Joan Mae Haiston O’Brien, 92, died in her sleep Sunday, October 2, 2016. Joan was an original member of the Billings Symphony Orchestra, for which she played the harp for 50 years before retiring in 2001. As one of the few harpists in Billings, she continued to teach private lessons well into her 80s. She loved the sound of the instrument and was often told, “You’ll play first chair when you get to heaven.” Joan had lived in Westpark Village retirement community since 2010 and was a longtime member of First United Methodist Church.
Joan was born December 27, 1923, in Omaha, Nebraska, to Frank Edward Haiston and Lula Donnie Vieth. Joan’s father died when she was 2, and her family moved in with Joan’s maternal grandparents in Oakland, Iowa. Joan’s beloved grandmother died when she was 8 years old, and she often missed her mother, who taught school in a town six miles away—which was such a long trip on dirt roads that Lula was able to come home only on the weekends.
Joan graduated from high school at age 15. She received an associate’s degree from Christian College of Columbia, Missouri, in 1942, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa in Iowa City in 1943. She met James Richmond O’Brien on a blind date while both were attending the university. They were married in 1944 and, after World War II, settled in Billings, where Jim worked as a civil engineer. Jim preceded her in death in 2009, just a few weeks short of their 65th wedding anniversary.
When the oldest of her four children started college, Joan also went back to school to get certified to teach in Montana. She started teaching English and basic math in Worden in 1967 and then taught speech, English, and drama at Lincoln Junior High School in Billings from 1968 to 1985. She was an avid golfer and a member of the Yellowstone Country Club. She also led Girl Scouts and was active in the Billings chapter of Alpha Chi Omega. In her free time, she enjoyed crossword puzzles, bridge, pinochle, baking, needlepoint, knitting, and correcting the grammar of her children and grandchildren.
Joan is survived by her children, Teresa McCombs and her husband, William, of Wichita, Kansas; John O’Brien and his wife, Peggy, of Billings; Barbara King and her husband, Corey, of Snohomish, Washington; and Kathleen Joan O’Brien of Portland, Oregon. She is also survived by nine grandchildren, Carolyn Hill, Janet McCombs, Julie Van Keuren, Jennifer Jasper, Christine Brittle, Renee King, Christopher King, Hilary Contolini, and Jack Wittrock; and 10 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her older sister, Doris Hoffman, in 2007.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Monday, October 10, at First United Methodist Church, 2800 4th Ave. N. The Rev. Tim Hathaway will officiate. Memorial donations may be made to First United Methodist Church.