Josephine Ann ‘Jo’ DeWitt, 88
Josephine Ann “Jo” DeWitt passed away in her sleep on December 30, 2023, at Canyon Creek Memory Care in Billings, Mont., ending a life filled with good works, countless friendships, and many, many laughs.
According to family lore, Josephine was delivered in Freeman, South Dakota, on Valentine’s Day, 1935, when her father, Joseph J. Hofer, picked up a box at the post office on his way home for lunch. Upon delivering the box to his wife, Anna (Pollman) Hofer, the couple discovered a 9 lb. baby girl. Josie, as she was then known, and her beloved older brother Harris were raised in Bethany Mennonite Church. After graduating from Freeman High School, where she was both salutatorian and president of the Class of 1953, Jo attended Yankton College. There she completed her B.A. magna cum laude in U.S. history and was honored as Miss Pioneer at the school’s 1956 homecoming festivities, further testament to both her intellect and charisma.
After graduation she moved to Watertown, South Dakota, to teach history and German. There she met John DeWitt (1929-1996) of Brookings, S.D., a fellow teacher and football coach. Convinced after their first date that he was the man she wanted to marry, she waited for him to come to a similar realization. When he failed to do so quickly enough, she enrolled in a master’s degree program at the University of Nebraska. John finally wised up and the two married in 1959, allowing the entire DeWitt family to benefit from her sharp wit, spectacular sense of humor, and impeccable judgment.
Membership in the DeWitt family also provided a larger platform for her to demonstrate her savant-like capacity for remembering birth, death, and anniversary dates in a manner later copied by Facebook. Returning to Watertown, she proved herself a gifted teacher, receiving a National Defense Education Act fellowship for study in Europe in 1963 and inspiring some of her own students to become German teachers. In 1966 the couple and their two-year-old daughter, Jennifer, moved to Tempe, Arizona, where John began a doctoral program at Arizona State University and Jo taught high school German in Scottsdale.
In 1968, the DeWitts moved to Powell, Wyo., so John could take the position of dean of students at Northwest College. Their son, John Joseph DeWitt, was born there in 1973. In the ensuing decades, Jo served as the college’s German instructor and contributed to community well-being through a range of service and charitable activities, including stalwart membership at St. John’s Episcopal Church (she was a reliable volunteer at St. John’s Thrift Shop), P.E.O., Fine Arts, and Lifeline, among others. She continuously promoted cultural education, serving as an organizer for statewide language festivals, engaging with international students, and hosting exchange students from Brazil, Germany and the Netherlands.
She was a sharp bridge player and maintained membership in as many as three bridge clubs at once. She took particular pride in having introduced her Thursday night bridge club to chislic, a culinary delicacy from Freeman that became an annual tradition for the group and resulted in the consumption of large quantities of beer. Upon John’s retirement from Northwest in 1988, Jo was an asset as he ran for — and was elected to — the Wyoming House of Representatives. After her husband’s tragically early death, she briefly moved to Laramie, Wyo., where she served as housemother for the Pi Beta Phi sorority, quickly acquiring a cadre of young fans and yet another network of smart, funny women. Jo returned to Powell in 1999 and remained there until she moved to the Canyon Creek home in 2022.
Jo and John were avid travelers, an interest that Jo continued to pursue with gusto. Crawfish-themed Hofer gatherings in Louisiana were a favorite and the family remains convinced that she should have won her age group during the Breaux-Bridge Crawfish Festival. Jo particularly loved traveling to wherever in the world her daughter and son-in-law were assigned by the U.S. Department of State and made repeated trips to Cuba, China, Venezuela, Jamaica, and Egypt, culminating in a Christmas trip to the Netherlands (finally!) just before the pandemic. She adored (and was adored by) her grandchildren, John DeWitt Walsh and Josephine Anna Walsh. Her charm and generosity made her a much-beloved aunt, mentor, friend, and teacher.
She is survived by her children, Jennifer (Richard) Walsh and John (Erika), and her two grandchildren, as well as her sister-in-law, Wyona Hofer, of Freeman, and nephew Keith (Joann Smith) Hofer of Marion.
Josephine was preceded in death by her parents, brother Harris, and two of his children, Patricia Ann and Theodore Joseph Hofer, and by her husband.
Memorials may be sent to the Mennonite Central Committee or to the NWC Foundation for the John and Josephine DeWitt Scholarship, 231 West 6th St. Powell, WY, 82435. Gifts can also be made online atnwcollegefoundation.org/give