Getting to know a familiar face at Geddes Hall


Like many coffee-minded students, my favorite little spot for rejuvenation is Geddes Hall. From the moment you step out of the now not-so-warm outdoors and into either set of double doors, you are bound to be greeted by not only a soothing aroma of Breakfast Blend, but also the friendly face of Joanie May.

Joanie May is an administrative assistant at the Center for Social Concerns. She can be found typing at the front desk of Geddes, coordinating activities and requests for the CSC as well as the duties of student workers under her direction. I had the chance to chat with Joanie among the comfy couches this week and, for the first time in personally recalled history, have had not the slightest inclination to fall asleep.

Although Joanie humbly stated that there is not much to her aside from talking, she had a lively story to tell. She was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, a populous area encompassing several major cities in Northern California, including her hometown of San Jose. “I was right there in the booming and bustling atmosphere during the 1960s and ’70s,” Joanie explained, “and went to grade school, high school, and college all by the Bay.”

After school, Joanie and her husband wanted a change from a deeply urban lifestyle. She said, “When my son was little, we decided to move to Idaho. We wanted a simpler way of life,” one in which her son could grow and thrive. So, Joanie and her husband, son, mother, and brother packed up shop and headed even further north.

“When we moved to northern Idaho, we made our home by Lake Coeur d’Alene” she said. Intrigued primarily by the fancy French-sounding name, I also asked about the geography surrounding it. Joanie’s eyes lit up even brighter than usual, and, using much-needed hand motions, she said, “It’s in a valley surrounded by hills. Real hills. And in the lake is real water. This is where I first learned to ski and recognized my love of being by the water.” She went on, “I went back to Idaho to see my brother recently. I wanted to see him, sure, but also to just sit there and be surrounded by real hills and real water. The whole experience is therapeutic and very spiritual.”

Immediately, I wondered how Joanie had the spark of curiosity to live and work in the (almost always) sunny city of South Bend, Indiana. “Well, it wasn’t until my son graduated college. After that, he coached softball in Washington for the Moses League. Actually, he met his future wife at a softball convention.” She paused and smiled, “It was love at first sight. Then they moved here and I tagged along later for the ride.”

Before moving to Indiana, Joanie worked in California, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. She began working in the telephone industry for the company US West. Later, she worked as an administrative coordinator of First Year Studies for Lewis and Clark College in Portland. She spoke of Portland’s beauty, “I never knew there were that many colors of green.” I thought Joanie might not have been to Ireland.

Yet not only is Joanie a natural, national road-tripper, but she is also an international traveler. She has visited several countries, including England on a castle tour and the Emerald Isle of Ireland itself. “My dream trip is to go on a grand church tour through Germany, but,”—she joked—“my travel buddy, who just-so-happens to be my niece, got married and had kids.” I suppose they will do that.

But Joanie’s son moving away didn’t stop her from traveling. In fact, she went to join him, his equally softball-loving wife, and their two daughters in South Bend. Joanie spoke about her family, “I have 2 granddaughters, Devin and Hayden, who I affectionately call my ‘monsters.’” More scared than curious, I wondered as much as you whence the quaint title came. “Oh,” she said as if it were nothing, “because they would try and sneak up the stairs of my apartment and scare me. It sometimes worked.”

Joanie loves spending time with the “monsters,” whether it’s watching their softball and soccer games, cooking a meal together, or going on road trips. She told the Rover, “My two monsters and I went on a road trip together. Destination: Appomattox Courthouse. Since Devin was learning about it in history class, we made an educational trip out of it. My one rule, aside from not using cell phones except for an emergency, was no sleeping in the car. Otherwise, I’d get bored! So we played games and sang the whole way there and back.” Joanie followed up with sounds that suggested that she hasn’t lost the Shirley Temple in her.

After moving in by her son’s family, Joanie wanted a smaller job than before. She came across the opening at the CSC. She spoke of her first experience with the Center for Social Concerns staff: “Just meeting them was meeting family. I saw the heart of the Center and all of their individual faces.” She continued, “It wasn’t coming to meet a new family, just a bigger one.”  

Perhaps this community effort is why she has decided to stay in one place these past five years. But Joanie stated specifically, “I love being here because I get to work with 40 student workers. They are all so positive: no one has a frown, and everyone speaks as they come in. It’s a very energizing environment. And I try to keep up the energy and thank them by throwing our annual Christmas party, which is coming up soon!”

Although I wanted to hear all details about this party of sorts, time only allowed us one more question. What’s Joanie’s snippet of advice to students? “Don’t take yourself too seriously. If an opportunity comes up, take it … Take a year of service, a gap year, pack a backpack and go across the country or world. I’ve heard students who from the start get a serious job miss the freedom, so take advantage of the world before you become serious. The life experiences that you have will be worthwhile. And you’ll come back with so many stories to tell.” She added, in conclusion, “Always reach out to anyone in need.”

Tierney Vrdolyak is a junior studying the greatest of books and theology. She enjoys playing a multitude of sports, but alas, has recently and temporarily lost mobility in her left foot. To shower her with board games and gifts of your mere presence, visit her at her home of Breen-Phillips Hall or via