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Joanna Mihalik, 65, of Toronto, Ohio passed into rest with the Saints after a short but acute illness on Friday evening, September 22, 2023 in Valley Hospice, Trinity West Hospital in Steubenville, Ohio. Her family was with her at her passing. She left this life having touched a multitude of people, and made them better for the experience.
Joanna was born on August 31, 1958 in Steubenville, Ohio—daughter of the late Olga Kiselica Mihalik and Nicholas A. Mihalik. In addition to her parents, Joanna was preceded in death by her maternal uncles, John, Joseph, and Stephen; her maternal aunts, Rozalia, Mary, Lois, and infant Anna; her paternal uncle, Paul; and her paternal aunts, Mary, Helen, and infant twins.
Joanna is survived by her brother, Nicholas J. Mihalik, his wife, Mary (Masha), and their two daughters, Christina and Eva—all of Endwell, New York. She is also survived by maternal aunts, Lillian Kiselica and Irene Kiselica.
Joanna grew up in the Russian Orthodox religion and maintained her love and practice of her faith throughout her life. And with this faith, Joanna’s qualities as a person and talents as an artist grew to great heights.
As a child, Joanna enjoyed her dolls, campfire girl meetings, and spending time with her grandparents and numerous relatives. Her singing at home and church, coupled with her love of the clarinet in grade school, were the catalysts of her lifelong love of music. Her talent propelled her to then play the piano and participate in numerous solo and ensemble music contests. She even taught herself to play the guitar!
In her years at Toronto High School where she graduated in 1976, Joanna distinguished herself on stage as an actress and perhaps more so, as an incredible singer in productions of Oklahoma, Sound of Music, and Brigadoon. Besides choir, band, and musical theatre, the pinnacle of her high school musical activities came in the form of the John Philip Sousa Award recognizing superior musicianship, dependability, loyalty, and cooperation.
Joanna’s leadership qualities shone as Band President, Representative to the American Legion’s Buckeye Girls State, and her involvement in Future Teachers of America. Participation in a variety of sports rounded out her high school career.
It was time to enter her father’s Alma Mater, Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where she studied voice as an alto under the direction of Nancy Beebe and graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education in 1980. Joanna’s spirit and infectious humor during this time cultivated yet another close-knit group of lifelong friends known as “The Sly Dogs!”
After graduating, she moved to Pennsylvania where she joined the voice faculty of Marywood College in Scranton, PA. In the late 1980s, career pursuits took Joanna to New York City to study voice with Dr. V. William Reed and Claire Alexander, rising through the vocal register from alto to mezzo to soprano. To support herself in the Big Apple, Joanna worked nights at the Law Firm Davis Polk in the Word Processing department.
During her New York years, Joanna built an extensive operatic repertoire which she performed in recitals in Vermont, New York, Ohio (with the Cleveland Opera), and Pennsylvania. Joanna’s performance in a masterclass with American operatic bass Jerome Hines so impressed him, that he praised her “voice, technique, and stage presence.”
In 1990, she briefly apprenticed in Iowa with the Des Moines Metro Opera, and then went on to perform with the prestigious chorus of the New York Metropolitan Opera from 1990 to 1992. She told a close friend that while at the Met, she was always “determined to run faster than any of the other chorus members in order to stand out.” And when her friend saw Joanna in a performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, she did indeed far outrun everyone else!
She made her Metropolitan Opera choral debut in Boris Godunov, an opera of special significance for Joanna because it tapped her pride in her Russian heritage and love of the Slavic languages. This further led her to learn several works of Rachmaninoff, Dvorak, Metner, and Mussorgsky for her recitals.
Joanna performed two concerts which were milestones in her career—Steubenville, Ohio in 1993, and CAMI Hall in New York City in 1994. In both concerts, she was accompanied by her long-time friend and gifted accompanist, Arlene Shrut.
In 1998, Joanna made a pivotal decision not only to turn down a permanent contract with the Metropolitan Opera, but also a European launch of her solo career in order to return home to Toronto, Ohio to take care of her ailing parents. Her devotion to her family superseded her burgeoning career, and she cared for her mother and father through their lingering illnesses for over a decade.
