One of the best rooms at LoneStarCon to sit back and watch the convention was the
fan lounge, a gathering place for fans of all eras. At previous worldcons the fan
lounge was the place to meet prominent fans like Don C. Thompson, Bob Shaw, and Sam
Moskowitz. They are gone now, and we've all been diminished by their passing; the
unfortunate truth is that the list of those absent is getting longer all the time.
We're closing this issue with a three-part remembrance of another prominent fan who
will be missed...
Joni, They Hardly Knew Ya'
by Mike Glicksohn
When my friend and fan extraordinaire Joni Stopa passed away at the end of 1996, the two fannish news sources I rely on to maintain my tenuous contact with fandom (Ansible and Apparachik) reported on her death in a single sentence. I thought that was sad, but understandable. It's quite possible that neither Dave Langford nor Andy Hooper ever had the good fortune to meet Joni. Which was most definitely their loss but that's what the growth and diversification of fandom has resulted in.
But Joni was too good a person and too important a contributor to fandom to allow her passing to be encompassed in a single sentence. At least, she was in my eyes...
I'll leave it to others to document the impact Joni had on science fiction fandom in general but I venture to guess that there are literally tens of thousands of fans who've been active over the last four decades and/or who are active today who owe a great debt to Joni Stopa even though they may never heard her name.
For it was Joni who helped Bjo Trimble establish the first Art Show held at a science fiction convention and it was Jon and Joni Stopa who, through their participation as award-winning contestants, judges and organizers, helped raise the Worldcon Masquerade to its current position as one of the three major spectacular/extravaganza events that delineate our annual gathering.
Had Joni not been there to establish the ground rules for two of the most important events in fandom's year, someone else would undoubtedly have done so. But the simple historical fact is that every fan who simply enjoys looking at or buys artwork at a science fiction art show or participates in or enjoys watching a masquerade owes a nod of thanks to Joni Stopa.
But I'm not here to write about Joni's influence on fandom-at-large, large though that may be. I'm here to pay homage to Joni's influence on fandom-at-small...or at least "short"... Short, that is, as in me. And, through me, a small but I like to think not insignificant part of today's fandom.
Fandom being the way it is, I have no clear memory of when I first met Joni Stopa. But it was undoubtedly in the early-to-mid `70s and she and Jon were undoubtedly considered by most active and knowledge fans to be BNFs. Since we were fellow residents of what was some years later to be known as "The Wimpy Zone", we probably met at a Windycon or a Minicon or possible a Midwestcon. And since Joni and I shared a love of fandom, parties, booze, parties, conversation, parties, fanzines, and parties I doubt it took long for us to become friendly fannish acquaintances.
Over the next twenty-five years we became friends. Not close friends, which is odd considering the profound influence Joni had (and still is having) on my life, but good friends. Two people who respected, liked and admired each other, always enjoyed each other's company and spent many dozens and possibly hundreds of hours in enjoyable (if frequently somewhat inebriated) conversation.
We met at conventions all across the midwest, at occasional worldcons, and Jon and Joni once visited me here in Toronto. But many of our most memorable encounters took place at the Stopa's beautiful house amidst the vast acreage of the ski-lodge they managed in southern Wisconsin, at the eventually-legendary annual Fourth of July party known as Wilcon.
Wilcon 20 took place in 1982 so apparently the first party was in 1963, a little over two years before I even knew such a place as Science Fiction Fandom ever existed. By the time I attended by first Wilcon, number 14 in 1976, the Stopa's annual "come-if-we-ask-you/pay-and-work-if-you-want-to-come-back" picnic was the stuff of fannish legend.
In winter, Wilmot Mountain was a ski resort. In summer, it was a party animal's wet dream. Acre after acre of rolling hills, grass, trees, even a lake, with the mountain dominating the skyline, a ski lodge with a full professional kitchen a few minutes walk from the Stopa's large and beautiful home, all supervised by two of the most charming and generous hosts any party could possibly hope for.
