Joan Brown isn’t done volunteering yet

Barbara Hootman

Eighty-eight-year old Joan Brown is as active as ever in making life better for others in the community.

In her garage, Joan Brown keeps many of the plaques and citations she’s been awarded for her many years of volunteer work.

She has served on too many boards of directors for nonprofit group to count.

“I serve organizations where I have a special interest and where I think I can make a difference,” Brown said.

She taught math and science in the Buncombe County School System for most of her 43 years in the system, beginning in 1951 at Swannanoa Primary School (now Community High School) as a first-grade teacher. When Black Mountain Elementary School moved to Owen Middle School, she taught one year there and substituted for another. And then she told the school “Don’t call me, I’ll call you when I am ready to teach again,” she said. She retired in 1995 only a few months after her husband, Bill died.

Black Mountain alderman Larry Harris, a former student at Black Mountain Elementary, remembers Brown as a strict teacher and a disciplinarian.

“She was very much a part of my eighth grade at Black Mountain Elementary,” Larry Harris said. “If you got caught in the hall when you weren’t supposed to be there, you didn’t want Joan Brown to catch you. She was known for demanding hard work from her students. Dr. Robert Baker, a good friend of mine, had her in class and says even now that he learned to work hard in Joan Brown’s class.”

Brown met her husband Bill in 1947 when they were students at Montreat College. Working in the dining room there, she also met the college’s food supervisor, the father of Lea Bortell, one of her best friends.

“Joan worked for him,” Bortell said. “When Joan would slip off campus to walk to Black Mountain at night with a friend, Daddy would leave the dining hall door unlocked so she could get back in and not get caught. Although there are a few years difference in our ages, Joan is one of my best friends. We talk on the phone almost every day, go to movies and out to eat. She is so busy with volunteer work that I tell her she makes me tired with all she does. She truly wants to help people, and she serves her fellow man. She lives her Christianity. She is a lot of fun, and we’ve even taken a trip to England, Scotland and Wales together.”

The Buncombe County Schools system asked Brown to start a special needs class at Black Mountain Elementary in the mid-‘50s. It was the first one in the Owen School District.

“The special needs students had been hidden away until then,” Brown said. “I had to raise the money to pay the assistant to pick the kids up for school because they couldn’t be put on a bus. I reached out to the Black Mountain community and they were generous. I kept the class for seven years and then returned to the math classroom. One of the most outstanding group of teachers I ever taught with came from the integration of the black teachers from Carver School when it closed (in 1968) with the teachers at Black Mountain Elementary. I taught with Principal C.U. James from Carver. He taught social studies and I taught math and it was a great match.”

“Just being with the children was a treat, and of course I missed them when I retired. But retirement has been good to me,” she said.

There are too many boards and civic groups to mention all that have received Brown’s attention and hard work, but some of her favorites come readily to her mind.

She helped to organize the Ministry of Hope at Swannanoa Correction Center for Women in Swannanoa and served on its board for many years. She helped hire the first chaplain at the women’s prison. Renae Brame, the recently retired director of Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, was the superintendent of the prison at the time.

Brown served on the board of Church Women United directors for many years. She continues to serve on the board of directors of the Swannanoa Valley Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Corporation and concentrates on scholarships.

Brown served on the Black Mountain Board of Alderman for 12 years and was vice mayor for two years. She also chaired the Black Mountain Planning Board.

Working to help caregivers Brown served on the Land of Sky Regional Council. She established the “Strive Not to Drive Program” to get bus service to Black Mountain.

Currently she chairs the Community Affairs Committee at Givens Highland Farms Retirement Community, where she has lived for the past 20 years.

“I work hard to get people registered to vote, and organize the vans that transport them,” Brown said. “I also report to the Highland Farms residents about projects in progress in Black Mountain that affect them. I also volunteer a few hours a week to run the gift shop at the ‘farm’ (Givens Highland Farms), and I work answering phones at the information desk a few hours a week.”

Givens resident Sue Smith takes lots of pictures of activities at the retirement community and recently visited Brown’s garage where she keeps certificates and plaques that she has earned.

“Joan is so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about getting us to do our civic duties,” Smith said. “She really has everyone’s best interest at heart.”

Brown helped to organize the first Welcome Table that met at St. James Episcopal Church in the parish hall until it closed in September 2013. Unhappy that hungry people weren’t being served, Brown organized the Open Table in Black Mountain. Open for lunch every Wednesday, it is run by volunteers for anyone who wants/needs a hot meal.

Three children, three grandchildren, one great-grandchild and a great-grandchild on the way keep Brown busy keeping up with what the family is doing from Colorado to South Carolina to North Carolina.