Jean grew up in Northern Ohio, which is essentially Midwest living at its best – corn fields, dairy farms, pond swimming and ice skating, and the Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Indians. It was a good and simple life…school, church, family, and community. She was fortunate to have two spirit-filled parents who instilled Christian values, encouraged her to seek out her own faith journey, and loved her enough to “set her free”. Her faith, born from weekly church attendance at York United Methodist Church, church camp, God seeking and soul searching, solidified her desire to pursue a bachelors and master’s degree in social work. And to top off the Midwestern experience…she completed those degrees at The Ohio State University where she met her life partner, Ron (at the ice rink no less). Jean views her social work profession as “lived faith.” After all, what better expression of Christ’s commandments then to fulfill the mission of social work:
The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession’s focus on individual well-being in a social context and the well-being of society. Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.
Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients. “Clients” is used inclusively to refer to individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice.
As idyllic as Jean’s Midwest childhood was, the mountains were calling. While summer jobs had always been quirky – driving tractor during hay season, babysitting, elder care, driving an ice cream truck for Mr. Barge the high school English teacher – Jean desired an even bigger adventure. In the fall of 1987, one of Jean’s high school friends suggested Jean join her for a summer job at a ranch in Montana. It sounded amazing – “how do I sign up?” A penned letter sent snail mail and a penned response reply closed the deal. Jean was hired at Sweet Grass Ranch in Big Timber, MT. Two days after high school graduation, Jean boarded a flight on her own and headed west (and then returned for multiple summers).
To say Jean’s experience at Sweet Grass was transformative is an understatement. It wasn’t just the beauty and serenity of God’s creation that was life changing – it was the people, the culture, the risks and adventures, and the introspection which resulted in self-discovery, and change. God knew what he was doing by gifting Jean with three years of growth – just one year after college graduation and months after her marriage, Jean’s mom died after a three year battle with ovarian cancer. The strong, independent, faith filled young woman was devastated. As is typical, family dynamics changed – each family member was dealing with their own grief and the family struggled to find their new normal. At the same time, Jean’s new husband Ron had been hired at his dream job and left for four months of training. Once Ron finished his training, Jean left her job, local friends, and church family to relocate to an unknown community, in an isolated part of the state, for Ron’s job transfer. Can you say spiritual crisis? But out of the storm comes beauty…”the greater your storm, the brighter your rainbow.”
Fast forward twenty five years later. Jean and Ron are empty-nesters, parents of two biological children – Seth and Emma – who have been “set free” to pursue their own dreams. One is in Colorado attending a military academy and the other is pursuing her dream to become a physician’s assistant. Over the years, the family hosted two exchange students (in an effort to bring culture to small town Ohio) from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Keira and Stella (respectively) are now members of the family – always welcome and returning for holidays or a weekend get-away from college. Approximately ten years ago, three local girls “officially/unofficially” joined their family by virtue of their own personal tragedy. Through the years the whole family has grieved the death of the girls’ biological mom, celebrated a wedding, and rejoiced at the birth of a new “grandchild”.
The mountains are still calling Jean (and now Ron, Seth and Emma who love the mountains as much as Jean). The family seeks out mountains and wilderness as often as possible, but at the very least each summer. Seth lives in the Colorado mountains – and takes advantage of the hiking, skiing, and snowboarding and Emma will be heading to Sweet Grass Ranch in Montana this summer to live her dream (and ideally have her own experience of discovery). Travel is a treasured family value!
While still in Ohio by necessity, Jean and Ron embrace life in the Midwest. Jean has been consistently employed in social work jobs, living her faith professionally and in the community. Jean currently holds an assistant professor of social work position at Mt. Vernon Nazarene University and is in private mental health practice. As members of the local Methodist church, they frequently host family, the church congregation, and community friends at their old and spacious farm house as a ministry of hospitality. Jean leads a community center for teens and donates her time to community organizations as a committee member. In her “spare time” Jean tends to her farm pets – a horse, two dogs, cats, and lots of wild critters (the critters are not really pets but they become a part of the barn family when you see them daily, i.e. the resident possums or raccoons). In addition to two jobs, family, church, and community commitments, Jean began a Leadership and Global Perspectives doctoral program at George Fox University in 2017 to fulfill a life-long dream of a terminal degree.
Jean would tell you that life is good. God is good. But the mountains are still calling…