Published: Wednesday, November 11, 2009

USO memory maker

Lynnwood woman recreates sounds, feel of 1940s with special benefit performance

By Oscar Halpert
For the Enterprise
Joannie Jackson Schendel, 86, performs during the USO Revue at the South County Senior Center in Edmonds Nov. 8.

Purchase Photo Reprint For the Enterprise/HEIDI HOFFMAN

Joannie Jackson Schendel, 86, performs during the USO Revue at the South County Senior Center in Edmonds Nov. 8.

Name a tune from the 1940s, and Joannie Jackson Schendel can sing it — from memory. And what a memory she has.
During that decade she sang them all, entertaining the troops throughout the South Pacific and Europe.
Schendel, 86, helped an audience remember those times with a special “USO Revue” performance, Nov. 8. The event benefited the South County Senior Center.
“She's got a memory a mile long,” said Bob Jones, director of the Sound Singers, a choir comprised of seniors who rehearse at the center.
With her close friend of 40 years, piano accompanist June Tonkin, the Lynnwood resident recreated the look and feel of a 1940s USO show.
Couples danced the jitterbug, tables were adorned. On one table, Schendel carefully placed a photograph of her brother, Daniel Gust, 91, the recipient of 29 medals of honor for his World War II military service, one of the oldest, most decorated war heroes on the East Coast.
She sang in church at the age of 3, but her singing career really began at 11 years old when she was paid to sing on WLS radio in Chicago.
When Japanese pilots attacked Pearl Harbor Schendel, then 17 years old, had just started at UCLA but wanted to join the war effort.
As an accomplished soloist, Schendel was asked to volunteer as a performer with the newly formed USO.
Following the war, she returned aboard a ship bound for New York's harbor. It was there she launched her Broadway career, singing in productions of South Pacific, Oklahoma and Guys and Dolls.
Schendel moved to Los Angeles to work as the understudy and stunt double for screen actress Betty Hutton.
“If she got a pie in the face or was tied to the railroad tracks, that was me,” Schendel recalled.
That experience left Schendel with a back injury, spurring her to seek relief from a Seattle specialist.
In Seattle, she began singing at The Grove nightclub where she met Al Schendel, her future husband. The couple was married 21 years and raised three children.
In the early 1950s Schendel performed on the live local television show “IGA Starliner” with humorist Stan Boreson, and performed at area parties as Happy the Clown.
Momentos of Schendel's career, kept in a storage facility, were destroyed by an arson fire in 1996. “Those are memories I can never get back,” she said. The photos may be gone, but the memories haven't been lost. “The Lord was good to me,” she said, “I can still tell my story even if I can't show it.”