Joan Deppa, Ph.D.

Obituary of Joan Alice Deppa, Ph.D.

Joan Alice Deppa, Ph.D. 82, journalist, author, and longtime professor at Syracuse University, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, November 17, 2021, at her home in DeWitt, New York. Born on February 21, 1939, in Lansing, Michigan, to Dr. Woodrow A. Deppa and Helen E. (Mayes) Deppa, Joan (or as her family called her, Jo) decided when she was 18 years old that she would not live a boring life. The life she led was fascinating and anything but boring. Upon graduating from Michigan State University with an undergraduate degree in journalism, Joan spent 16 years as a newspaper and wire service journalist, including seven years in Europe as a correspondent and editor for United Press International. As a woman in what was, at the time, a highly male-dominated profession, Joan endured her share of sexism and unfair treatment, but embraced her role as a trailblazer. On assignments all over Europe, Joan covered everything from Parisian fashion shows to the Arab-Israeli war. According to an article in the University of Syracuse newspaper The Daily Orange, Joan’s UPI assignments included interviewing Prince Rainier of Monaco, covering student riots on the Riviera, and profiling an American expatriate who hid French revolutionists in her chateau after the German invasion of World War II. Joan was also one of the first women journalists to cover the Olympic games; at the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France, she was invited to join the U.S. Olympic luge team for a ride on their sled (an offer she respectfully declined). After returning to the United States, Joan became an assistant professor of journalism in the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University, where one of her students recalled that she kept a cobblestone from the Paris riots of 1968 on her desk. Joan earned her Ph.D. in journalism from Michigan State University in 1981 and went on to join the faculty of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in 1984. There, she taught courses in news writing, reporting, critical perspective on news, communicating with computers, electronic publishing, and computer-assisted investigative reporting. An early adopter of technology and its use in the journalistic process, Joan helped establish the Newhouse School’s first computer lab. She retired from the Newhouse School in 2015 after 31 years. In her academic career, Joan mentored and influenced scores of journalists whose ranks include Pulitzer Prize winners. Joan was principal author of the 1994 book, “The Media and Disasters: Pan Am 103”, which chronicled the 1988 bombing and crash of Pan Am Flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people, including 35 Syracuse University students returning home from a study abroad program. Written with three of her colleagues in the Newhouse School, this seminal work examined media coverage of the event in the context of the increasingly powerful role of the media and its effect on the journalistic process. Joan’s research and expertise subsequently expanded to encompass issues related to journalistic and media ethics. She was frequently asked to comment on media coverage of domestic and international catastrophic and terrorist events, including the coverage surrounding September 11, 2001. Among Joan’s teaching passions was grammar, having learned its importance early in her journalism career. Her class “Practical Grammar for Public Communications” – known affectionately by Newhouse School students as “Grammar Slammer” – incorporated interactive computer lessons and slide shows punctuated with her quirky sense of humor. She was known for bringing her beloved Airedale terrier Lolly (short for Lollipop) to the Syracuse campus and often included Lolly in video presentations to help teach grammar concepts that students had trouble grasping. After retiring from Syracuse University, Joan worked on developing an interactive grammar textbook. According to Joan’s profile on the Newhouse School website, she enjoyed “long walks in the woods, reading mysteries, and exploring cool websites.” The anchor of Joan’s life was the land her family owned in Charlevoix County near the village of Boyne Falls in northwest Michigan. The land encompasses a small river and cedar swamp, a red pine plantation, open meadow, and hardwood trees. Joan’s parents raised Christmas trees and kept horses there while she was growing up, and family would visit from far and wide during summer vacations. The family referred to a cabin at the top of the hill as the House of the Three Bears, and in 1998 when Joan’s father and stepmother, Woodrow and EvaBelle, donated a parcel of the land to the Little Traverse Conservancy, it was named the Three Bears Mountain Preserve. For as long as she was able to travel, Joan would return each year to relax, unwind, and write. Joan was a longtime active member of Park Central Presbyterian Church. The care of Joan in her final years by the church’s pastoral team and by her neighbors was invaluable and greatly appreciated by her family. Joan is survived by a son, Chris Taggart, and grandchild, Marie Taggart, both of London, United Kingdom; brothers, Jerold Deppa of Sitka, Alaska, and James Eddy (Judy) of Grandville, Michigan; brothers-in-law and many cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, and former students, all of whom were dear to her, and who will miss her dearly. In addition to her parents Woodrow and Helen, and her stepmother, EvaBelle, Joan was preceded in death by two sisters, Janet Deppa Schultz (Robert) and Julia Deppa Hosley (Thomas). A memorial service will be held for Joan at 11 AM on Saturday, December 11, at Park Central Presbyterian Church, 504 E. Fayette Street, Syracuse, NY 13202. The service will be live-streamed. There will be a reception following the service, if covid restrictions allow. Arrangements are with Fairchild & Meech DeWitt Chapel. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in memory of Dr. Joan A. Deppa to the Little Traverse Conservancy, 3264 Powell Road, Harbor Springs, MI 49740, or online at
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Memorial Service

11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Saturday, December 11, 2021
Park Central Presbyterian Church
504 E. Fayette Street
Syracuse, New York, United States
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