Joan joined the Fellowship Community in the Fall of 2019, and at the time wrote her own biography to share with Members and Co-workers. Here is the story of Joan's life, in her own words...
I was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1942 to two medical doctors. My father was surgeon and my mother an internist. These were times of suffering, pain and destruction during the Second World War, yet I mostly remember feeling loved and cared for. I do however have a couple of memories of hiding in a bunker during air raids. When I was a little older, I became aware of the bombing of many buildings including part of the house of my step grandfather where his wife died as the result. In 1945 Hungary became part of the Soviet Block and then things became progressively more and more difficult filled with fear, secrecy and hopelessness. My mother’s family were landowners and had several acres in the country where they farmed, had a fruit orchard of mostly apples and apricots, grew grapes, had a wine cellar and made wine, had cows, horses and chickens. This wonderful piece of land that we all loved so much and spent most summers at was immediately socialized by the government and taken away. The stress of the war years resulted in my father developing a bleeding ulcer. He underwent surgery to correct it but the surgery was a failure and he died as the result. I was 5 years old and I remember very little of him. I recall my mother and many people crying and I also recall that my mother wore black for many years. My mother was left with me and my brother ( a year younger than me) to take care of and be both our mother and father. My grandmother moved in to help while my mother worked full time.
I believe this is when my mother became an anthroposophist when a friend seeing her deep sorrow invited her to a study group. Eventually we had to sell the beautiful house where we lived with my father in order to avoid having it taken away and socialized. We moved to a tiny apartment in friend’s home who offered rooms to friends (also to avoid being taken away and being socialized). It was in the most wonderful location on top of one of Buda’s hills overlooking the Danube River and Pest. It faced east and to this day I recall the most remarkable sunrises. I started school when I was 6 or 7 which was not coeducational and was six and a half days a week. I did not really like school. I was shy and an introvert and had only one close friend. I excelled in drawing and spent many hours painting flowers, landscapes and drawing portraits of my family.
I started high school in 1956 a few weeks before the Hungarian Revolution broke out. One day in October we were surprised to hear and see demonstrations going past the school and since most of us hated the regime which was based on fear and oppression, we immediately took part in the marches. For a week or so Hungary was “free” and people were filled with hope and joy. Then unexpectedly one night Russian tanks overran the country and once again the borders to The West (Austria) were closed. Many revolutionaries were killed and disappeared overnight. At this point my mother, brother and I decided to flee the country and go to the US where my mother’s brother had lived for 25 years. It was a very difficult escape during the night and the saddest part was that we had to leave my grandmother who was too old and frail to make the trip. She died 4 months later.
We arrived in California after Christmas and we started school a few days later. Neither my brother nor I spoke English but being young 13 and 14 respectively, we were able to learn fairly quickly. A very difficult period began for all three of us. My mother started studying for her medical boards because she could not practice without a US license. Neither my brother nor I ever felt that we fit in and have experienced ‘homelessness’ the rest of our lives.
In search of employment for my mother, we left California after 6 months and we moved to Michigan. Unable to gain employment there as expected, we left after 3 months and moved to Westboro, Mass where my mother was hired full time in a Psychiatric hospital while she studied for the Medical Boards.
I graduated from Westboro High School in 1960 after which we moved briefly to Nebraska and then back to Massachusetts again to Framingham this time. Here my mother continued her employment as a staff psychiatrist. I enrolled in an art school in Boston hoping to become an interior decorator but dropped out in a few months to my mother’s greatest disappointment. I decided to get married which I did in 1962. My husband worked for Golden Books as a sales representative and he was transferred to the Albany, NY region few months after we were married. My mother finally passed the Medical Boards and she moved to Youngstown, Ohio where she was one of the leading psychiatrists at a psychiatric hospital. In the meantime, my brother was attending Boston College in a premed program. In 1963 my husband was promoted to the NY City office of Golden Books and we moved to Mamaroneck NY.