And the guest list (most or less invitational but whatever the criteria for inclusion were they weren't all that difficult to meet) was pretty well a Who's Who of mid-west science fiction fandom and prodom which made for a very big, very crowded and very enjoyable weekend-long gathering of many of the most enjoyable and interesting people I've met in over thirty years as a fan.
This is, I'm afraid, not a history of Wilcon. If it inspires someone to write one I'll be delighted. But the eight years during which I was a regular attendee at Wilcon's -- which went on, in various forms, for many years after circumstances forced me to stop attending -- coincided with one of my "wild and crazy" periods of being a fan so what memories remain to me of my many enjoyable hours at Wilmot Mountain are suspect indeed...
But I'll always remember smoothing with Bob Tucker on the enclosed porch, poker games with the likes of Joe Haldeman and Gordie Dickson and Phyllis Eisenstein on that same porch, playing "air hockey-poker" with Bill Habel and Suzi Stefl on the very same porch (don't ask!), chasing frisbees all over the tent-covered lawns with Ben Zuhl (and watching Madman Riley running into large trees in his single minded pursuit of said plastic disks), scaling Wilmot Mountain to enjoy an intimate moment with a fellow fan and wondering if my deliberate scream of "Rosebud" reached Tucker at the house below, the time I tossed one thousand dollars in traveler's checks onto the poker table just in time to hear a (very young) Phil Foglio at the low stakes table right behind me cry out, "Five cents! You're raising five cents!", Joni rendering me speechless with the gift of a bottle of Chivas Royal Salute because in her eyes I'd done her a favour by treating her as a normal person, working the breakfast and lunch and dinner work-crews all three days of the weekend to make up for keeping some people at the thirty-eight hour poker table the year before so they missed their work shifts and, of course, watching Madman make an important point by thrusting his hand vehemently into the air...right into the fully operational overhead fan.
I attended eight straight Wilcons from 1976 to 1983 and every one was a wonderful party and a memorable experience. I learned to put up with the up-to-twenty cats Joni could have any given year, with Madman getting up at six in the morning and waking up the many fans sleeping in tents all around the Stopa house by cranking up the stereo and blasting hard rock through Jon's magnificent speakers. I learned to enjoy helping those who knew how to cook or helping clean up after sixty or seventy always-hungry fans had descended like locusts on the ski lodge dining room. And most of all I learned to enjoy being with fans I liked to party with and learned to appreciate how important it is to maintain contact with the people you love (or even like.)
So in 1980, in a blatant steal from Joni's Wilcon, my dear friend Michael Harper (whose parents had the good sense to give birth to him at the end of May just eight days after my own birthday) and I decided to invite our friends to a fannish party in Toronto at the end of May. And since the name 'Torcon' had already been used but we still wanted to follow Joni's convention for naming a Damned Fine Fannish Party, we decided to call it 'Mikecon'. (Because neither of us had a house that could accommodate around twenty sleeping guests or a couple of hundred acres of land where people could pitch tents or a full-sized commercial restaurant/kitchen to call upon, our party was substantially different in style from Joni's. But in feeling it was the same, and over the next few years the guest lists overlapped more than just a little.)
Later that same year I attended Wilcon 18. And just two weeks ago (as I type) Mike and Mike held Mikecon 18 and a few of us who are old farts and have long memories got together for a quiet moment and raised a glass and toasted Joni Stopa and acknowledged that if it hadn't been for Joni we might not have been there roasting a pig and playing cards and drinking beer and talking abut every subject under the sun and enjoying being with our friends, many of whom happen to be award-winning science fiction fans and writers but so what, they're still nice people.
That's the sort of person Joni Stopa was. By caring for people and by giving of herself completely without restraint she touched the lives of all those who knew her and a great many who did not.
Most of the people enjoying a worldcon masquerade don't know what they owe to Joni. Many of the people having fun at a Mikecon don't know that it all comes down to Joni. And that's just the way Joni would have wanted it.
