Sensational Seniors – November 2017

One of the first things Joan Long showed me in her Pioneer Village living room was a small book by Deidra Riggs, Every Little Thing. Joan said the book’s theme, that one can make a positive difference wherever they are, has been her lifelong goal.

To understand how this has played out in Joan’s life, it is important to start at her beginning in 1929 in the town of Beloit, Kansas, where her father was a high school football and basketball coach. Given her father’s dedication to athletics and coaching abilities, Joan remembers, “Almost everyone in town was hoping for a boy, but they got a cheerleader instead.” Joan’s small town life in Beloit was not to last long, for her father left coaching and took a job with the US Department of Agriculture, based in Chicago. When Joan was four, a sister, who now lives in Medford, joined the family. Joan remembers spending memorable summers with her grandparents in Topeka, Kansas where she focused on baby kittens, learning to ride a bicycle, enjoying a tire swing and a carefree life style. Joan’s early education occurred in Oak Park, Illinois, but, during her senior year in high school, her father was asked to head up the San Francisco Department of Agriculture office, and the family made the move, resulting in Joan graduating from Palo Alto High School in 1947.

Shortly after Joan was born, her father and mother started investing in an “educational policy,” a forerunner of today’s 529 Educational Plan. This policy provided Joan with $100 a month while in college. With that incentive, she entered San Jose State, majoring in Early Childhood Education, receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in 1951. She remembers her college years with fondness and especially her Delta Gamma sorority; she still has frequent contact with her sorority sisters and considers them some of her closest friends. In addition to her sorority memories, it was at San Jose State that she met Charles Long. While they met at San Jose State, soon after, Charles transferred to UC Berkeley only to be called up in the Army Reserves and sent to Japan. After six months in Japan, he was sent home and the young couple, tired of a long-distance romance, were married on August 12, 1951. Charles returned to Berkeley to continue his studies in Soil Science, while Joan took her first teaching job. Once Charles finished his degree, he took a position at UC Davis, and they then started their family; Michael coming first in 1955, followed by Christopher in 1957 and Jonathon in 1959.

Charles always carried with him a sense of adventure, and in 1967 he noticed a promotion sign at UC Davis for a research fellowship at the University of Hawaii. He was intrigued and flew to Hawaii to check it out. He interviewed, was offered the job and called Joan with these directions, “Resign your job, sell the house, pack-up things, bring the boys and come to Hawaii as soon as you can.” Joan laughs when remembering this time in her life and relates, “Deciding whom you marry is the most important decision you will ever make. I was fortunate to have made a good decision.”

The Longs spent 22 years in Hawaii, living in Hilo, years that Joan remembers as “twenty-two wonderful years of my life. It instilled in me a deep love for the Hawaiian people, the music and the beauty of the land and the ocean.” While Chuck became an expert on the growing of macadamia nuts, papaya and jojoba, the young couple became an active part of the Hilo community. Chuck had learned to sail while a teenager so, when they were asked to join the Hilo Sailing Club, he jumped at the chance, leading to many wonderful sailing adventures and great friendships. Joan applied for and got a teaching job with Head Start and eventually became the Hilo Head Start Director in charge of four schools. In addition, the Longs were members of the Hilo Methodist Church and helped start a “Peanut Butter Ministry” to help the many street people in Hawaii. One night a week, the church would be opened and would serve soup and peanut butter sandwiches to all who came. This ministry that began in 1981 continues to this day. In addition to this ministry, Joan and a friend started a unique Girl Scout troop, unique in that it was for five disabled adult women. The five women looked forward to the weekly Girl Scout meeting and especially to the crafts and games they got to enjoy.

The Longs lived 19 miles from the Volcano National Park which led to a friend suggesting they start a Bed and Breakfast as they had a large home, were gracious hosts and would fulfill a need for more local lodging for the park visitors. Always ready for something new, the Longs operated their B&B for six years, making many friends in the process. Two of these new friends were a couple from Ashland, Oregon who they reconnected with when the Longs moved to the Rogue Valley, buying a sailboat together, joining the Rogue Yacht Club and enjoying many pleasant sailing days at Howard Prairie Lake.

After their three now-grown sons left home and settled on the mainland, Joan and Chuck started thinking about moving back, as well. The deal was settled when their first grandchild was born. Their son Jonathon, who worked for the Oregon Department of Forestry at the time, encouraged them to consider moving to Oregon. In 1989 they purchased their Jacksonville home on D Street, which is now the location of the Woodcarving Place. In their first week in Jacksonville, a neighbor invited them to join the Jacksonville Boosters Club, and they became active members with Joan serving as a docent for numerous Historic and Home and Garden Tours. In addition, Joan and Chuck became Jacksonville Woodlands members after they learned of the Woodlands mission to acquire and preserve the wooded hillsides around the city as a natural resource. Always active and on the go, Joan has participated and hiked in 23 of the 24 annual Woodlands Hike-a-Thons, has been a SMART reader at Oak Grove and Jefferson Elementary Schools, was a fundraiser for the new Jacksonville Library, is a long-time member of the Jacksonville Garden Club, was a Britt volunteer for 17 years and was an Oregon Shakespeare Red Coat volunteer for ten years.

Joan and Chuck joined the Jacksonville Presbyterian Church soon after moving here, and Joan has served as both a Deacon and an Elder for the church in addition to volunteering for many church activities, including re-enacting for three summers an old fashioned strawberry festival to help pay off the mortgage for the new church. In 2010 Joan lost Chuck to Parkinson’s disease and soon after moved into Pioneer Village where she has resided the past seven years. True to form, Joan has remained an active member of the Jacksonville community. She is on the Welcoming Committee at Pioneer Village, she still hikes, especially with her new trekking poles, enjoys a chair yoga class, attends weekly Bible study classes, volunteers at Food and Friends, helps put together her church’s monthly newsletter and works hard at keeping busy. In addition, she is active in her grandchildren’s lives, especially the two local ones who lost their mother when they were six and eight. She also enjoys a weekly Starbucks visit with her sister who lives in Medford.

Like many who are Joan’s age and much younger, hearing loss is a frustration and as Joan says, “Although I have tried five different pairs of hearing aids, use a remote and sometimes a mini-microphone, I still miss a lot which causes me to often not participate in some group activities, but all in all I feel a sense of gratitude for what I do have, not the least of which is my loving family.” The summer highlight for her this year was a family reunion on Whidbey Island in Washington.

So this Jacksonville lady whose lifelong goal and mission has been to make a difference wherever she has been, has done just that—those of us who know Joan Long are certainly fortunate.