Joanna Vanni, 87

Church musician, animal lover

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Joanna Bernadine Vanni, 87, of Oak Park, died on Jan. 8, 2019. Born to the late Frank and Mary (Breckenridge) Kirchgessner, she was a graduate of Metamora High School class of 1948, Rosary College (Dominican University) class of 1952, and completed master's level coursework at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. She married Steno at St Mary's Church in Metamora, Illinois on May 8, 1954.

A talented pianist and organist, she worked as a church organist in the Oak Park-River Forest community her entire adult life, including 33 years at St. Vincent Ferrer, followed by time at St Giles, Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church, and River Forest United Methodist Church, from which she retired in 2016. She filled in often as a substitute organist at nearly all the Catholic churches in the area and played for hundreds of weddings and funerals. 

A lifelong lover and supporter of the arts, she was a member of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Architectural Foundation, and the Guild of American Organists. She was a season ticketholder to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera, and Joffrey Ballet for decades. 

She was also an ardent animal lover and donated generously to numerous animal rescue organizations. She spoiled her "granddogs" and "grandkitties" with reckless abandon, saying she could do so because they did not have to grow up to be responsible adults.

In addition to her musical endeavors, she worked full time as an insurance claims administrator for Employers Insurance of Wausau (now owned by Nationwide) for 23 years, where she formed lifelong friendships with many of her co-workers. Ahead of her time in many respects, she often commuted to work at Wausau via bicycle rather than drive in busy Oak Park traffic.

In her retirement years she traveled extensively in the U.S. and Europe and visited many of the great cathedrals in Europe, checking out their organs along the way. As a devout Catholic, it was a joy for her to travel in a way that fulfilled her both spiritually and musically.

Joanna was preceded in death by her loving husband, Steno; her daughter, Sylvia Candela; and her siblings, Fr. Julius Kirchgessner, Gene Elbert, Albert Kirchgessner, Isabel and Anna Belle Kirchgessner.

She is survived by her children, Paul Vanni, Bill Vanni (Lori), Jim Vanni (Julie), and Jane Vanni-Noone (Kevin); and her grandchildren Chrissy (Ben), Stanley, and Aidan.

Visitation was held on Jan. 14 from 3 to 8 p.m., at Drechsler, Brown, & Williams Funeral Home in Oak Park. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at St. Catherine/St. Lucy, 38 N. Austin Blvd., on Jan. 15, followed by interment at Queen of Heaven Cemetery. 

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the American Diabetes Association, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

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