But *I* know what a debt I owe her and so do all the people who ever attended a Wilcon or went to a party she and Jon had at a convention or attended a wedding held at Wilmot Mountain or received a care package from her or benefitted from her amazing and unexpected generosity. (There are still remnants of jars of jam Joni gave us in the cupboard and every day Susan looks after plants grown from bulbs Joni sent us just weeks before she died and some of the empty bottles that sit on the plate shelves in our living room some from Joni and will be there for Mikecon 20 and 25 and 30 and...)
Fandom would not be what it is today were it not for Joni. And my life and my fannish history would be very different from what they are were it not for her.
Which is why a single sentence could never encompass all that Joni was or all that she gave to the fandom she loved so much.
- - - - - - - - - -
Tribute to a Dear Friend
by Martha Beck
It is very hard to write about someone who was so close and important in out lives. Joni was more than a dear friend for thirty-four years -- she and Jon and Deb became family.
My husband Hank and I were very fortunate that Jon and Joni came to see us in September 1996. In the first five years we've lived in Arizona, they made many trips out to visit. But this time it was different -- somehow I knew I would never see her again, and we spent more than a week, just lazing around, talking old times, and telling her how much we loved her.
Some early memories... The 1961 Pittcon. There were two beautiful women, each wearing very little, being chased by pros and fans alike. Someone told me the girl with the grapes attached to the chiffon was Joni Doyle. Pappa Villy (Willy Ley) and Isaac Asimov were in front of the long line of admirers, undoubtedly trying to prove they loved grapes! That was just my second worldcon, and my introduction to two of my favorite Ghods. However, even though we were both at the convention, I didn't actually meet Joni for two more years, when she married Jon and moved to his ski lodge in Wisconsin.
I have so many memories of Joni at cons and parties. She and Jon would kidnap me at least twice a year and take me to Midwestcon and Minicon. And of course, there was Wilcon -- their very own convention held at the ski lodge, usually over the Fourth of July. If you attended, you were expected to help, cook, clean, bring food & drink. Those who didn't received a gold 'brick' on their invitation the next year. They had started Wilcon before their house was even built (they lived at the lodge at the time). Back in 1963, Jon and Joni were still in honeymoon state and didn't go to a party at Earl Kemp's place in Chicago, so we decided (in the middle of the night) to go up to Wisconsin (leaving the Beck and Kemp kids back in Chicago with an excellent babysitter: Fritz Leiber!) and skinny-dip in their nice sized pond -- two cars full of happy fans! When we arrived we pounded on their door, but being sound sleepers (ha!) they wouldn't come out and join us, so we went swimming without them. To this day, Jon does not believe we were there!
Over the years I watched Joni become a gourmet cook and a professional gardener (she would forget the common name from plants, but never the Latin ones). By the time I got to know her she was already a professional commercial artist, and fine writer. Joni's secret charities were numerous, and for every one I was in on, there were dozens I didn't know about. Over the years, I have found many other fans and pros that very quietly helped fandom. But until they like Joni, are gone, I will not tell of them.
Maybe someday I will try to write about the many and varied jokes (some taking years) we were all a part of, but now I must close; Jon is here and we are leaving tomorrow for San Antonio and the Worldcon. So if you see a fat old lady being pushed by a young good looking man at the convention, say hello -- it won't be Jon!!!
- - - - - - - - - -
I Remember Joni...
by Bill Mallardi
...But then, once anyone met Joni, how could you forget her? If memory serves, she was the first or second fan I ever met in fandom. Joni Stopa, as she's been known for more than 30 years, passed away in the early morning hours of December 4, 1996, of complications from a heart problem, plus a stroke and staph infection. The heart problem caused her to collapse on Friday, November 8th, at Windycon. She was 56.
