Making HerStory

A Lifetime of Helping

Joan is a study in contrasts.  She is always impeccably dressed, with a smile on her face and often some of her legendary fudge sauce or cookies to gift in her hand.

At first glance, no one would suspect that this woman who is sweetness personified had survived two divorces (later re-marrying her second husband), the kidnapping of one son, and the tragic death of another.

My first introduction to Joan was someone telling me that she went skydiving to celebrate her 80th birthday.  After that, I just had to get to know this kindred spirit who was instantly my hero!  I knew Joan must be a pretty brave woman to take such a risk, but after hearing her story (and picking my jaw off the floor a few times), I realized that jumping out of a plane was easy compared to some of the challenges she’s faced in her life.

Joan was born at the beginning of the Great Depression, in her grandparents’ farmhouse in Indiana.  Both of her parents worked, so she and her older brother spent their days at their grandparents’ house.

Her childhood memories are full of serving others however she could.  She recalls, “We were just always helping!”  They would bring in firewood and pump water.  When her grandma’s friends would come over for a quilting bee, Joan would sit under the quilt frame and push up the needles for the ladies.  She even held the cows’ tails while her grandpa milked them, so he wouldn’t get smacked.

Joan insists, “It wasn’t work.  It was helping.”  She advises, “Parents need to take the time to teach their children how to do the things they’re capable of doing.”

Joan adored spending her days at the farm, but her home in the city was quite different.  It was dark and cramped, and she vividly recalls the rag man hollering for women to buy or sell him their rags.  After Joan was molested by a neighbor boy, her family moved to a big, two-storey house in the country.

She missed her time with her grandparents, but her mom was able to work at the general store across the road, and her dad continued to drive a Greyhound bus.  Joan was in school by then, but she helped with the family’s garden and took care of the chickens.

Joan married her high school sweetheart, Richard, when she was 18.  He made a lot of money, bought them a 6500 square foot house, and even bought Joan a red convertible to drive.  They were happily married with two grown sons.  image-65

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Joan scuba diving and parasailing in Mexico with her first husband.

But it wasn’t enough for him.  Richard had an affair with a woman in Mexico while on a work assignment.  Joan tried to salvage their marriage.  They even had another son.  When Richard’s company moved them to Puerto Rico, Joan thought the worst was behind them.  And then he became involved with his secretary.  After 25 years of marriage, he looked at Joan and said, “I don’t love you anymore.  I want you to go home to Indiana and live.”

Joan, by then pregnant with their daughter, Annie, returned to Indiana with their son, Chris.  She struggled to make ends meet, even making pillows to sell in order to pay the phone bill.  She told herself, “I’m just not ever gonna give up.”

Over the next two years, she and her best friend did things together all the time.  When her friend died of cancer, Joan pitied her friend’s husband, Joseph Konnad.  She admits, “I didn’t love him at first.  I felt sorry for him with eight kids, and six at home…I was divorced with two little ones, and we got married.”

Not long into their marriage, Joan’s first husband came unexpectedly to their house, grabbed their four-year-old son, Chris, and took him away.  Joan says, “I can still see him carrying Chris away like a football and yelling over his shoulder, ‘I’ll be back to get her!’  He never did come back for Annie.

Rather than pressing charges, Joan thought about everyone involved in the situation before reacting.  She knew her husband and stepchildren “never really took to Chris,” so she granted her ex-husband custody in the hopes that Chris would be happier there.  It was the best decision she could have made.  After years of regrets and wondering if she’d made the right decision, just last year Chris assured her, “Dad didn’t kidnap me.  He rescued me.”  Before that moment, Joan had no idea just how unhappy her son had been.

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When Annie took a dance class when she was 7, all the moms took a class at the same time and surprised their families by performing A Chorus Line number at the recital.

