J Michael “Mike” Joell, 90, died June 15, 2019. He was born in Youngstown, OH, to Allen and Gertrude “Trudy” (Dailey) Guarnery, and grew up in Indianapolis, IN. After participating in JROTC and the State Guard of Indiana during high school, Mike enlisted in the United States Navy, serving as a Hospital Corpsman for four years. His deployments to the Pacific included participation in the Hungnam Evacuation during the Korean conflict. The experience of loading and treating wounded troops with shells exploding overhead was one that profoundly affected him, and led to his later involvement with the local anti-nuclear war group Napa Freeze.
After his discharge from the Navy, Mike briefly attended the University of Chicago, before returning to the West coast to be close to his mother and step-father, Francis “Jack” Joell, who lived in Oakland. Using the GI Bill, he attended San Francisco State College, earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science with an emphasis on Urban Studies. He went on to work for the city planning departments in San Diego, Santa Rosa, and Napa, serving as Principal Planner for most of his tenure in Napa, until his retirement from the city in 1981.
In the 1970’s, there were concerns that Napa was growing rapidly and was in danger of spilling over its boundaries, threatening the agricultural lands surrounding the city. As Principal Planner, Mike was instrumental in the establishment of Napa’s Rural-Urban Limit (RUL) Line, protecting Napa County’s agricultural regions from urban sprawl and limiting hillside development.
Mike was passionate about providing recreation spaces for people to enjoy. One focus of his work as Principal Planner was developing parks throughout Napa. He worked to improve play structures at neighborhood parks and was a driving force in the City’s purchase of Westwood Hills Park. Shortly after the park’s opening in 1976, a fire burned a significant portion of the park. In response, Mike helped organize a Napa chapter of the Sierra Club and through that organization led work parties to repair the fire damage.
In the late 1970’s, Mike became involved with the development of the Carolyn Parr Nature Museum, leading work parties to install the Museum trailer at its original Vintage High School location. After the Museum’s move to Westwood Hills Park, he continued to help with projects and spent countless hours volunteering as a board member and docent.
Mike served on the Napa City Council from 1982-1986, running on a slow-growth and pro-parks platform. On the council he continued his advocacy for open space, parks, and carefully planned growth.
After his retirement from public service, Mike joined the Friends of the Napa Library, serving on the board of directors and as Book Sale Manager. He spent many days at the library sorting books and managing book sales. He was instrumental in elevating the visibility of the quarterly book sales, increasing the revenue generated for the benefit of the library. He instituted a policy of providing three free books to children at each book sale; thousands of children have received books thanks to this program.
Mike has been a life-long outdoors enthusiast. In the 1970’s he regularly led Sierra Club hikes, including the hike up Mt. St. Helena in 1972 where he met his wife, Eva. He enjoyed taking his family on camping trips to State and National parks throughout California. Favorite vacation destinations were Plumas-Eureka State Park and Yosemite National Park. In his 70’s Mike took up backpacking; trips on the John Muir Trail in Yosemite were a highlight.
Mike leaves behind his wife, Eva (Abbott) Joell, his children Jon Joell of Santa Rosa, Jennifer Joell (Scott) of Santa Rosa, Diane Schell Engdahl of Oregon, Amy Herzog (Peter) of Napa and Kevin Joell (Jennifer) of Nevada, and his grandchildren Joshua Mathieson (Grace) and Sara Herzog. He is also survived by his brother, William Guarnery (Wanda) of Indiana, and sister Dorothy “DJ” Elford (Russ) of Michigan, and many nieces and nephews. Mike was preceded in death by his sister, Margo Moore Knedlhans.
A memorial service will be held at 2 PM on Friday, June 28, 2019 at the Napa Methodist Church, 625 Randolph Street, Napa. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions to the Carolyn Parr Nature Museum, the Friends of the Napa Library, or a charitable organization of your choice.
To send flowers to J.'s family, please visit our floral section.