Joan Ardell Burge

Joan Ardell Burge

June 13, 1933 - May 27, 2024

Joan Ardell Burge

June 13, 1933 - May 27, 2024


Joan Ardell Burge
June 13, 1933 – May 27, 2024

Joan was born in Berrien Springs, Michigan, to parents Floyd and Legia Merrill. She grew up on her parents’ farm with her four younger brothers, George, Dick, Don, and Dale. In addition to farm chores and activities, she learned to play the saxophone and played in her high school marching band. She graduated from St Joseph High School in 1951 and attended the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in Benton Harbor, Michigan, graduating in 1954. She passed the Michigan Board of Nursing exam and became an RN in November 1954. She worked in the local area for the next three years as a pediatric nurse at the tail end of the polio epidemic. In 1958, she was recruited by the Midland, Michigan hospital to be the head nurse of their pediatric hospital. It was there when she was introduced to Jim Burge on a blind date, who was a civil engineer employed by the Michigan Department of Transportation in Cadillac, Michigan. They married in October 1961 after less than a year of dating.

When they returned from their New Orleans honeymoon, Jim found his transfer to Pontiac taped to his desk. The new family moved to Birmingham, Michigan where Joan started working in area hospitals. Their daughter Janet was born in 1963. Jim’s next transfer was to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where their son John was born in 1965. Joan was kept busy chasing after her two very active children and their menagerie of pets (including two salamanders, who after a winter of feeding on meal worms that were hatching in the refrigerator, were released back into the wild as soon as the weather warmed up). She joined the PEO Sisterhood, despite Jim accidently throwing away her first invitation.

In 1974, Jim was transferred to the central office in Lansing, Michigan, and the family moved to nearby Okemos. Joan resumed working, first at a nursing home and then later at the American Red Cross, where she organized clinics to administer swine flu shots. She later took two part-time jobs—one at Michigan State University where she worked with medical students to give them practice with new-born babies and a second one at a local dress shop, where she enjoyed her employee discount.

With both children (mostly) out of the nest, they moved again to Portage, Michigan in 1985. Joan stopped working, freeing her up to volunteer at a variety of organizations, such as the church food pantry, a friends adult day care, the church office, the American Red Cross, and her absolute favorite—the Irvine Gilmore Keyboard Festival, where she got to meet such luminaries as Yo-Yo Ma. Jim retired in 1990, and he joined her in many of her volunteer activities.

The family grew again when they gained a daughter-in-law, Diana Lipson Burge, in 1997. This resulted in Joan and Jim’s biggest life change in 1999, when their first grandchild, Jennifer, was born in Redondo Beach, California. This gave Joan and Jim the incentive they needed to move to Laguna Woods Village (then known as Leisure World) in Laguna Woods California in 2000.  Joan joined the Ladies Nine Hole Golf Club and the California Club, as well as the Laguna Beach PEO chapter. Their second grandchild, Sara, was born in 2003, giving them two grandchildren to take to the pools and out on golf cart rides. She adored her two granddaughters and loved taking them to the zoo and making cookies with them in the kitchen. They brought their family back up to a round number with the addition of son-in-law Bill Craighead in 2014.

Joan loved to travel.  The family would go each summer to Beacon Island on Lake Nipissing, Ontario. She and Jim would also go sailing with friends and once went on a canoe trip to Algonquin Provincial Park, where she endured four nights sleeping in a tent listening for bears. After Jim’s retirement they got serious about travel, going to Spain, Russia, China, New Zealand, Greece, as well as all over the US. They enjoyed cruises, taking their children and grandchildren on trips to Alaska and Mexico.

Joan continued her volunteer work in California and felt that she had found her true calling working with children. She volunteered at the Geneva Presbyterian Church pre-school and at the Boys and Girls Club. Nothing made her happier than to have one of her students come running up to her in the grocery store, exclaiming “Grandma Joan! Grandma Joan!”

Joan died of dementia related causes at ActivCare of Laguna Hills, where she spent the last two years of her life winning at Bingo, visiting the nearby Starbucks, and getting excellent care from the staff, who were as charmed by her as everyone else she met throughout her life. Dementia took a lot from her, but she never forgot her family members, which was a blessing for us all. She will be missed terribly by everyone who knew her, especially her family. She is survived by her husband Jim, daughter Janet (Bill Craighead) Burge, son John (Diana) Burge, granddaughters Jennifer and Sara, her brothers George, Dick, and Don Merrill, and her in-laws Dick and Fay Burge. Joan was predeceased by her brother Dale Merrill and her sisters-in-law Gloria Merrill, Vonnie Merrill, Emma Lou Dalheim, Mary Ann Merrill, Jan Merrill, Donna Merrill, and brother-in-law Ted Dalheim.

A celebration of Joan’s life will be held June 15 at 2:00 pm at O’Connor Mortuary, 25301 Alicia Pkwy, Laguna Hills, California.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that remembrances be made in the form of contributions to Geneva Presbyterian Church or the Boys and Girls Club of Capistrano Valley (, where Joan volunteered for many years.


Celebration Of Life

  • Date & Time: June 15, 2024 (2:00 PM)
  • Venue: O'Connor Mortuary
  • Location: 25301 Alicia Parkway Laguna Hills, CA 92653 - (Get Directions)
  • Phone Number: (949) 581-4300

Geneva Presbyterian Church

Boys & Girls Club Of Capistrano Valley

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1 responses to Joan Ardell Burge

  1. Marsha Craighead says:

    I’m grateful I got to meet and spend some time with Joan. My condolences to her loving family.

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