Elder Speak: Jan Wallick exemplifies the spirit of community service
Making a positive community impact is something that any person can accomplish. It doesn’t take a lot of money, a big title or a dramatic vision. Instead, the only requirement is that one chooses to find a way to make the community a better place, so it’s all about heart.
This truth was reinforced for me when I had the delightful opportunity to interview Jan Wallick, a long-time school secretary in the Cashmere School District. She’s one of four individuals who are participating in the Ripple Foundation’s Elder Speak program.
Wallick, Dr. Jerry Gibbons, Helen Rayfield and Francis Collins are working with facilitators in exploring lessons they’ve learned so that those can be shared with the community.
What jumped out to me in our conversation was Wallick’s dedication to the students and community in Cashmere through her service on the staff and through her church. What a great example of living a meaningful life.
Imagine how many kids she impacted over the years by anonymously paying the fees for students who couldn’t afford to do so and by other acts of kindness.
Wallick was born on a farm in rural Nebraska and attended a country school with a handful of other students. She recalled that the teachers were strict and students were liable to get their mouths washed with soap if they uttered bad words like “darn.” She remembers the big garden at their farm, along with the chickens, cows and pigs. Helping out by working was part of being in the family and she learned the value of diligence and attention to detail.
She recalled that her father came down with a serious case of asthma and had to give up farming, which led the family to move to a larger community in Nebraska and then Newport, Washington. He couldn’t completely get it out of his blood, later purchasing a 30-acre farm near Sunnyside.
While she has fond memories of life on the farm in a small town, she found that moving to larger communities offered a range of new opportunities. Living in town meant the freedom of spending more time with friends and the opportunity, as she grew, to start making money babysitting. “I just grew up a little faster than maybe I would have if I’d have been on the farm kind of isolated.”
That theme of meeting new challenges with a sense of optimism and making the best of things is a recurring theme in her life.
After graduating high school, her babysitting work for a prominent Newport family led to another growth opportunity. The family felt that the small town didn’t offer enough opportunity so they encouraged her to move to the Seattle area and arranged for Wallick to become the nanny for a family on Mercer Island.
She went to business school to develop her secretarial skills. Missing her family, she departed to Spokane and ultimately met her future husband, a teacher. They moved to Cashmere where he taught art, sociology and psychology. Wallick took a job at Vale Elementary and, except for a stint when she was at home raising their kids, spent her working career in the district.
Besides her work as a secretary, she got involved with other school activities, serving as her daughter’s class advisor in high school. She also helped out with the pep club.
Her passion for baking, particularly cookies, became one of her signature contributions. Whenever students wanted to hold a bake sale, she offered to help bake cookies. At one auction, a plate of her cookies went for $25, she remembered. To this day, she’s see community members who remember those treats.
She also recalled helping kids who were struggling to fit in. One was despondent that she didn’t have decent clothes, so Jan arranged to get some new clothes and put them in the student’s locker so no one would know. “It was really satisfying to be part of that — just to be of service,” Wallick told me.
Wallick reminds us that what we give to others is far more satisfying than what we spend on ourselves.
Elder Speak is a program of The Ripple Foundation which is a local educational nonprofit dedicated to empowering individuals and groups in their ability to bring their best self within their community. Go to www.theripplefoundation.org to provide support or for more information.