Despite her desire to help Joe and his kids, she felt like she was little more than a servant in her own home for fifteen years.  She explains, “My husband was dictatorial.  Finally, God poked me and said, ‘you can do better than being someone’s servant.'”  She gathered her courage and divorced him, moving herself and Annie into an apartment.

One month after the divorce was final, Joan was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time.  She fought it successfully and is still cancer-free.  Then her older son’s business went under, and he could no longer pay her rent.  The very next day, a friend called to ask her to live in their house while they served a two-year church mission.  All those years of helping others had added up, and when she most needed help, it was there.

Over the years, Joan served a mission herself and started a successful house-cleaning business.  Periodically, Joe would call, and they would write letters once in a while.  After five years apart, he asked, “Why don’t we get married again?”  Joan knew they had both changed.  She replied, “Okay, BUT… I’m not gonna be the same mousy little wife,” and he said, “That’s okay.  I still want you.”

Joan knows that not all husbands are capable of changing, but, at least for Joe, her leaving was a wakeup call to help him change.  She says that being in a marriage like theirs and feeling controlled “damages your self-esteem and self-worth.  Leaving doesn’t mean you have to be apart forever, but you deserve a good life.”

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Joan and Joe visiting the Alps after they were remarried.

They got remarried and were together another fifteen years before his death a few years ago.  Their second marriage was completely different than their first.  They treasured each other, and they traveled throughout the world, making enough memories for a lifetime.  He also helped her mourn the loss of her son, when he was killed in a car accident while on a business trip to India.

As with every challenge life has thrown at Joan, she responds by forgetting herself and helping others.  After her husband’s death, she moved into a condo.  She has a 92-year-old neighbor, and Joan says, “I just try every way I know how to brighten her life.”

And she doesn’t stop with her neighbor.  Her personal motto is, “Do all you can while you can, because you don’t know how long you can.”  She brings treats to families with young children, and she hosts a monthly dinner with friends that are filled with stories and laughter.  She takes cookies to her UPS man so often, that she now gets the family discount!  She smiles happily and reflects, “When the day comes that I can’t do those things, I hope the Lord will take me home.”joan_1

Despite all the hardships she has faced over the years, Joan simply says, “Life is what it is.”  She isn’t the least bit jaded.  Instead, just as her grandparents taught her to do as a little girl, she seeks out someone to help.  And she always finds them.

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  • Anonymous
    November 28, 2016 at 2:48 am

    What a great perspective she has on life!

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 28, 2016 at 7:16 am

      She really does. She’s one of my favorite people to talk to–she puts life’s challenges in perspective!

  • Lillian Soza
    November 28, 2016 at 7:23 am

    I love it! It’s so cool to hear about someone’s life and the different experiences they’ve had. I never would have guessed 😀

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 28, 2016 at 9:41 am

      I love it too. Joan’s story helps me remember to focus on helping others instead of just thinking about my problems. She’s a great example!

  • Belle
    November 28, 2016 at 9:47 am

    Love this post! She really has great perspective!

    One Awesome Momma

  • Curt R
    November 28, 2016 at 10:00 am

    I have first hand experience seeing Joan’s generosity and genuine love for others. She always puts a smile on my face. May we all be reminded of the importance of service to others. Love her fudge. 🙂

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 28, 2016 at 10:02 am

      I feel the same way about her, Curt! She gives so much, never asking for anything in return. She’s such a great example.

  • TriOptic
    November 28, 2016 at 10:06 am

    Wow, what strength she has. What a beautiful soul. Thanks for sharing Joan’s story. It definitely fortifies a different perspective on the lives we live.

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 28, 2016 at 10:30 am

      She truly is one of the strongest people I know.

  • Ann Geo
    November 28, 2016 at 11:55 am

    Such a beautiful and inspirational woman, lots of respect!

  • Sonya Payne
    November 28, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    I love Joan…we brought her some flowers one night after Joe died. She ended up bringing us into her home and filling our bellies with ice cream and her fudge sauce and filled our hearts with her love. We came to server her but she returned it 10 fold.

