Spotlight on Joyce Mitchell
On March 21, 1931, in a small home (where she lived until moving to The Gardens), Joyce Marilyn was born to Grace and Walter Mitchell. For six glorious years, Joyce idolized her parents, while being the sole recipient of their affection. That was, until young Walter was born! At age six, Joyce suddenly experienced an unfamiliar feeling of resentment, as she shared her parents attention for the first time in her life. Although her resentment subsided, she found that the age difference left her with little in common with her younger brother. Later, as young adults, Joyce and Walter became good friends. After their parents passed, Joyce became Walter’s primary caregiver, lovingly helping him deal with complications caused by muscular dystrophy, until the end of his young life.
Growing up in Stamford was a challenge for Joyce. Academically, Stamford's school system was excellent, with particular emphasis on the arts. However, Joyce was a shy child and did not have a positive school experience. “Several of my classmates were snobs—bullies, actually. Because I was quiet, I became their target. The unfortunate consequence of their bullying was an erosion my self-esteem.”
Walter, Sr. was in the National Guard during WWI. During the Great Depression, he supplemented the family income by remaining in the local reserves. When WWII commenced, because he was older, the army kept him stateside. As an army captain Joyce's father was in charge of lieutenants. During WWII, Walter was transferred from state to state. If the transfer were for a short period of time, the family remained in Stamford. For longer periods of time, Walter was permitted to take his family with him. These military transfers provided Joyce with the perfect escape from the cruelty of her Stamford classmates. Instead of daily torture, life became a huge adventure for Joyce, as she experienced different lifestyles in different states.
Of all the places Joyce lived, Bangor, Maine, was her absolute favorite! To her surprise and delight, the local children were welcoming and kind. This experience helped Joyce's self-respect grow exponentially. Each day, after all school assignments were completed, the teacher permitted students to enjoy free time. As a new student, Joyce shyly stayed by herself, choosing to spend her free time drawing. Her classmates immediately recognized Joyce's talent and she became somewhat of a celebrity! Joyce had never felt important before, and this new celebrity status gave her a newfound sense-of-self.
As an added bonus, Joyce absolutely loved the topography of Bangor. There was not a single flat spot anywhere! Although roller skating (a skill she learned while in Bangor) could be challenging, Joyce declares that, to this very day, given the choice, she would move to Maine in a heartbeat. After six short months, the military relocated the Mitchells to Miami, FL. ""We moved to Miami Beach for 20 months and it was the total opposite of Maine. I grew to like it, but I never loved it! It was totally flat, with palm trees. I would have given anything for a hill and maple trees!""
Joyce had nothing but admiration for her parents. Her mother, Grace, was raised in a remote town in upstate NY, and was kind and shy. Joyce loved her mother, Grace, dearly, but there was no doubt that Walter was Joyce's idol. ""He was a major during WWI, and always walked upright-tall and straight, as a man of responsibility does."" Walter was a tall man, with very long legs. ""That is how I learned to walk fast! My father walked very fast to church, and I had to practically run to keep up with him!”
Joyce loved being involved in church, and found her niche while teaching Sunday School as a young adult. Her primary interest was working with younger children. ""It was the most exciting time of my life! In my early teens, a friend asked me to teach and I loved it! She, herself, was a professional teacher and told me that I had a gift and that I should pursue a professional teaching career. I could not have been more delighted! I attended Danbury State Teachers’ College, which is now WestConn. I taught third, fourth, and fifth grades in Darien. I loved teaching. In fact, my love for it grew stronger every year! Fifth grade was my absolute favorite because I was able to teach American History—my passion! I was in my glory! I especially liked to take my students on field trips, which were invaluable experiences that brought history to life. The most memorable trip was to a huge tree near our school. It was at least ten feet across. It was not immediately apparent, but if you looked closely, there was a small ten inch metal rod sticking up out of the ground. If one pulled on the rod, an invisible door in the tree opened. Just inside the door was a ladder, which led to three or four rooms. The Pequot Indians trusted the first white settlers to be their allies. However, the settlers took advantage of the natives by taking everything they owned, including their land. In retaliation, the Pequots waged war on the white settlers. The settlers had hollowed out the tree, using it for storage and refuge. It was fascinating! There it was right in our own neighborhood and no one knew about it!""
Every year, Joyce brought her students to experience the secret of the tree in an effort to bring local history to life. At the seemingly ordinary tree, she allowed one student to pull the metal bar, and watched her students' astonished faces as the invisible door in the immense tree opened. Joyce pointed out how cleverly the door had been constructed to assure that it was invisible and emphasized how the white settlers’ lives depended on that fact. She permitted them to go down the ladder by themselves, to inspect the secret living quarters. It was always a great joy for Joyce to pass her passion for American History on to her students. Unfortunately, the town needed additional land to expand the local junior high school, so the tree was removed. If it were up to Joyce, they would have been required to build around such an invaluable landmark. Although it no longer physically exists, it remains etched in the memories of her inspired students.
“I would have taught forever, but over time I found that I no longer had the stamina for it."" So, after thirty-five wonderfully fulfilling years, Joyce gave up teaching, but she continued to pursue her interests, particularly reading. She joined a reading group with her longtime friend, Trish, enjoying passionate discussions of current books. She also continued to be involved in the church she cherished all of her life.
Joyce enjoys living at The Gardens. Lately, she’s taken on the responsibility of running the “resident led” activities that take place on certain weeknights. Ever the teacher, you can hear her leading discussions on quiet evenings in the living room and asking trivia questions of her peers. Conversely, The Gardens is just as delighted to have Joyce as part of our family.