For Joanna, there was no doubt in her mind that she was doing the right thing. Her sense of family responsibility and the love she felt for her parents became her key motivators in life. She was completely selfless, and a true caregiver—a daughter who had a warm heart, a kind smile, and a wonderful sense of humor. Joanna never wavered. After her father passed, it was just Joanna and Blackie, her parents’ beloved cat, in the family home she grew up in.
During these years back in Ohio and before the daily demands of her caretaking escalated, she was able to work at Healthways in Weirton, WV, and more recently, at the Jefferson County Public Library, Main Branch in Steubenville, OH.
In her later years, Joanna cultivated many relationships and projects in Pittsburgh, PA where she performed, taught, and worked as an administrative assistant and content creator for Crafton School of the Arts. For CSA, Joanna’s work ethic was unwavering, and her creativity had no bounds. She was able to think “outside the box” and create systems and strategies for a variety of projects.
Joanna also created her own brand of exquisite hand-crafted greeting cards named “Olga’s Daughter Creations” in honor of her mother. These cards allowed Joanna to share her numerous visual skills as a designer and artist.
Joanna always wanted to be helpful in peoples’ lives. Her warmth and personality drew people in, and she would quickly become a friend that you could always trust and rely on. In the last couple of weeks, her friends and family rallied around her and held her close to their hearts.
Please come and celebrate Joanna’s life. Visitation for Joanna will be held on Thursday, September 28 from 2–4 p.m. and 6–8 p.m. at the J.E. Foster Funeral Home, 701 Findley Street, Toronto, OH 43964. There will be another visitation on Friday, September 29 from 9–10 a.m., with the funeral immediately following at 10 a.m., both at Foster Funeral Home. Presiding will be Father Daniel Meschter. A funeral procession to Union Cemetery in Steubenville, OH will follow the funeral service. The Mihalik family invites friends and guests to join them for a reception following internment—location to be announced at the funeral.
Additional Notes from Recital Program at Steubenville High school, April 2, 1993
Joanna Mihalik moves into the soprano repertoire after a mezzo-soprano career which featured her in roles including Madame Flora (The Medium), Ameris (Aida), Composer (Ariadne auf Naxos), Giovanna Seymour (Anna Bolena), Amahl’s Mother (Amahl and the Night Visitors), and Ruth (The Pirates of Penzance). She served an apprenticeship with the Des Moines Metro Opera during their 1990 season, singing comprimario roles in von Flotow’s Martha and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov.
The 1990 season holds special significance for Ms. Mihalik as it marked her choral debut with the Metropolitan Opera, appearing as a member of its chorus in Boris Godunov and Parsifal. She is at home on the concert stage, performing as soloist in oratorios including Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Rossini’s Stabat Mater and Bach’s Magnificat.
Additional Notes from Recital Program at CAMI Hall, New York City, December 1, 1994
Joanna Mihalik returns to the concert stage in New York City following recital appearances in Vermont, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. She has been featured on both the oratorio and operatic stage, performing in Bach’s Magnificat, Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s C Minor and Coronation masses, The Medium, Amahl and the Night Visitors, Martha, Ariadne auf Naxos, and Anna Bolena.
Verdi figures prominently in Joanna’s current vocal repertoire [including the roles of Amelia (Un Ballo in Maschera) and Leonora (Il Trovatore)].
Wagner is her next composer of choice. Under the guidance of her long-time teacher, Dr. V. William Reed, and the recent addition to her vocal team, Claire Alexander, Joanna will begin preparing the roles of Elisabeth (Tannhauser) and Elsa (Lohengrin). Her love of the Wagnerian repertoire grew out of her participation in Parsifal and Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, both Metropolitan productions in which Joanna appeared as a member of the chorus.
She made her Metropolitan Opera choral debut in Boris Godunov. Boris holds special significance for Joanna due to her Russian heritage. Pride in that heritage and love of the Slavic languages continues to stimulate her interest in Rachmaninoff, Dvorak, Metner, and Mussorgsky and she plans to specialize in this repertoire.