Soroptimists honor Joan Hartwell for service |

Soroptimists honor Joan Hartwell for service

The struggle to have food on the table each night when the cupboards are barren can break a family.

Imagine being 19 years old, not too long out of high school, with a husband in college and two young children.

This was the reality for Joan Hartwell as a young mother 44 years ago in San Diego. But the struggle to survive did not break Joan and her family – it was a source of strength and a time that allowed her to graciously accept help from others.

“The first 10 years were so hard that they formed our strength,” Joan said. “Having been married so young and having to tackle things at such a young age as young parents, it really brought us up straight. We sort of finished raising ourselves doing that.”

Joan, the 1999 Soroptimist Woman of Distinction, learned during that time how just a little support from others can provide enough strength to move ahead.

The couple made the decision to put Joan’s husband, Cliff, through college soon after they were married.

“At that time, it was more important to us to get Cliff through school,” Joan said. “So we did, we put him through college and he finished in four years. We were working every oddball job you could imagine just to get him through.”

Cliff worked a variety of jobs while going to school, and Joan worked out of their home baby-sitting, teaching piano lessons and sewing.

“We got him through, we were pretty hungry and broke, but those were the years that the idea of people doing for others came through for us. We were the recipients of some help.”

Cliff worked part-time for a local pediatrician, cleaning his office and doing other odd tasks. The pediatrician paid Cliff very well, and soon all of the children’s medicines were samples and free. Cliff’s aunt rented them her house for “next to nothing,” and both Joan and Cliff’s parents would show up unexpectedly with casserole dishes and clothes for the children.

“People helped us by giving guidance,” Joan said. She realized that it was the little things that counted.

What stands out in Joan’s mind during that time were her visits to the grocery store. There were two brothers that ran a small neighborhood grocery store, one who ran the meat market and one who ran the grocery section of the store.

Each week, Joan would bring in her grocery money to buy food for the week.

“They would see how much money I had and they would help me,” Joan remembers. “The brother in the meat market would help me figure out what meat I could get for the whole week. Then I would go over to the brother in the grocery part of the store and he would say, ‘OK, what did you buy.’ And he helped me plan my meals for the week and stretch my dollars.”

Joan has shared this story with many others, and said she will never forget their kindness. The two brothers were not giving the family money, but they were teaching them things.

Not too long after college, Cliff started his own school supply business, and after their third child was born and old enough to go to daycare, Joan went to work for the school district.

The really tough times were over and Joan was absorbed with her work and family.

“Being in a really big town,” she said, “we didn’t run into the opportunity to do much work for others at that time.”

The family started coming up to Truckee in 1972 to ski and visit friends.

Joan said they would often joke they would retire in Truckee and have a house downtown, on the Truckee River and a business on Commercial Row.

When a friend called in 1979 to tell them there was a house for sale on the river and a business for sale downtown, it suddenly wasn’t a joke. The couple partnered with their friend, Wally Stevens, and bought Tourist Liquors, as well as their first house in Truckee on the river.

It was in Truckee that Joan and Cliff were able to begin to serve and support others in their community, like the support they had been given.

After becoming immediately involved with the Truckee Downtown Merchants Association and the Truckee-Donner Chamber of Commerce, Joan and her husband realized there were many ways they could serve the community.

“It just opened a door we really didn’t know existed until we got out here,” Joan said. “There was always something we could be working on.”

Joan worked hard to help out the Downtown Merchants Christmas Tree celebration, and joined the Truckee Soroptimist Club.

In 1984 Joan bought the Variety Store with two girlfriends, which she helped run for 10 years. The women pooled their resources and split tasks, a time in her life she will never forget.

“They were some of the happiest working years of my life. Everyone loved the store, I don’t think we had an unhappy customer,” Joan said.

Joan has worked with the Soroptimists intensely since she began at the club and regional level, and has remained dedicated to supporting women in various ways. At the regional level, she helped with a great amount of administration work for the Human Rights/Status of Women program.

“You have a great feeling of accomplishment when you can achieve getting a program successfully going,” Joan said. “And more importantly, you can see the happiness other people get from being able to do that program.”

To add to her involved schedule and open her arms even wider, Joan was one of the first people to kick start Inter Club in Truckee, a group made up of the different service clubs in town, dedicated to mostly hands-on projects in the community. She also ran the Charter City Status campaign two years after Truckee reached town status.

She also worked with the Soroptimists to help get the Sierra Teen Education Parenting Program (STEPP) program started at Sierra High School, a program dedicated to helping teen parents complete high school, while learning how to care for their babies.

“I think the teenage parenting idea came from other ideas,” Joan said. “We started dreaming about this, but it would not have happened without the school district and people involved with supporting it. We had to prove to the powers that be that there were enough young women that needed this program and, boy, there were. Also, just getting the girls to trust someone was a big challenge.”

“We asked the teen mothers what they really wanted, they said an education,” she added.

Joan felt personally attached to the program, because she, too, had children when she was very young.

“Being a teen parent myself, I know how little I knew,” she said. “There was a lot we didn’t know about raising our children that we know today. Had there been this kind of support for teen parenting back then, it would have been real helpful.”

Joan frequently visits the teens in STEPP, and also helped get the Teen Closet going, an incentive program for the teens, where they can get clothes and toys for their babies when they complete school projects and parenting classes and responsibilities.

Like Joan, Cliff is also very active in the community. He served on the Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District Board of Trustees for six years, is an active Truckee Rotarian and worked with the Excellence in Education Foundation.

“He’s so good at the facilities of the schools,” said Joan of her husband. “He was instrumental in getting Glenshire Elementary School built.”

Both currently work for the Tahoe-Truckee Community Foundation, and helped make phone calls during the Measure S and Measure C Bond campaigns.

Joan has also been involved with the Truckee-Donner Historical Society, and she is dedicated to preserving Truckee’s rich and unique history. She served as treasurer of the organization from 1995 to just recently.

“I’m really kind of a history buff in a way,” she said.

She is currently absorbed with organizing Truckee Community Christmas, an umbrella organization that is dedicated to Truckee families in need of a helping hand during the holiday season. People that are interested in helping families can contact various organizations that have programs through Community Christmas. Programs include Adopt-A-Family, Warm Coat Drive, Christmas Toy Drive, Canned Food Drive, Salvation Army and 7-Eleven Christmas Angel Trees, Adopt-A-Senior and a Food Gift Certificate Program.

Although she remains constantly busy participating in events that help better the Truckee community, she also finds time to travel nationally and internationally with her husband, and for her other hobbies which include playing the piano, reading, stitchery and gardening.

Both honored and surprised by being this year’s Soroptimist Woman of Distinction, Joan will be recognized at a reception at the Glenshire Clubhouse on Wednesday, Nov. 17. The reception is open to the public and scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m.

“Being recognized by those that work just as hard as you do is very special,” she said.

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