Pictured in front of Lake Michigan, with the Chicago Skyline in the background.

A family vacation to Chicago in 1972
Left to right, front: Kristen Iversen, Jill Iversen, Terry Smyth, Tod Iversen
Left to right back: Jack Iversen, Joan Iversen, Nancy Smyth

Joan was my mom in the truest sense of the word.  As a step-daughter I spent many years trying to bridge the gap between child and step child, trying to figure out what makes a ‘real’ mom…trying to find the steps I would need to be a ‘real’ child not a ‘step’ child.  What I discovered was that, as with all things, Joan, had already figured out what I struggled so long to learn.

Love, respect, perseverance mixed with healthy doses of high expectations, seemingly inexhaustible energy and patience which often morphed into stubbornness as she made her thoughts…or dictates known and more importantly had them obeyed….these were the ingredients she used to build a family where there was once none.

How did she take five vastly different, sometimes insecure and lonely children, two parents, a dog and four cats and bend them to her will?  What tools were in this family building arsenal that she employed?  In a word, her master plan revolved around the all important teaching time known as  “Vacation”

She moved us each spring and summer vacation thru family maneuvers with the precision of a field General.  We were given our marching orders as we prepared for our many trips into the world as a collective unit, orders which we either followed to a “T” or we learned to get out of the way and blame Jill.

Our travels brought us to every historical village, monument , battle site and museum that Joan could use to enrich our knowledge and love of history. She would educate us, expose us to culture and use shared experiences to fill the holes we had lived in.  What she never counted on was that the ways in which  a small and mischievous herd of children would interpret the wonders of history and how this would challenge her own view of the world.

And so our travels and journeys of family discovery began…..history would never be the same for Dr. Joan Iversen….

The stark existence of the Donner pass, the plight of the starving pioneers who built this nation had their image tarnished with the photos of us gorging on oreos…

The sanctity of our nations national monuments were challenged time and time again as we raced to be first, ignoring lines of tourists waiting in line, trampled gardens and spoke thru the entreaties of tour guides and park rangers as we sought bathrooms or a drink to ease our thirst or even  a snack to fill our always hungry bellies,   all the while trying to look like we were paying attention…woe to the one or two of us caught not learning….

"1951 - Thank You Marshall A parade float at the Dutch Flower Festival, expressing appreciation for the efforts of the Marshall Plan."

“1951 – Thank You Marshall
A parade float at the Dutch Flower Festival, expressing appreciation for the efforts of the Marshall Plan.”

But learn we did…we learned to listen to one another, we learned when to fight and when to turn the other check, we learned to be siblings who stood up to and for each other…and Joan learned too…

She learned when to step in and mediate disputes and when to let us figure things out….she learned that children have a tremendous capacity to love but to not always be lovable

Our trips taught her that the best way to share her passion for learning and her love of history was with a sense of humor and by ditching us occasionally to ride the buses endlessly around Colonial Williamsburg while she and dad recovered their strength with a ration of gin and tonics.

Condensing our family time into weeks of vacation, squeezing us into small spaces where we had to be together, were all part of Field Marshall Joan’s master plan.

The successes and occasional failures we encountered as Joan prodded, pushed and persuaded us to assume the roles we have learned to relish are the learning curves we had to follow.  Our travels to Miles Standish, Jekyll Island, Tom’s Cove, Outdoor Resorts, Key Largo Kampground and our summer long trip across country were the encampments that brought us together.

It was Joan’s love and often fiery emotional leadership that brought us to a place of family.  It is her generous nature, her inability to back down, her strength as a women, a teacher, a mom that I will most remember.  It is Joan’s legacy that this family she rebuilt from a place of pain to a position of strength….will endure.  My siblings at arms are raising the next generation of strong, intelligent, sometimes stubborn and  independent children…in the hopes that the love they have learned from us, thru Joan will give them a future as bright as the one she gave us.

~Kristen Iversen Cartwright

Marshall Plan float photo courtesy of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Flickr