Joann Turk was an anchor of Redondo Beach King Harbor
JoAnn Turk represented the World War II generation that built King Harbor and for whom community service was an unshirkable duty
by Kevin Cody
Upon learning in early 2017 that Polly’s on the Pier would have to close, JoAnn Turk told the Redondo Beach City Council, “We’re fine with whatever the city decides, and would hope to relocate, but if we go too far from where we are, we’ll falter.”
Over the preceding three decades, Turk and husband Terry had made their simple breakfast restaurant, which rocked with the surges of the harbor, an anchor for the community. Night herons on the wood pier railing watched over outdoor tables where old friends met on the same day every week. Families traced their first visits to previous generations and artists found a seascape for nostalgia fans.
When the battered pier was finally closed in early 2018, Turk told the City Council, with characteristic gratitude and humility, “You’ve all individually encouraged us, and the city staff couldn’t have been nicer. It’ll be different for us. We hope we can live up to your expectations.”
She did. Customers followed Polly’s across the harbor parking lot to its new location on the International Boardwalk, content to wait for the Sport Fishing pier to be rebuilt and Polly’s to be restored to its rightful place over the water.
But when Polly’s returns to the pier it will be without Turk. She passed away from cancer at her Manhattan Beach home on Tuesday, Feb. 12, at age 80, marking the further fading away of the World War II generation that built King Harbor and for whom community service was an unshirkable duty.
In 2013, Mayor Mike Gin honored Turk with the Mayor’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Turk’s previous honors included Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year (1998-99) and Chamber Volunteer of the Year (2006-2007).
Turked served as president of the Redondo Beach Round Table, and was a co-founder of Cheers for Children, the Lobster Festival, the Redondo Beach Visitors Bureau, and an annual fishing trip for students with severe disabilities.
In addition to Polly’s on the Pier, she and her husband owned or managed half a dozen other harbor businesses, including Redondo Beach Sportfishing and Whale Watch.
But for all of her contributions to her adopted city, Turk never sought the spotlight and was largely unknown outside the tight circle of Redondo’s political and business leaders.
“I’m flabbergasted and so overwhelmed. If I’d known this was going happen I’d have worn a girdle,” Turk said when Mayor Gin presented her with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Though protective of her personal life, Turk opened up to fellow American Martyrs parishioners during a 2009 religious retreat. The following is excerpted from “JoAnn’s story,” which she wrote on that retreat.
Although I have experienced plenty of downs that come with the sickness and loss of many close friends and a large family…I choose to look at my life as one of a lot of ups.
I grew up on a farm in southwestern Minnesota, the youngest of six siblings. My parents were hard working, religious, proud farmers and we kids all had to share in the work, pulling weeds in the fields, helping feed the animals, driving tractors during planting and harvesting, taking care of the garden and helping mom with the housework…
We were poor, I guess by many standards, but I never felt poor because we always had plenty to eat from the farm and I got a new dress or two every year for Easter and Christmas. I envied kids who lived in town because they were close to the movies and school activities and such. But now I realize the childhood I had on the farm was an amazing gift…
My parents were good Catholics and we drove 10 miles to church every Sunday, even when a blizzard or tornado was threatening. During Lent and while my older brother was stationed overseas during the war, we knelt down every night before or after dinner to say the rosary.
My mother came from a family of nine and my father from a family of eight. So I had lots of aunts and uncles and cousins, all of whom lived on farms in rural towns within 50 miles of our farm, in Iowa or South Dakota. Going to visit them or having them come to visit was a major part of our social life on Sundays. Going to a movie was a big treat perhaps once or twice a year. We didn’t have a television until I was a junior in high school, so we listened to the radio and did a lot of reading, sewing and baking to pass the time. We did puzzles and played cards and games to entertain ourselves in the winter. In the summer, we were too busy in the fields to have leisure time.
Although I was very content to live on the farm, I was always dreaming about the outside world and where I would end up in it. My dad asked me one day what I wanted to be when I grew up. He said, ‘Do you want to be a nurse, a teacher or a secretary?” So I chose to go to business college in Mankato, Minnesota, about 120 miles from our farm.
I was pretty good at secretarial skills and I could take shorthand well and could type really fast. I went back to the farm and applied for a job in nearby Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where I could feel safe and come home on weekends to be with my family. God had other ideas for me and nothing turned up. After a few weeks, a friend from business school called and asked would I like to go with her to Minneapolis, where other friends from school had landed. I did and I ended up getting a job at the University of Minnesota.
I loved our life in Minneapolis, but about a year later my friend Pat and I were standing on the corner outside our apartment house in the blowing snow, waiting for the bus. As we hovered with our backs to the wind, bundled in parkas, boots, caps and scarves, she said, “JoAnn, I have an aunt who lives in Hermosa Beach, California, and I don’t want to spend another winter in Minnesota.”
My parents took me to the train station and us two naive and starry-eyed 19-year-olds came to California with two suitcases apiece.
I found a temporary job at the Chamber of Commerce in Hermosa Beach for three weeks and from there I was recruited by the manager of the Bank of America in Hermosa Beach to be his secretary.
Every Saturday and Sunday, we would go to the beach from early in the morning until late in the afternoon, laying on the sand and chatting with friends, walking the surf, playing volleyball and bicycling. We thought we were in heaven. We couldn’t understand people who lived close to the beach who would spend their Saturdays running errands and doing laundry instead of going to the beach.
In the meantime, my husband to be, Terry, whom I hadn’t yet met, was working at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Arizona, between college semesters when his friend Neil called to say he was moving to California, did Terry want to go with him? They stopped to eat at a restaurant midway, and the female bartender asked where they were headed. They said California. Where in California? They didn’t know. The bartender said, “Go to Manhattan Beach.”
They both landed in management training programs at Bank of America and Terry was assigned to my bank in Hermosa Beach. I was on the manager’s platform and he was in operations across the lobby and he kept watching me across the bank.
We were married Sept 11, 1968, at American Martyrs.
In 1968, we bought a 40-foot wooden ketch with Terry’s sister and her husband and we all quit our jobs and sailed off on an adventure voyage along Mexico and Central America and through the Panama Canal and throughout the Caribbean and parts of South America and back to Redondo Beach. We sailed 15,000 miles in 15 months and experienced many wonderful places. This gave us a wanderlust that we retain to this day.
When we returned from our voyage to Redondo Beach, I went to work for an exciting entrepreneur [Chuck Johnson, owner of Redondo Beach Marina], which led us to investments with him in a marina, restaurant, sport fishing boats, and many other exciting ventures. I was his vice president in several corporations and when he died [in 2004] I became president of the Redondo Beach Marina.
Terry and I never had children, but between us we have 33 nephews and nieces, many of whom we have helped with their education. Our house has been a destination for many visits. They all think we live in Paradise.
I sometimes think about what my life would have been like if God hadn’t been guiding me. Whenever I came to a fork in the road and didn’t know which way to go, God would gently close a gate to one and open the other and it would turn out to be exactly the way I needed to go. Luckily, God was nudging this unsophisticated farm girl forward at every turn and laying out an amazing life for her.
A Memorial Mass for JoAnn Turk will be held Monday, Feb. 25, at 10:30 a.m, at American Martyrs Catholic Church, followed by a reception in O’Donnell Hall. The church and hall are located at 624-15th St., Manhattan Beach. Flowers are welcome, as are donations to a charity of one’s choice.
by Kevin Cody
Kevin is the publisher of Easy Reader and Beach. Share your news tips. 310 372-4611 ext. 110 or kevin[at]easyreadernews[dot]com