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Photographer, Educator Joanna Lightner Dies at 63

June 24, 2010 By:
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Joanna Rickel Lightner, 63, a professional photographer and educator whose interests in religion were reflected in both her career choices, died June 15 after a long bout with leukemia.

Among the Elkins Park resident's many clients as a photographer were the Jewish Exponent and Inside magazine, as well as the Catholic Standard and Times, showcasing an encompassing talent and ecumenical spirit.

She was also an award-winning adjunct professor of religion at Rutgers University/Camden, where Lightner earned the Sybil Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching, and was hailed by students and fellow faculty for her warm and dedicated commitment.

Lightner also served as a group facilitator for such organizations as the local branch of the Anti-Defamation League and the Fellowship Farm, a human-relations group operating out of Pottstown.

Barry Morrison, regional director of the ADL, recalled her effectiveness as facilitator, helping "participants in workshops to challenge their biases and bigotry. She brought a graciousness, kindness and serenity, as well as a wisdom to her work."

As a photographer, Lightner was a graceful presence as well, taking photos with a quiet professionalism, whether it was a breaking news story or feature which her work would deftly illuminate.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University -- where she gained a master's in religion, and where she was also a teaching assistant, winning a Distinguished Teaching Award for her efforts in 1990 -- she broke into photography at the behest of her husband David, a longtime photographer himself who encouraged his wife to pursue a budding interest in the field. He watched as his wife eased from her studies at the Art Institute of Philadelphia in 1995 to a career covering events for a variety of clients.

She was also involved in photography as a fine art -- a direction she pursued with passion typical of her other career choices.

Her commitment to communal interests added to a busy schedule as she combined concerns, bringing Holocaust survivors into her classes at Rutgers to meet and talk to students. The Holocaust hit home, as some members of her husband's family were survivors.

Conversations with those who knew or worked with her paint a picture of a woman whose own photos radiated with charm and compassion.

Both her husband of 20 years and her brother, David Rickel, are in the process of establishing the Joanna Lightner Foundation for Photography to work with aspiring artists.

In addition to her husband and brother, Lightner is survived by her mother, Ida Rickel. 

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