Laughter is the Fireworks of the Soul

July 23,2018

Joan Stroh is a happening woman! Everyone at St. Michael’s Grove Manor would identify her as the leading lady sitting at the table filled with laughter. In a very simple and direct way Joan tells anyone who will listen, “Life is better when you’re laughing”!

Imagine Canmore, AB in the late 20’s. Canmore was a small coal mining town back then near the southwest boundary of Banff National Park in the Bow Valley. In 1887 Canmore had received permission from Queen Victoria to open Coal Mine #1 to service the Canadian Pacific Railway trains crossing the mountain passes. Joan’s father worked those mines. Under one of the most recognizable and photographed chain of mountains in the area – the Three Sisters – there stood a lonely homestead by a mountain lake. This is the idyllic setting of Joan’s childhood. To remind her of that glorious beginning she has a lovely painting of this magnificent view hung prominently in her apartment.

Understanding this part of Joan’s childhood is important when you consider that as a sports enthusiast in speed skating and down hill skiing she found it hard to stay in school. “In my mind sport came before schooling”, she says. Her father was a very practical man with good sense who told her even then, “Get your Grade 12! Without an education you will go no where”. Joan simply replied, “I don’t feel like doing that! I’ve got to get out of here”.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Believing WE know what is best, but having our loved one determined to march in the opposite direction. As a compromise with her parents Joan left her home in Canmore in 1948 (with one little suitcase) and moved into an old grainery (with only an oil lamp) up in the Ft. McMurray area (before Ft. McMurray was even a thing!) to supervise a group of Ukrainian students taking school by correspondence. She could not admit to her father that she was wrong and so she “stuck it out for two years”. In retrospect Joan believes this is the best decision she ever made and feels she learned more in that settlement than she would ever learn at university. Life has been her best teacher.

After two years up north Joan knew that the classroom was her calling and so she would need to face “the establishment” and comply with social standards. She came back south to Edmonton and finished her Grade 12 at Alberta College. She then pursued her teacher training at the U of A. Her northern community offered to pay full tuition if she would return to work for two years after her training. She accepted. The Edmonton Public System was the main benefactor of Joan’s long teaching career that spanned over 45 years. She loved teaching Grade 2 because over the year she could see “more progress than any other grade jump”.

What’s Joan’s best advice for a happy life?

“You must have a friend in life that you trust implicitly. Find someone who can laugh!”

Joan has found many places in her life to make “chums”. She enjoyed her cabin on Lake Isle over the years and was very involved in the sporting scene with her son in Spruce Grove. She gave greatly of herself to her communities (the whole region) through volunteering.

10 years at the Food Bank packing food on shelves and in hampers.

17 years at Horizon Stage taking tickets and working the coat rack and concession.

3 years at Blueberry School where her grandchildren attended.

25 years at Northlands. This will be her last year there.

15 years at the WestView Hospital in the gift shop auxiliary. She says this will be the last to go.

Joan feels very fortunate that she can still be on the move. She has her own car and laughing friends to pack it with. But most importantly she has her health to enjoy. Her heart goes out to people who do not have their health and are in need of greater assistance for everyday needs. She can see that more assisted living facilities are needed in our region as more people become too fragile to be living independently, but presently they have no better alternative. As people live longer they need graduated options as their health fails. Joan believes these should all be under one roof so residents can maintain the connections with people they have established over the years. These connections are what make life worth living.

Joan is determined to stay stimulated so that she can maximize her time. She understands that many stimulating opportunities cost money and that can be difficult for seniors on tight budgets. She believes everyone needs exercise, variety and connection. Even if seniors had a 20 minute conversation a day Joan believes people would not slip so fast. She describes this as “a fine chalk line” – to avoid getting old too quickly everyone needs a good friend, a good conversation and a good laugh. She finds laughter her natural stimulant.

Joan is the type of person that when something goes wrong in life she would just yell, “Plot Twist!” and move on. This is a resiliency that has served her well and keeps her sitting at her table laughing with her chums.

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