne DeMark

Worked in student leadership, support, and advocacy for more than 16 years

WWU staff member Joanne DeMark, who served at Western for more than 16 years in a variety of student-support and leadership roles, passed away in Lynden on April 27 at the age of 75. DeMark leaves a legacy of achievement both on and off campus in the causes of social justice, diversity, inclusion, and leadership development. She retired in February 2024.

DeMark began her time at Western as the Leadership Development Specialist in the Viking Union/Associated Students, and as a leadership trainer for the WWU Human Resources office. While at the university she taught in the Morse Leadership Institute and Cross-Cultural Studies, led the Viking Union Leadership and Community Engagement program, was the chair of the LGBTQ Council, developed campus leadership programs, and implemented a four-year sequential leadership program.

Many of DeMark’s peers expressed sadness at her passing, and were eager to share their thoughts on her impact on them.

Christina Van Wingerden, the academic program director for Western’s Human Services program, worked alongside DeMark for years.

“Joanne worked tirelessly towards equity -- she was fearless. She was courageous. She lived her passion for women and others, especially from historically marginalized and marginalized backgrounds to be seen, counted, and respected. Joanne's presence and advocacy have touched people's lives,” she said.

Frederick Collins, who is now serving as the interim director of Student Involvement in the VU, also worked with DeMark for years in the Viking Union leadership, and said, simply, “Joanne exhibited a lust for life throughout this organization."

Ronna Biggs, the director of New Student Services/Family Outreach at Western, like so many of Joanne’s colleagues, painted a picture of DeMark as an involved, passionate advocate for Western’s students.

“Joanne was a heart-centered professional who readily considered and placed students first. I admired Joanne’s nature as a passionate educator, which was fueled by her willingness to be a lifelong learner. Joanne sought to lift and elevate the people around her and was a tireless advocate for social justice, especially serving as a leader in advancing LGBTQ+ rights, resources, and visibility on our campus,” Biggs said.

Karen Stout, director of Western's Morse Leadership Institute and its Bowman Distinguished Professor of Leadership Studies, described DeMark’s impact not only on her, but on the institute’s students.

"Joanne was a passionate and fierce advocate for students, particularly those from marginalized backgrounds, to develop themselves as leaders and find their passions," said Stout. "It was easy to have a conversation with Joanne that could last for hours before you realized how much time had passed."

Joanne’s legacy will be honored with a brick that will be placed on WWU's Memory Walk in front of Old Main, a gift that staff members and colleagues joined together to purchase. The brick is carved with the words, "In Honor of Joanne DeMark, PhD - LGBTQIA+ Advocate."

The DeMark family plans to organize an online memorial for Joanne in late summer, and a group of her friends and colleagues from campus will sprinkle some of DeMark’s ashes in a ceremony later this month.

Explore more of DeMark’s legacy and impact on both the campus and those around her in her obituary, here