The Hudson Valley recently lost its greatest tour guide. Author, publisher, and journalist Joanne Michaels died on December 15, at the age of 69, at Vassar Brother Medical Center in Poughkeepsie. The cause of death was COVID-19.
Michaels was the author of 10 books, and is best known locally for her guidebooks of the Hudson Valley, which include The Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains: Only the Best Places, Let’s Take the Kids, Hudson River Valley Farms, and Famous Woodstock Cooks. She also wrote The Joy of Divorce, and her first book, Living Contradictions: The Women of the Baby Boom Come of Age, published by Simon & Schuster, was translated into several languages and has been used as source material in graduate-level women’s studies courses.
The Woodstock resident, who grew up in Shrub Oak, was also editor-in-chief of Hudson Valley magazine in the early ’80s and a regular and valued contributor to this magazine up until her death. She was the author of a quarterly column entitled “Hidden Corners of the Hudson Valley” and her most recent article, an essay for the “Final Word” column, ran in the November issue.
The 11th edition of The Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains: Only the Best Places was the topic of the November column. In her essay she described how she personally distributed the newly published book to the public during the pandemic, when many of the venues that sold the books (such as historic sites) were shuttered. She wrote: “Soon I was traveling masked throughout the Hudson Valley and Catskills …I found myself opening new accounts at pharmacy gift shops, delis, and farm markets. These bustling businesses couldn’t get enough books.”
Michaels’ son, Erik Berlin, a software manager engineer at Twitter and the founder and CEO of Breaker Inc., describes his mother — who also had her own one-woman publishing company, JMB Publications — as “entrepreneurial in the same way that I am. She found this niche that she carved out for herself…She was very savvy with the books that she worked on. They were these very practical books that people do buy.”
Berlin remembers fondly the many daytrips he took with his mom while growing up in the Hudson Valley — which became material for Let’s Take the Kids, now in its 5th edition. “I have very vivid memories of getting in the car, me and three of my friends in the backseat and my mom driving. She would take us to the Zoom Flume waterpark and various places, restaurants and things. And then, we would have a great day together. On the car ride home or over lunch she would sort of interview us, ‘What did you think of that?’ That would be the basis for her writing.”
Michaels’ sister, Nancy Michaels, a nurse and resident of Kingston, says her sister was “a very social, outgoing person with a good heart. I think a lot of what she did with her business was connect people. She made some money, but she loved connecting people in a way that would benefit them. She was always trying to fight someone’s battle for them or just help someone out who had fallen on hard times.”
“And she loved the Hudson Valley,” Michaels continues. “We used to laugh…and blame her for everything being overrun in the Hudson Valley. ‘You know if you didn’t write all these books, people wouldn’t be coming up here and clogging up the roads and the restaurants and everything else.’ So, she did a good job.”
As Joanne Michaels’ assigning editor, I can certainly verify that. If ever we needed to find a hidden corner of the Hudson Valley, Joanne was our go-to person. She will be dearly missed.
In addition to her son and sister, Michaels is survived by her mother, Renee Michaels, her daughter-in-law, Diana Berlin, and her grandchildren, Cooper and Bentley.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Planned Parenthood, whose work she supported.