When I first met Joni, she was Joni Cornell, 18, recently divorced with a two-year-old child, Debbie, and living in Monessen, PA. I had been reading science fiction for more than six years, when in 1958 I picked up a prozine and saw an ad in the back from a female named Marijane Johnson asking for correspondents, and mentioning a club of SF fans, the N3F. Being 21, I wrote to her thinking she was a young, pretty single gal, kind of hoping to start a friendship with a bit of romance to it. To my surprise, it turned out Marijane was a bed-ridden woman in her `40s, with a severe form of childhood rheumatism, a bad spine and occasionally even on oxygen. She had an electric wheelchair with all kinds of straps and gizmos on it, plus an intricate metal lift that got her in and out of bed, etc. She called the chair 'Mr. Clancy'. Janey had a personality that wouldn't quit, so everyone called her 'Sparkle-Janey'. She conned me into joining N3F, and one of the welcome letters I received was from a pretty, young gal, and of course it was Joni.
When Joni sent me a picture of herself, my heart flipped. She was not only attractive, but also intelligent with a great sense of humor. In our letters to each other we always stuck funny quips, etc., inside. So one night while watching TV, I spotted a commercial with a great line. It was animated (I think for Mr. Clean detergent) with the talking drops stopping in mid-air on their way into a bucket of hot water, and with a distressed look at the camera asking: "Do you know what it means to be Emulsified?" In my next letter I used it as an interlineation -- and Joni loved it! In letters, even in person at cons, all we had to do to break each other up was to turn suddenly to the other and say that line. Another time she mentioned that her cat got outside and had a tryst in the fields, ending up pregnant. I countered with: "What?! Your cat had kittens at her age? Whatever in the world got into her?"
Both of us missed the `59 Detention, but Pittsburgh got the bid for 1960 -- so Joni and I planned on a big welcome from each other when we met. (She promised to give me a big kiss, and I was looking forward to it.) I took two weeks vacation and a non-fan friend and I went to New York City for five days. He was to drop me off at the con hotel on the way home, and I would find my own way back to Akron. (I met Ray Schaffer of North Canton, Ohio, who brought me home afterwards).
1960 was the first year for Project Art Show, started by Bjo Trimble and Dirce Archer. Instead of having Bjo transport all the artwork from California, Dirce drafted Joni to be the 'mail drop' -- which meant that all the bundles of artwork were shipped by the artists to Joni's small apartment. When Bjo knocked on Joni's door to get it, Joni said, "You're here! You can get this art out of here!" There was art filling up the hallway, so you had to sidle sideways to get through, and artwork was in every available space throughout the whole apartment! I certainly didn't help matters any, because in my haste to leave for New York it was inevitable I'd miss something. This time it was three pairs of pants I'd forgotten to get at the cleaners. I remembered them too late though, since I was in New York at the time! Not going to be there long enough for my folks to send them to New York, I hit upon a devilish plan. I wrote home and had my folks send the pants to Joni in Monessen. At the same time I wrote Joni, telling her to expect their arrival, and she could give them to me when I got my kiss.
The great day came and I arrived late Saturday. Checking into my room, I dumped everything down and rushed up to the 17th floor to find Joni. Hurrying into the room where the Art Show was being set up, I looked frantically around. I asked someone if Joni was there and he pointed out a slim, 5-foot 2-inch tall beautiful blue-eyed blonde, who was behind some tables talking on the phone. She looked up at me, and I stretched my arms out wide and yelled, "Joni, baby!" Hurriedly, she hung up and yelled back, "Bill Mallardi!"...and she leaped over the table. (Well, no, actually she ran around from behind it). She threw herself into my arms, her arms encircled by neck, and as I held her completely off the floor she gave me two big kisses!! "Goshwow," I thought, "What are all these other fans thinking?" Then Joni did it...she pulled the clincher. The Perfect Squelcheroo! "Bill," she said loudly as I set her back down on the floor, "I've got your pants right over there!" You should have seen the fans look our way with arched eyebrows. "C'mon," she said, taking my hand, "Let's go up to your room and I'll press them for you. I brought an iron." So Al Lewis, Dave and Carol Prosser, and Gregg Trend all trouped up to my room, and Joni and I explained it on the way, much to my relief! Thus ended the Saga of "The Great Pants Scandal."
