Joy M. Smage, 92, of Elkhorn, WI, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, August 18, 2021 at her home on Smage Farms. Joy Marie Gernhardt, born June 14, 1929, was the oldest daughter and second child of Frederick C. Gernhardt II and Mary Magdelene (Marie) Hilgers. Joy was born at her Grandma Hilgers’ home on Sunnyside Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.
By the time Joy started first grade, her family moved from the city to Des Plaines, a northwest suburb of Chicago. Her father commuted to his printing job in Chicago. He also built their house as they could afford. She attended grade school (1-6) and junior high (7&8) in Des Plaines, and was valedictorian of her 8th grade class.
It was during the Des Plaines years Joy developed a love for horses. One of the boys in her class had animals at home, and while Joy was interested in watching him ride a pig, she was more interested he had a horse, too. Though Joy was rather shy, it was helpful her sister Carole, who was two years younger, would go with to do the talking and learn more about his horse. Her sister was her life-long best friend.
Another influence on her love of horses was her Uncle Tom Hilgers who bought a “gentleman’s farm”. Not much acreage, but a homestead with most importantly, a barn for horses.
Joy was valedictorian of her high school class in 1947. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater with an Economics degree with minors in Spanish and Social Studies. Joy was a member of Omicron Delta Epsilon Honor Society in Economics and received an award from The Wall Street Journal (she read this newspaper every day) for Economics. She obtained her masters in Economics and taught Economics at the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater for 17 years, along with other area schools.
She married Harold W. Smage on September 11, 1948 at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Crystal Lake, Illinois. Harold, too, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Harold’s parents were immigrants from Latvia. Joy’s grandparents immigrated from Germany. Living in separate ethnic neighborhoods, they never met in the city.
From the age of 12, Joy owned a horse. So when newlyweds, Harold and Joy, looked for a farm in Wisconsin, they both knew it must have pasture and barn space for horses. The original 160 acre farm on Bray Road was named “Joy Acres”. Horses have always been as much a part of Joy Acres and later Smage Farms as corn, soy beans, wheat and hay. Joy rode horses until she was 90. She enjoyed trail riding with her sister, Carole, and sharing her love of horses with family and friends.
She was a partner with the large family farm operation doing machinery operation, bookkeeping, general “gopher”, field operations and tax preparation, along with property maintenance and management. When they first purchased Joy Acres, it was a dairy farm. With just the two of them for labor, and with Joy growing into her life as a farm wife and mother, life was busy and challenging.
Machinery at the time had much less capacity than today’s machinery used today on Smage Farms. Tasks that took days or weeks then only take hours now. In 1956, they sold the cows and concentrated on adding acreage and on grain farming.
Joy was involved in elected offices which included Walworth County Board of Supervisors serving on audit, farm, highway, hospital, and judicial committees (1976-1984) and as a Clerk for the Town of LaFayette (1977-1983).
“Active” doesn’t summarize this amazing woman’s endeavors which included volunteer work as a 4-H Project Leader and SMILES (Special Methods in Learning Equine Skills) therapeutic riding program where she also served on the Board of Directors (1986-1998). She was a member of the University of Wisconsin Extension Homemakers (since 1950), United Methodist Women (since 1950), Walworth Country Boots and Saddle Club (since 1950), Kettle Moraine Saddle Club, Tanbark and Trails Saddle Club, Walworth County Horse and Pony Association, The Mild Bunch (trail riders), Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation, The Nature Conservancy - Wisconsin Chapter.
The loves of her life were family, farm, friends, food, fun, freedom, horses, and more horses, and all God’s Glorious Creation. The Pond was a favorite gathering place for family and friends where she could share the beauty and tranquility of Joy Acres.
When Joy wasn’t horseback riding she enjoyed swimming (water ballet in junior high school and college), bicycling, hiking, snowmobiling, playing the piano, organ, cello, and piano accordion. She also liked riding her ATV around Smage Farms which she did until 5 weeks ago.
One of her favorite “Rad Grandma” moments, was in 2011 when she flew to California to be on the America’s Got Talent as her grandsons, Phil and Patrick were competing as top 10 contestants in the Smage Riding Show. She laid on the floor with her son, Noel, daughter-in-law, Sharilyn, and others, as her grandsons jumped over them with their trials bikes. The emcee even had her assist going to a commercial. She also was featured on many of grandson’s Phil Smage’s rad videos which can be found on YouTube.
“Joy” was so perfectly named for what she brings to all of our lives. Her optimism, tenacity, intelligence, sense of adventure, and storytelling are legendary. She will be forever in our hearts and we are all inspired by her loving and generous spirit.
She is survived by her daughter Terry Smage Johnson, and sons Robin (Linda) Smage, Harold (Bill) (Corrine) Smage, Jr., and Noel (Sharilyn) Smage, as well as twelve grandchildren - Matthew, Mark, Garette, Michael, Genelle, and Mitchell Johnson; David, Phillip, Larissa (Torkelson) and Patrick (Hannah) Smage; and Erin (Heiser) and Brenda Smage, along with 24 great-grandchildren. She is preceded in death by her husband, Harold, her parents, sister and best friend Carole, and brothers Frederick and Ralph, along with her grandson-in-law, Deric Hahn.
A visitation will be held on Saturday, August 28, 2021 at St. John’s Church, 104 S. Broad St., Elkhorn, WI from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. followed by a memorial service at 11:00 a.m., immediately followed by a luncheon at the Church. At 2:00 p.m. a processional will depart the church to Smage Pond. Haase Lockwood & Associates is assisting with arrangements. Donations can be made to the Southern Kettle Moraine Horse Trail Association via their Facebook page or to a charity of your choice. Online guest book available at www.haaselockwoodfhs.com.
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