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Good morning and welcome to our Corner. We have a rare treat in store today. We will be meeting and greeting someone whom our Napa Valley Register once wrote as having a “record of public service second to none.” I think you will agree when you read about this amazing woman.

The most recent chapter in JoAnn Busenbark’s amazing career took place on Thursday evening, Nov. 10 when she was honored for her 12 years on the Napa Valley College’s board of trustees.

Quoting from the Register’s excellent story, “A long-time supporter of lifelong learning, Busenbark worked at Napa Valley College for more than 30 years, developing many of the programs and classes for seniors at the Upper Valley Campus and the Veteran’s Home.”

The chairman of the college board, Michael Baldini, said, “JoAnn’s accomplishments have served the board in so many ways — as a leader in the selection of our college superintendent/president, as an advocate for new facilities and programs, and as a resounding voice for students first.

As a long-time friend of JoAnn’s, I was very sorry to miss attending this great occasion. One of the things you have to accept, with grace if you can, as you get older, are a few limitations, such as not being able to see with night driving, but I was certainly there in spirit.

Okay, my friends. Fasten your seat belts. You are in for a ride.

JoAnn was born and raised on 300 acres in Roseberg, in Western Oregon. One of four sisters, no brothers, it was their job to drive the tractors, milk the cows, pick prunes and walnuts and to occasionally play in the bordering river as often as they could.

In time, JoAnn was off to college. Her sisters chose not to go to college. JoAnn played field hockey for Oregon State University, earned a BS degree and started teaching PE and Health in the K-12 system in Oregon. This soon became boring for JoAnn, a person of action. Her next position was in upstate New York as a teacher and coach and dean of girls. Followed by another K-12 for Hillcrest School for Girls for court committed female juvenile delinquents.

In 1967, JoAnn landed in Napa and loved the valley, reminding her of the valley where she was born. She eventually became a full-time employee of Napa Valley College as the director of Disabled Services. Intrigued by their efforts, JoAnn first became employed as workshop director under Napa Valley College, who was offering classes, work-skill related. The workshop, known first as the Napa Work and Training Center, now known as PSI, became a source of employment for disabled adults. At one time there were as many as 60 to 65 clients being served.

JoAnn continued as director of Disabled Services for more than 30 years. This led to her appointment to the Napa City Planning Commission, which was a steep learning curve, according to JoAnn, but she said she loved it. She says that her competitive juices fired her up and she settled in to fighting for all issues related to the disabled population of the Napa Valley, as well as the elderly and the poor.

JoAnn was elected to the Napa City Council and served nine years. She also served nine years on the Napa Planning Commission.

No, JoAnn has no intention of retiring from public service. This is far from the final chapter in her full and successful career.

She is currently sitting on the City of Napa Senior Center Advocacy Commission, the Napa County Commission on Aging, the Area Agency on Aging-Napa/Solano Counties, Napa County Para-transit Coordinating Council and IHSS (In Home Support Services.)

Now to the more personal side of JoAnn, and I’m sure that after reading JoAnn’s story so far, it will be no surprise to learn that she has played the proud “grandma” to several young people, beginning with a Serbian family where the widowed mother was raising three children. JoAnn’s second chance as surrogate grandmother was taking in a 12-year-old who was pregnant. The girl she gave birth to is now 33, calls JoAnn ‘grandma’, as do her three brothers. Her third experience was with an Ethiopian family where she sponsored three college-age siblings, all successful individuals and all now U.S. citizens. The family had been in danger under communism back in the 1980s. JoAnn would be the first to tell you that none of these efforts were single-handed. It takes a number of caring individuals to be committed to providing emotional, physical and psychological support.

“It is my experience”, says JoAnn, “that the more we connect with other cultures, the more real the world becomes and that we are all human beings seeking the same thing – a peaceful co-existence.”

JoAnn has had occasion in the past few years of helping good friends comfortably transition from serious illnesses to a peaceful death. That is who JoAnn is. Tough when she has to be and very kind and generous and giving which is who she is, and I’m grateful to have her as a friend.

Thank you, JoAnn, for letting us share your amazing story, so far, with much more to come, I am sure.

I must tell you that I find my greatest gifts to be the friendships that I have been lucky enough to have in my lifetime. Please don’t cheat yourselves out of this amazing gift.

Care for one another and we’ll visit again next week.

If you’d like to drop me a line, I would love it at: bettyrrhodes@sbcglobl.net

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