Jon Stopa also first saw Joni at Pittcon. It was just outside the door of the Art Show, which she was setting up. "I need volunteers," she said forcefully, aiming her words at Harlan Ellison. "Do you know who I am?" he asked. She said she didn't care who he was. At that point Jon ducked out! Another story from the con was that she had sat on Isaac Asimov's lap while wearing her costume ball outfit, a gown with grapes tied to it. Asimov obligingly ate the grapes, one by one.
Pittcon was so much fun Joni and I made plans to make Seattle in 1961. Al Lewis also liked Joni, so when he took his teacher's vacation he drove from L.A. to Pennsylvania, picked up Joni and Debbie, then went back to California. She stayed at Al's house until time to leave for Seacon. The Plan was for me to join up with a caravan of two other cars with my white, 1960 Valiant at Earl Kemp's in Chicago. On the way back Joni would ride east with me and whoever else was in the car from the Chicago group. During the trip west, Al and Joni stopped at many fans' abodes to stay for the night. The first stop was in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, adjoining Akron, to visit with the president of the N3F, an older fan named Ralph Holland. With my parents permission, they then drove to Fairlawn to spend the night with us.
Unfortunately, when I left later for the hook-up with Earl and company in Chicago, I mis-timed it badly. I thought it took six hours to drive, but it actually took eight! When I arrived there was a note on Earl's door: "Bill, we had to leave with two cars. Try to catch up to us if you can." Great! Here I had worked all night, had no sleep for 24 hours, and had to keep driving across the country alone. By dint of continuous driving and finding small motels that let me sleep five hours for $5, I finally caught up to them in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I was totally exhausted when Earl Kemp pulled me aside and said, "Bill, the only driver/rider for you is a Jon Stopa, but don't let him drive more than two hours at a time, he's got a bad back." Groan. It turned out though, that Jon could only drive Kemp's big Buick two hours before his back started hurting, but my little Valiant was so easy to drive that he drove it four, five, six, and seven hours straight, both coming and going, before it bothered him. That model had a long hood, but a short, 'bobbed' rear end with one unusual styling feature: the trunk lid had the imprint of a false tire cover stamped into it.
Meanwhile, back in the N3F, many Neffers, including Joni and I, had taken up a collection to get the aforementioned Sparkle-Janey to attend Seacon, since she lived in nearby Spokane. (This was in addition to the TAFF fund, won by England's Ella Parker that year.) Our fund was large enough to buy Janey plane tickets, etc., and she said later she only spent $10 of her own money the whole time. (It would be Janey's first and only con -- she passed away a few years later.)
After the plane tickets were bought, unknown to us, Janey's protective parents talked her into not going, fearing for her care and safety. It so happened that Bjo and John Trimble were coming back from Billings, Montana, and decided to stop in and see if Janey needed anything for the trip, but her parents almost didn't let them in the house! Talking persistently and promising that we fans would give Janey 24-hour-care or hire a professional care-giver, plus the fact that the plane tickets were already purchased, they finally succeeded in getting them to agree, much to Janey's delight.
Dick Eney picked Janey up at the Seattle Airport, and from then on Joni, Phil Freedman, Jane Jacobs, Ralph Holland, Al Lewis, Gem Carr, and I plus many others, took care of her at Seacon. The hotel also furnished a babysitter for Debbie and Janey while Joni went to some of the con affairs and nighttime parties, plus Mr. Clancy and the lift were constantly in use.
Joni even made a costume for Janey for the Masquerade Ball; she went as "Queen of the Cats" -- Joni dressed her in a long green robe, with a silver cat's head on her bosom and a crown on her head. Even Mr. Clancy was dressed up with a coat of foil feathers on the sides. (Joni was in big demand by others, too, to help them with their costumes.) I volunteered to push Janey the three times around the Ballroom with the other costumed fans; she grinned like a Cheshire cat. Joni ended up winning the prize for 'The Most' category, which means she had on the least.
