Good Samaritan Society - Heritage Grove assisted living resident JoAnne Whicker knows how to work the phones.
Dialing up her friends from the community, the 82-year-old former business owner is becoming a major fundraiser in the areas of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota.
“Yeah, he said, how about $10,000?” JoAnne remembers about one of her pitches for money. “I was speechless. That was the biggest one."
Soliciting support for her passion projects, JoAnne doesn’t take no for an answer.
“JoAnne is a go-getter,” Society administrator Michaun Shetler says.
Standing up for causes she believes in, the Society resident is impacting her neighbors and many others.
Before JoAnne's involvement, a popular pavilion in front of the Society in East Grand Forks was just a dream.
“I said we want to (build one), but it takes money. She took that in and said I’m going to do this,” Michaun says.
And she did, raising nearly $50,000 in less than a month in 2019. JoAnne even got a local construction company to donate materials and labor.
“Doesn’t matter if you’re 70, 80, 90 or 100, you can still contribute,” Michaun says.
'I wasn't expecting anything in return'
JoAnne is racking up awards for her efforts. The Society is honoring her with a mini version of the "Whicker Pavilion."
“I cried for three days when I got that. I wasn’t expecting anything in return, but I have received so much you can’t believe,” JoAnne says.
She’s also taking home the 2021 Outstanding Senior Citizen award for Polk County.
The “Whicker Pavilion” isn’t the only project getting inspiration from JoAnne.
While she was placing flowers at Grand Forks Memorial Park Cemetery in 2015, JoAnne noticed some neglected headstones in the veteran section.
“These were leaning this way and that way. Some of them were sunken, so they were half covered. Then, they’d gone through floods,” JoAnne says.
JoAnne jumped into action.
“I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I just knew I was going to do it,” JoAnne says.
‘Cornerstone, backbone and everything’
After reading a newspaper story about the issue, 27-year Air Force veteran Kevin Fruhwirth felt a calling to dig in. So did the American Legion.
“So I took a tractor with a rope and I pulled all the headstones out and then I cleaned out the holes. I put in pea gravel and straightened everything with a level and that was it,” says Kevin, who now works in facilities maintenance at the University of North Dakota.
North Dakota American Legion Vice Cmdr. of District Two Erica Claus-Numsali says JoAnne "is the cornerstone, backbone and everything behind this. Her inspiration helped us to wake up and help out the community.
"Raising awareness and funds to freshen up the plots and add a memorial, JoAnne was given a “Key to the City” of Grand Forks.
“She’s what makes this community what it is,” says former Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown, M.D. “We can always make a difference. Be present in life."
JoAnne adds she's also been working closely over the years with East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander.
'We made a promise'
The cemetery is the final resting place for veterans dating back to the Civil War, World War I and II.
“When they went over (to war), they went over for us. Some of them gave their life over there. A lot of them did. We made them a promise that we would never forget. I’m afraid that they were forgotten. That place looked so bad. So bad out there,” JoAnne says.
Kevin says, “it looks way better, and it gives respect to the people who have earned that. It’s something that really needed to be done. I occasionally come out here and spend lunch. It’s a real nice place to be."
You can tell the project is touching the community.
To JoAnne, it means “that I’ve done something with my life. Something worthwhile."
Her husband Stan, who served during the Korean War, got to see the veteran project take shape. Unfortunately, he died the day before the couple was set to move into an apartment at the Society in 2018.
Moving to assisted living at the Society
After 62 years in a house, the two were going to try out life at the center. JoAnne's grateful she made the move.
“I can go down and visit with people if I want to. I’m not stuck alone,” JoAnne says.
She says meals on campus and assistance from the caring assisted living staff at the Society has kept her independent. With a history of falling, she feels safe here.
“I have everything I could possibly need,” JoAnne says. “You’ve always got the help that you need."
It's easy to see she's thriving.
“Every resident that lives here wants to have a purpose. They still can contribute,” Michaun says.
And JoAnne admits, she’s ready for her next mission.