I had a son in 1963 and then in 1966 my daughter was born. By this time my marriage was failing for many reasons one being that I was too young and immature when I got married at the age of 20. I also regretted that I did not go to college to get further education but my husband insisted that it was now too late since I was married and had children. To complicate things, I started reading anthroposophy which he detested without knowing anything about it. After several difficult years I left with the children in 1970 and moved to Ohio where my mother graciously took us in and supported us while I attended Youngstown State University and got a degree in social work. However, instead of social work, I decided that I want to attend the Waldorf Institute at the Garden City Waldorf School. “The Institute” was a teacher training program directed by John Fentress Gardner who was also the headmaster of the school. My primary motive was to get my children into a Waldorf school rather than to become a teacher myself. I was still very shy and the idea of speaking in front of a group made me very nervous. However, John Gardner accepted me into the Institute and gave a scholarship to my children so they could attend the school. My son was admitted in the fourth grade and my daughter in the second. Moving to Garden City in 1973 meant that my children would be closer to their father after more than 3 years of separation. He had visitation rights and took them almost every weekend. He distrusted the Waldorf School and his criticism undermined the children’s Waldorf experience albeit they both had wonderful friends; my son, loved Tommy Rose and my daughter Anna Barbara Brechbuhl. Glen Brook summers are warmly remembered.
When I finished the Institute in May of 1974, only one of the 20 of us was hired as a class teacher and I, rather than move to another state again took a job in the business office. I worked there for 2 years and then the handwork job opened up. I did lots of handwork in Hungary and loved to make things so I was hired. I got some special tutoring from Margaret Frohlich and that was my introduction to the Fellowship Community and Pine Lodge where I imagined myself living when I got older.
After I left the Waldorf School in 1979, I did not know what I wanted to do. I owned a house and did not feel like moving out of state to continue as a handwork teacher. I also felt that I needed to make more money than I made as a Waldorf teacher. So for the next 7 years I worked at various jobs as a bank president’s secretary, a CPA’s assistant and as a waitress. I even tried my hand at computer programming which I really disliked and did not do well in. It was through serendipity that I decided to become a nurse. I was waitressing one night in a diner and waited on a group of women who have just graduated from the nursing program at Nassau Community College on Long Island. Hearing them talk about it was like the scales fell off my eyes and I knew that nursing was to be my life’s work. I had tried twice before in my life to become a nurse. First when I graduated from high school and later on after I was married.
Both times I encountered obstructions and I had to accept that it was not meant to be. But now, when I was 42 years old suddenly the doors flew open. I was able to get into the starting class in the fall and after 2 years of study I passed the RN boards and was hired at Saint Francis Hospital on Long Island, the cutting edge open heart hospital. I loved my job and loved the money I was making. I was finally able to afford a car.
During my years as a nurse, after the initial 2 years, I worked in Intensive Care units on Long Island, Bridgeport Hospital and Saint Raphael’s Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. I retired from Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Mass after a career of 25 years in nursing.
Of my life I lived the longest in Greenfield Mass. This was the most beautiful place I had ever lived in this country but my best job was at the Heart Center on Long Island. That job was the most interesting and where I learned the most. I was most appreciated at Bridgeport Hospital where I earned respect and honors.
The last 10 years of my life have been the most enjoyable and spiritual. Once I retired, I joined First Class, several anthroposophical study groups, was member of the Circle and the Christian Community. I traveled to many countries, did an excavation in Bethseida, Israel following in the steps of Christ, walked the Camino and traveled to Hungary many times. I visited Dornach one summer, and I traveled through Italy, Holland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Scotland.
I took handwork classes, I took veil painting classes, watercolor painting, and for several years I studied icon painting and painted several icons in egg tempera.
As I look back on the 77 years that I have lived, my heart overflows with gratitude for my life. Gratitude for my parents, friends and family who helped me along the way, the experiences and obstructions I had encountered which were, I feel, all God given.
Ultimately my life was difficult and often painful but it also brought me much joy, diversity and growth.
To make a gift to the Fellowship Community in honor of Joan please visit fellowshipcommunity.org/donate