Janey missed a lot of the con activities because she tired so easily, so she missed the banquet and Heinlein's Guest of Honor speech. Joni had put her to bed, leaving some money for Ralph Holland to use to buy her a big dinner. Later, Joni came rushing in before Janey fell asleep, saying she had a visitor. To her surprise in walked GoH Robert Heinlein himself! Joni and Phil sat on the floor, while Heinlein sat in a big chair. Soon Buz and Elinor Busby, Poul and Karen Anderson, Sylvia White, and others walked in.
Heinlein stayed almost three hours talking and relaxing until 2 AM, and told Janey he felt more "unwound" than he had all day. It thrilled Janey no end, and just like a lot of things at the con, I'm sure Joni was involved in some way or another. The last day of the con Joni packed Janey's luggage for the flight home, but we still had her birthday to celebrate; Phil brought the punch makings, and Bjo showed up with a cake. We lit the candles and sang "Happy Birthday", then Sandy Cuttrell and Ted Johnston brought guitars and filk songs were sung. Rumor has it that Forry Ackerman even had an alcoholic beverage!
When we packed to leave for home, there was not only Jon, Joni, Debbie, and myself, but two sort of fringe-type fans from Chicago, boy and girlfriend, who asked to come along! I only recall his first name, George, but his lady friend's name I've forgotten completely! We took turns driving on the trip back and shared expenses, gas, food, lodging. Everyone had sleeping bags, so most of the time we camped out along the way. Jon, George, and I packed that small trunk with as much stuff as we could, including some unsold artwork of Joni's. The rest was shoved onto the shelf inside the back window. Every stop at night we had to remember exactly where everything went. When we left next morning, if we put something else in that spot we couldn't close the trunk lid! Last to go in were the sleeping bags, since they were so pliable. The next time we opened the trunk, the bag on top actually retained the impress of that false tire cover! That trunk was full.
When Joni drove she loved to kick off her shoes and drive barefoot, which I didn't mind until we got into the beautiful mountains of Glacier National Park in Montana. It scared the hell out of me, because every time we went down the mountains, she'd put the car in neutral! "Joni," I said, "If our brakes fail on these steep grades we're goners! We won't even have the engine's compression to help slow us down!" "Bill, don't worry, I'm just trying to save gas! We'll be all right!" Luckily, we had no car problems at all.
During the trip I knew that Joni and Jon were attracted to each other, but Joni knew what she was doing, and if it turned serious everything would work out for the best. As it turned out, they were made for each other, even their names were similar. But Joni held off marrying Jon for a year and a half before consenting and joining him in Wilmot, Wisconsin. When Bill Bowers and I started Double:Bill in October 1962, Joni was a life recipient, and contributed covers, articles, and interior illos. She appeared in our last issue, D:B #21 and illustrated her own article, "The Iron Womb and I," a humorous piece about the ads in back of the old pulps...like: "Ruptured?"
Of course, Joni and Jon went on to many good things: winning eight costume ball prizes over the years, holding Wilcons, etc., culminating in being Fan Guests of Honor at Chicon 5 in 1991.
I will miss Joni very much, she was a beautiful person inside and out, and fandom is the lesser for her leaving us. Very talented in many ways, she never turned down anyone who asked for help, from costume making to volunteering for anything fannish. Her kindness to Sparkle-Janey was also a tribute to her that not too many fans of today knew about. She was definitely special to me..I knew her almost 40 years, and my only regret now is that I was Gafiated the whole time she grew ill, and I knew nothing of it...thus I never saw her ever again. Yes, I guess in my own way I loved her, and a song I heard on the radio recently barely expresses my feelings:
It was an old song by Kris Kristofferson, and it said, "She's not ashamed to be a woman to afraid to be a friend, and lovin' her was easier than anything I'll ever do again..."
G'Bye, Joni...you were loved more than you know...
(Many thanks to Jon Stopa and Bjo Trimble for their help to me in preparing this article.)
All illustrations by Diana Harlan Stein