When she was born on Hans Christian Andersen's birthday, Joan's Danish parents, Lilly and Kay . Her mother had a poem published in the New Yorker when she worked at Macy's department store.

Moving to Miami in 1940, the Nielsen’s lived in the perimeter of Edison high school, where Joan wrote a column for the Edison Herald entitled "Auntie Joan" -- before Ann Landers. Her thrice-weekly teenage activity columns in the Miami News set a precedent in covering parties which she continued as Society Editor. Before entering UM she was an editor of Dade Jr. and Teen magazines. At UM she was the first girl editor of the yearbook Ibis, which was already a national prize winner for three years running.
When her husband Bill McHale became Sen. George Smathers' press secretary, they moved to Washington, DC where Joan ultimately covered The White House for Fairchild Publications, getting the plum assignment to coverJackie Kennedy for Women's Wear Daily. She moved to Coral Gables with her four children<!--more--> and returned to the Miami News as Scene & Heard columnist, plus was appointed fashion and beauty editor, covering the European couture collection in 1969. In 1982, The Good News monthly became a hot item for those hungry for coverage spurned by the Miami Herald as "too elitist." Her children formed the staff, and it grew into the slick four-color Good News' Social magazine for a nearly three decade run.

Her daily two-hour (noon to two) talk show on WKAT during her stint at The Miami Herald (in the 70s) took Joan to New York and California to cover the fashion collections twice a year, interviewing their famous, including movie star George Hamilton. She also taught writing to students at International Fine Arts College, the first period daily, then went to her job at the Miami Herald as assistant special publications editor.

She wrote "Annual Manual" for a yearbook publisher, having kept copious notes on different procedures that made yearbook publishing unique. Worzalla Printing Company published 11 editions of the complete guidebook; they specialized in printing America's college yearbooks.

Ear Dears was the volunteer auxiliary Joan founded for University of Miami projected Ear Institute. Hearing impaired from a shanked golf ball, Joan won trophies from UM Medical School as Volunteer of the Year and Woman of the Year.

Becoming the Chesterfield girl for the back cover of Life magazine (the Warren Commission issue) gave Joan a glamorous look, for she commentated Sunday fashion shows for Mary Norton in the Jockey Club wearing high fashion. On that back page the Florida society editor wore a pink hat and suit which was identical to Jackie Kennedy's famous look.

She has written joke books plus "Scoop du Jour" and "I'm Leaving the Kids All the Money They Owe Me." The UM Library requested her donation of all her publications.