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 28, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      Aw! That’s definitely Joan! Thanks for sharing such a sweet memory, Sonya!

  • Mrs. Doing My Best (@mrsdoingmybest)
    November 28, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Impressive and moving story. She is a fighter and a giver!

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 28, 2016 at 12:49 pm

      Ha! That’s the perfect description of Joan!

  • Stef @ Crafty Christian
    November 28, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    Wow, what a story! She has been through so much and come through on the other side. Inspirational!

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 28, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      Thanks, Stefani! She is a truly wonderful woman!

    • Annie Brown
      December 5, 2016 at 10:13 am

      Joan is my mom (Annie here). This story is beautifully written and touches on a lot but it’s truly impossible to write all that mom is. And the skydiving story neglected to mention that she went before me and I was praying to god she wouldn’t jump so I’d have a legit excuse not to…. no such luck. Mom is fierce and stubborn and loving and beyond generous I cannot thank God enough for letting me be her daughter.
      Thank you for highlighting my mom who is truly and inspiration. ❤️ #momgoals

      • Laura and Melessa
        December 5, 2016 at 10:16 am

        Wow! Annie, thank you for sharing that! You mom is amazing, and I can tell by this that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree!

        • Annie Brown
          December 5, 2016 at 11:11 pm

          Ha! Well, I’m the child that mom shakes her head at wondering where I came from but the reality is…. I’m just a younger more potty mouth version of her.
          Thank you again for all you’ve done!
          And for the record. I had the worlds best step dad too. To see them remarry was priceless

  • Jen Enoch
    November 28, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Wow, what an amazing lady, and amazing life. She’s a fighter for sure, and someone everyone should get to know. Such a giver and inspiration to keep pressing on! Thank you for sharing her story.

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 28, 2016 at 3:36 pm

      Jen, you’re absolutely right. She is one of the most determined women I know!

  • Anita
    November 28, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    What a fascinating story! I like the part where she talked about helping as a child. I try to instill in my boys that they can also help do many things!

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 28, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      That’s so important! I try to as well, but I think I underestimate my kids sometimes. 🙂

  • ageekyginger
    November 28, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    Wow, what a strong woman. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Georgiana
    November 28, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    What an extraordinary life! Thank you for sharing the inspiration—she really knows how to keep on going and thrive!

  • thetaylor411
    November 29, 2016 at 6:58 am

    Lovely story! I couldn’t agree more that we need to teach our children things that they are capable of doing. I also hope I get to go skydiving when I’m 80 😬😊

  • Camilla
    November 29, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    Love this story! Joan is indeed one incredible woman!

  • Jasmine - LoveLifeLaughMotherhood
    November 29, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Such a great story! thanks for sharing

  • Madi White
    November 29, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    She sounds like such an amazing lady who has led an incredible life!

  • Lacey
    November 30, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    I love this story so much it sounds like Joan rocks!!!

  • Candace @ Fullest Mom
    November 30, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    A very remarkable story. You can never know what a person has been through until they share their story. We forget all the rich experiences a person can have.

  • naturallymadewithlove
    December 1, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    I loved reading this! What a firecracker! What a sweet woman. I hope to be like her when I grow up. 🙂

    • Laura and Melessa
      December 1, 2016 at 10:51 pm

      Thank you so much! We love Joan so much, and she’s definitely one of our heroes!

  • Briana Marie
    December 6, 2016 at 7:56 am

    She went skydiving for her 80th birthday??? This woman is AMAZING! I enjoyed learning about Joan- very fascinating.

  • Wesley Baker
    December 6, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    Joan is an incredible women, I have grown to love and adore her since I first met her 2 years ago. She has constantly cooked for me and my freezer is full of her soups and other creations. She is a guiding light to me in dark times and this article tells her story well. I am proud to know Joan, I am incredible humbled to hold her hand and call her a friend. If only the world had more people like Joan it would be a far greater and better place.

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