Joan Bennett Walton (nee Cleary) passed away peacefully with family around her at Manatee Memorial Hospital, Bradenton, FL on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. She was 85 years old.

Joan was a dearly loved daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother. She was a writer, librarian, National Park Service Ranger, history teacher and gardener. Born Joan Lucille Cleary in Bellingham, WA September 20, 1936, she was the eldest of four. Joan began her college career studying journalism at the University of Portland, then left after two years to marry Richard Bennett and together have eight children and 27 loving years of marriage. They traveled from Oregon to the Southern California desert to the Severn River in Maryland and finally settled in Gettysburg, PA.

While living in Gettysburg, Richard passed away. Resilient, Joan decided to enroll at Hood College, completing a bachelor’s degree and graduate with honors. Shortly after, she met Dr. Charles Walton and shared 29 years and a loving marriage with many fun adventures and travels. Growing up in Washington and Oregon, Joan’s time with her grandparents and parents instilled in her a love of adventure, courage in the face of adversity—the pioneer spirit and the desire to be a lifelong learner. These values sustained her through moving far from her family and friends, mothering eight children and becoming a widow at a young age. Passionate about learning, literature and poetry, she wrote articles, became a grade school librarian and wrote and delivered talks as a National Park Service Ranger for the Eisenhower National Historic Site and the Gettysburg Battlefield children’s programs. After earning her degree and teaching certificate, she taught history for several years. Later in life she took French classes and joined the Writer’s Circle at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL where she made many friends.

Joan felt strongly about preserving history and had just finished her memoirs the day she suddenly went to the hospital. She had also been writing a historical novel based on real events of her ancestors. Joan held herself to high standards and lived life fully. Along with academic pursuits, Joan had other interests. She was an excellent gardener who used organic gardening methods before they were widely popular. She believed in exercise and with her husband, Charlie entered 5K races in her 60s and was still paddling her kayak in her mid 80s. Joan loved her family. She was pleased and proud not only of what her children have done but also of who they are. Reflecting on Joan’s life, her children realize what a legacy she has passed on through her example and encouragement. Her joie de vivre will be remembered and live on!

Joan was preceded in death by her first husband, Richard Bennett; her parents, Howard and Margaret (Moore) Cleary; her sister, Kathleen (Cleary) Sugarman and daughter-in-law, Dorothy (Ehlers) Bennett. She is survived by her loving husband, Charles Walton of Palmetto FL; her eight children, Mark Bennett (Cathy), Patrick Bennett (Peggy), Maureen Keenan (Thomas), Elizabeth Hadfield (Paul), Thomas Bennett (Clare), Teresa Gibbons (Patrick), Matthew Bennett (Coleen), Marianne Boyle (Daniel) her sister, Dorothy (Cleary) Girard; brother, Paul Cleary (Judy); 25 beloved grandchildren and 8 beloved great-grandchildren. Funeral mass will be celebrated at 10:30AM, Thursday, June 2, 2022 at Holy Cross Catholic Church, Palmetto, FL. In lieu of flowers, please donate in her memory to Hood College (

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