Though it may be true that Joan was not my biological mother – she was in every other sense my real mother, always there for us in times of need. She was:
This month would have been my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary. It was a second marriage for both of them-if you saw them together, you would not have thought them especially romantic or overtly demonstrative in their affection for each other. But after my mom died in September 2013, Jack was lost without her, and upon hearing that, everyone who knew them commented that they always were together, you rarely saw them apart.
In the final days of Jack’s life, seven months after my mom’s death, he expressed to my sister that one of his few regrets was that he didn’t leave his first wife sooner, so he could have had more time with Joan. Hearing this story, people who didn’t know them exclaim, “it’s a love story.” And yes, I guess it was–just one that was not the cultural stereotype of a love story–quite appropriate for them, I think.
So, in honor of that love story, here are a few photos of them together, beginning with the day they were married (August 1969, a tumultuous time in the world) until their last days together.
Happy Anniversary, Joan and Jack!
Click on any of the photos to see them in a larger image.
Some say that measure of a person’s life is the impact they have on others’ lives. If this is true, then my Mom’s life was a tremendous success. She touched the lives of thousands of students over the years. As a mother, she impacted all of our lives with her strength, passion, drive and compassion.
Mom was strong, decisive, feisty, witty, intelligent, resilient, and driven to accomplish things. I remember lots of “to do” lists, and her crossing off the tasks as she completed them.
Mom was a teacher through and through. Not only was it her chosen career, but she used that skill and force in personal life as well. She was a problem solver. If you were her friend or a family member, she would always be there to tell you how to solve your problem. Even if you didn’t know you had a problem.
When I was in 9th grade, my Mom helped me write a book report for English class. When I got the paper back with a 90 and I was pleased to show her. She was not happy at all, but not with me, with my teacher. She had purposely not corrected it and had some choice words about his competence.
I remember when Mom taught me how to make her delicious Lasagna. I was anticipating this “old Italian” recipe, passed down from her great-grandmother all the way down to her. When we started, she had me take the box of noodles out, and told me to turn the box over and follow the recipe. Of course she helped me that first time, but she explained that those were the best recipes because companies would only put the good ones on the box. She was right, again.
When I was at SUNY-Oneonta as a student, I heard many students rave about how great a teacher she was. I had the pleasure of taking her for two classes then. Watching her teach was mesmerizing. After about 2 minutes I totally forgot that she was mother. She was dynamic and demanded and received your complete attention.
The first time I took her for a class (pass/fail, of course) we had taken our first test. Mom liked to give tests with more than 100 points on them. So everyone was having a tough time figuring out their grade. A student asked, “Dr. Iversen are you going to curve the test?”. She explained that at the end of the semester, she would take the total points that you had and the total available points if you had got everything correct, and the top 5% would get A’s, 10 % B’s, and etc. down the line. Then another student asked them same question, she repeated the same answer. I knew that math was never her strong point, so I raised my hand and said “Actually Dr. Iversen, it is a curve but you don’t know it”. She responded with “Are you telling me I don’t know what the F#$&@ I am doing?” I said “sort of”. She responded quickly by turning to the class and saying “With a little birth control, I could have avoided all this”. Needless to say, the class gasped and roared and I shut up. I was disrupting her class and she shut me up without hesitation.
I am so proud to be her son. She taught me so much. How to stand up for your opinion, even if it was not a popular one. She taught me not to quit, and she taught me to admire and respect strong women. She was a great mom and a first class human being. I will miss her, but never forget her.
~ Terence (Terry) Smyth, Joan’s son (and former student, class of 1983)
A ritual gathering in the Iversen household happened at the end of May: everyone would descend on the house at Goodyear Lake to help repair the dock and to celebrate Jack’s birthday with his favorite German Black Forest Cake with chocolate whipped cream frosting (baked by Joan Iversen, of course).
This year, Jack would have turned 84 on May 31st. So it seems especially appropriate to announce, on his birthday, that the scholarship that was established in his memory has become endowed! This means that there are now two scholarships endowed at the State University College at Oneonta, the Dr. Joan Iversen Memorial Scholarship, and the Professor Jack Iversen Memorial Scholarship.
Thanks to everyone who donated to these scholarships to ensure that Joan and Jack Iversen’s legacy continues. And even though they are now endowed, gifts to each scholarship are still appreciated, because larger scholarships will increase the financial impact to the student recipient.
Finally, if you drink alcohol, please raise a glass to Jack Iversen on this occasion. His favorite drink was Mattingly and Moore bourbon–it was his last sip before he died, and we all drank some of it in his honor at his memorial service.
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….
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
An earlier version of these reflections was read by Nancy Smyth, Joan’s oldest child, at Joan Iversen’s Memorial Service, September 20, 2013.
My mother was a force of nature–a force for the universe to reckon with — we once jokingly called her “Hurricane Joan” not because she destroyed things, but because she was such a big presence, making her own path in the world, with such a large impact. If she decided that your life needed fixing or organizing, you didn’t stand a chance of resisting. Continue reading
Several people have expressed to me that they wish they had been able to attend my mom’s memorial service. My mother was not a religious person, but my mom did have some spiritual beliefs. So as we thought about her service, we decided to reach out to Oneonta’s Unitarian Universalist Society’s Reverend Craig Schwanlenberg to provide the service, because she had really appreciated a service she had done for recently deceased colleagues. Reverend Craig interviewed all of us in-depth and he ended up working with us to create a service that my mom would have loved– it even featured some content from her favorite TV series, The West Wing.
I promise that it’s much more up-beat than it sounds like it would be. It was truly a celebration of her life, with lots of laughter and good stories from family members, friends, and former students. And afterwords, we enjoyed brownies and snickers bars in her name. So for those who would like to hear the service, here is an MP3 audio file If you would prefer to listen offline, you should be able to download the file here: Joan Iversen Memorial Service
Want to share your own reflection or memory of Joan Iversen? You can do so on this page.