Joanne McNeal: Sowing the Seeds of Community
Avid readers of Boyle McCauley News should be familiar with the name Joanne McNeal. Joanne is one of our most prolific writers, who usually contributes one or more articles to each issue.
Joanne bought a house in McCauley six years ago, and after doing some improvements to the property, moved to the neighbourhood a few months thereafter. “When I retired for the second time in early 2006 as Director of the Yellowknife Campus of Aurora College, I wanted to be near my daughter and grandchildren, who seemed to be growing up so fast,” says Joanne. “So, I decided to move back to Edmonton, and looked for a house I could afford. I told the real estate agent that I wanted to look at all properties under $100,000, and she nearly fainted – there were only 14 in all of Edmonton. We looked for several days, and most of the houses were wrecked or torn apart, except for this little house in McCauley. It needed work but I thought it had ‘good bones’. I had owned a house in Norwood in the seventies, and liked the area.”
As for what she likes the best about living here, Joanne lists: “Lovely old houses, big mature trees, the park. It is close to everything, from groceries to the hospital, and caring neighbours from all over the world.”
An educator by profession (she holds a PhD in Art Education), Joanne enjoys contributing to BMC News because, “I like to share experiences, lessons learned, helping others, being part of something. I always want to make a difference, to make the world a better place.”
Joanne is also an avid gardener. “My yard was a challenge. I bought the house when it was covered with snow, and when the snow melted, there was not a single living thing in the whole yard, no trees or shrubs. It had been used as a parking lot for the stadium, so the ground was hard as a rock until it rained and then it was all mud. My first job was to build a fence around the back yard so I could bring my dogs,” she explains.
“After I moved in, I found trees and shrubs on sale at various gardening centres, and I spent the whole summer planting and trying to help things grow. I knew a little about trees from living in Alberta before, but in my McCauley yard I had to level hard ground, build fences, and add soil. I did not have a plan for the garden, I just found things I could afford and tried to make it work. I learned from the successes and failures, and kept moving small things around. I still spend most of the summer out in the yard. It is such a joy to see things grow and flourish. And when I am working in the yard, I get to know my neighbours.”
There is so much more to learn about gardens, building, restoring an old house, making things better, and getting to know good neighbours.
In addition to volunteering with Boyle McCauley News and gardening, Joanne enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, playing violin and singing with the TEMPO orchestra at the Glenrose, and doing exhibits of artwork in various schools and other places. Singing is an important part of her life as well since childhood, when she sang in stage performances in Hollywood, later receiving a vocal scholarship to college. She has sung in choirs wherever she has lived, toured western Canada with a show group, and performed at Klondike Days (now Capital Ex) here in Edmonton. “I was a founding member of ProCoro back in the early eighties. I am still singing and on the Board of the Ed Metro Chorus.”
Joanne is very active in McCauley in ways other than with the paper, particularly coordinating the painting of 550 feet of murals along the LRT corridor. She also serves on the Steering Committee of McCauley Revitalization. Although she is technically “retired,” she has been teaching art education classes part-time at the University of Alberta for the past three years. Her love of dogs also occupies a large part of her life. “I love my dogs, and when both died in November, I got involved with the Sundance Canine Rescue Society and got a new rescue dog. I will also be fostering rescue dogs occasionally as needed,” she says.
Joanne has had a life with a lot of varied experiences, and looks forward to more to come. “I have found that working through difficulties makes me strong, and I am proud that I survived. I have so much to do, I will never be bored. I want to create more in stained glass, painting, and textiles, and I’ve always wanted to write children’s stories and illustrate them. There is so much more to learn about gardens, building, restoring an old house, making things better, and getting to know good neighbours. What a joy life is!”