December 3, 1935 – February 7, 2023
Eleanor Jo Brubaker, 87, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Salem, Oregon, with her daughters by her side. Her active life was cut short by a progressive neurological illness but her loving, fun, resilient spirit shone through to the end.
Jo, as she liked to be called, was born on Dec. 3, 1935, in Centralia, Washington, to Russell and Eleanor Ponder (later Eleanor Jones). She was the youngest of four children and had fond childhood memories of playing with her siblings Jean, Tom and Dick, and with friends. As a child, she loved to visit her cousins on their farm.
Tragically, Jo’s father, Russell, was killed in an automobile accident in 1941 when she was 5 years old. Through that crisis, her mother, siblings, extended family and community rallied around the Ponder family with support. Jo remembered being treated like a princess by her wonderful big brothers as she grew up.
Jo Ponder was active and social as a young woman. She graduated in 1953 from Chehalis High School, where she participated in numerous clubs and activities. Notably, she served as class vice president her sophomore year, and as president of the Girls’ Club her senior year. She was crowned Farmerette Queen her sophomore year and named “Most Capable” young woman of her senior class. She played on the tennis team, worked on the school yearbook and in her spare time took piano lessons.
Jo attended the University of Washington in Seattle and joined the Alpha Delta Pi sorority. She met her future husband, William “Bill” Brubaker III, through a Greek system singing function. He was the Phi Kappa Psi guy behind her who kept tapping her on the shoulder to talk. She graduated in March 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in home economics and earned her teaching certificate.
She taught home economics in Hoquiam, Washington, for the 1958-1959 school year, while her fiance, Bill, lived in Eureka, California, and worked for the California Redwood Association. They married on July 11, 1959, at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Chehalis, Washington. They honeymooned in Hawaii and relocated to Sausalito, California. Jo taught home economics there. She remembered how some of her students had trouble pronouncing her married name, so instead they called her “Ms. Blueberry.”
Bill and Jo next moved around the country as part of Bill’s career, living in Seattle, New York City, Akron, Ohio, and Portland. During this time, they started a family, welcoming daughters Betsy and Susan “Susie.”
In 1969, Bill, Jo, and the girls moved to Ashland and the house on Ivy Lane that would be the family home for the next 48 years. They loved Ashland, put down roots and made many friends. They worked hard to improve their home, redesigning the landscaping and remodeling the house, doing much of the labor themselves.
Jo was a wonderful homemaker, wife, and mother, always caring for her family. Bill’s job with Wellons Inc. of Sherwood, Oregon, as a sales representative required extensive out-of-town travel, often four to five days per week. Jo capably and cheerfully managed the extra parenting and household duties, ensuring a great home life for her family. When her daughters were in high school, she began seasonal work at Southern Oregon University in registration and at the bookstore.
Bill died on Oct. 1, 1992, at the age of 57, while out of town on a business trip. It was a huge loss for Jo and the girls. She often commented how much she missed the fun times they had together, but she carried on with characteristic resilience and built a new life.
After Bill’s death, Jo worked in the Tudor Guild Gift Shop at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where she had volunteered for many years. Then, from 1998 to 2012, she worked in the Member’s Lounge at OSF. She was a perfect fit for the position, with her social nature, kindness, and knowledge of Ashland and the festival. She attended every play she could during those years at the festival, which greatly enriched her life.
Jo’s life was also filled with community, friends, physical activity, travel, and music. She was a longtime member of the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland. She was also a charter member (1971) of Chapter EE of P.E.O., in Ashland, serving as president at one point. She played for years with a bridge group.
Jo loved being active with friends and family in tennis, skiing, bicycling, hiking (including a hike up Mount McLoughlin), gym workouts and walking. She also loved to travel and was an excellent traveling companion. In addition to many U.S. trips, her overseas travels included Switzerland, France, Italy, England and China.
Music had been a part of Jo’s life since childhood, and she was a wonderful pianist. Neighbors commented how much they loved the warm days when doors were opened and they could hear her playing. She enjoyed playing classical music, including Chopin and Debussy, the ragtime composer Scott Joplin, and popular songs from past decades. Jo had season tickets to the Rogue Valley Symphony for many years.
Jo loved her life and friends in Ashland, but in 2017 she made the decision to sell her home and move to Salem, Oregon, to be near family. She lived at Hidden Lakes retirement community, and then moved to Boone Ridge Assisted Living because of health challenges. She was a favorite with caregivers for her kind nature and sense of humor. They mourned with family when she passed away.
Jo was preceded in death by her husband, William “Bill” Brubaker III; her parents, Russell Lee Ponder and Eleanor Caroline Ponder (later Eleanor Jones); and her siblings, Jean (Ponder) Holderman, Thomas Ponder, and Richard “Dick” Ponder.
She is survived by her daughters, Betsy Romeo (Jeffrey Romeo) of Salem, and Susan “Susie” Brubaker-Cole (Kyle Cole) of Stanford, California, and her grandchildren: Evan Brubaker Cole, Eleanor Brubaker Cole, Stephanie Romeo, Rachel Romeo, and Madison Romeo.
A memorial service led by the Rev. Dan Fowler will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 25, at the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, 1615 Clark Ave. (corner of Walker and Siskiyou). A reception with light refreshments will follow at the church’s Calvin Hall.
A private graveside service will be held separately at Scenic Hills Memorial Park in Ashland.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to one of the following charities in memory of Eleanor Jo Brubaker:
• First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, P.O. Box 626, Ashland, OR 97520. Donations may also be made online on the church website: firstpresashland.org.
• P.E.O. Chapter EE Memorial Scholarship Fund at Southern Oregon University Foundation. Contact SOU Foundation at: giving.sou.edu or 541-552-6127 for more information.
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