Valdosta Daily Times

March 18, 2013

Birthday open house planned for Joanne Griner

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Friends plan to throw a public birthday party for the person who helped found Theatre Guild Valdosta, the person who created the Azalea Festival, the long-time bookkeeper of First Baptist Church, a co-creator of the Mr. Green community calendar, and more.

And only one person will have to blow out the candles.

Scheduled for next weekend, the party is to celebrate the 80th birthday of Joanne Griner. It is hosted by Donald Davis, Mary Ann Green, Kay Jennett, Jack Newbury, Jack Pruden, and Mary Helen Watson.

It is a chance to not only celebrate Griner’s 80th birthday but the opportunity to thank her for all she has accomplished for the community, according to organizers.

She was born Joanne Williams on March 10, 1933, in Plains. She was born in the same hospital as President Jimmy Carter.

At the height of the Great Depression, Joanne’s father, Mobley Williams, was an unemployed banker. Mobley, wife Josephine, and the Williams family moved to Adel. He opened Williams Mercantile, a clothing store, and Joanne grew up in Adel.

She met Ray Griner there. Upon graduating high school, Joanne left Cook County for Florida State University. She earned a degree in theatre. Upon graduating from FSU, she married Ray Griner in 1954.

She did not pursue a career. Like many women of the 1950s, she devoted herself to the duties of wife and mother. She and Ray had three children: Cathy, Robert and Becky.

Ray’s job took the Griners to many states, Oklahoma, Texas, Connecticut, where they spent 13 years. There, Joanne Griner became a high school substitute teacher. At Becky’s request, Joanne ensured that she would never serve as a sub in one of her daughter’s classes. Joanne took the responsibility of scheduling the substitute teachers.

In the mid-1980s, Joanne and Ray divorced after 29 years of marriage. She studied bookkeeping and accounting.

In 1985, she returned to South Georgia. She moved to Valdosta, where her mother was staying in a nursing home. Nine months after her return, Josephine Williams died. Though she had returned to be closer to her mother, Joanne Griner had already established herself here. She enjoyed the company of old and new friends. She enjoyed seeing familiar places. She found a job keeping books and with Downtown Valdosta’s First Baptist Church, where she still works.

She became active in the creation of Theatre Guild Valdosta and its eventual acquisition of The Dosta Playhouse downtown. She joined the Civitans and the Civic Roundtable. She remains involved with Theatre Guild, having starred this January in “The Trip to Bountiful.”

In 2000, she proposed a festival to celebrate Valdosta and its status as the Azalea City. She founded the Valdosta-Lowndes County Azalea Festival and served as its director for several years. Though no longer director, she remains deeply involved in the festival.

Joanne Griner’s public birthday reception is scheduled for 3-6 p.m. Saturday, March 23, Hildegard’s, 101 E. Central Ave. Cards and good wishes accepted, but no gifts.