Pinetop resident Joan Baeza is honored with the Sharlot Hall Award for 2001 for her writing and teaching that has contributed to the understanding and awareness of Arizona history. This career came from a simple childhood desire—Baeza "always wanted to be a cowboy."
Baeza was born Joan Helen Johnson in New Ulm, Minnesota, on April 28, 1931, into a family of journalists. (Both of her grandfathers were small-town newspaper editors.) In 1949, she moved with her parents to Holbrook, Arizona, in part to alleviate her asthma. Her father owned a motel on historic Route 66 during the heyday of that national artery. After spending her junior year abroad at the University of Nottingham, England, she received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Stanford University in 1954.
In 1956, Baeza married rancher Cooney Jeffers and lived on a one hundred-section cattle ranch southwest of Holbrook. Those years were chronicled in Ranch Wife, published by Doubleday in 1964, and reprinted by the University of Arizona Press in 1994. On the reprint’s dust jacket, author Stella Hughes writes, "Ranch Wife gives a fresh look at one rancher’s problems back when ranch owners were ranchers and lived on their ranches and worked harder than the cowboys they hired—and so did their wives…Ranch Wife makes an important contribution to the understanding of the lives of rural women in the American West."
Divorced in 1965, Baeza moved to Pinetop in the White Mountains and has lived there since. She has made her primary living by writing, editing, and teaching for the past twenty years, and has put in fifteen summers working on a fire-lookout tower for the U.S. Forest Service. Baeza has worked full-time as a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, edited the Fort Apache Scout for the White Mountain Apache Tribe, and is a regular contributor to Arizona Highways, Arizona Cowboy, and other major publications. In 2000, she received a Silver Arizona Highways Award.
She has also taught English and creative writing at Northland Pioneer College part-time for nearly twenty years, receiving the Outstanding Associate Faculty Award in 1986. A former student wrote, "Her willingness to share her knowledge of writing and her enthusiasm for students’ work has influenced numerous writers. Many of these students, in part because of her encouragement, have gone on to publish books and stories of their own."
Baeza’s accomplishments were summed up by one of her Sharlot Hall Award nominators, "The focus of her writing brings out a real awareness of the cultural diversity within our state and provides readers with her insights into the lives of American Indians, cowboys, ranchers, and Hispanics."