By Barb Arland-Fye
Katey Simon didn’t expect her responsibilities at The Arch to include washing blinds in one of the houses where people with and without developmental disabilities share life together in Clinton. Mutual relationships and trust in God are at the heart of this shared life. What in the world did that have to do with washing blinds, she wondered.
The then-new assistant grumbled as she went about the tedious task that another assistant had asked her to do. Jo Anne Horstmann, serving as The Arch’s community leader at the time, gently reminded Katey that everything we do for others, no matter how small, represents an act of love.
Lesson learned. “Thank you for all of the lessons you’ve taught me,” said Katey, who shared that pearl of wisdom with dozens of people gathered Sept. 24 for a regional council meeting and sendoff for Jo Anne and Clinton Franciscan Sister Maria Zeimen. Both women have devoted their lives to L’Arche, an international federation of which The Arch is a part. Now it’s time to say good bye, they decided.
Jo Anne served 12 years as community leader of The Arch before becoming regional coordinator of the Central U.S. Region of L’Arche a decade ago. Sr. Maria serves as her co-coordinator for the region that encompasses The Arch in Clinton and communities in Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Kan., Mobile, Ala., Atlanta, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla. Their communities’ leaders and board presidents participated in the meeting and sendoff at First United Methodist Church in Clinton. (Sr. Maria was unable to attend the meeting.)
Affirmation is one way community members honor each other during birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. People attending the meeting and dinner, which Ambrosians for Peace from St. Ambrose University in Davenport prepared and served, stood up and affirmed Jo Anne, just as Katey did.
Jan Kness, a past president of The Arch board of directors, said “we brought a gift to Clinton” with Jo Anne’s hiring in 1989. “She’s been a gift to my life and my family’s life.”
Sister Vicky Arndorfer, who serves as Arch II live-in assistant and has known Jo Anne for years, thanked her for “all you’ve done,” and quipped, “See you on that farm!” Jo Anne treasures the Lost Nation farm her grandparents and parents farmed and where she hosts get-togethers for Arch core members and associates.
“Jo Anne has been a real source of support, comfort and inspiration,” affirmed Alex Baig, L’Arche community leader in Chicago.
Carolyn Luebe, referring to a video montage that Arch assistant Jen Troxell produced, told Jo Anne: “Looking at all the pictures, it’s just obvious to me that you’ve touched the hearts of so many people. That’s just a natural gift you have.”
Core member Victor Vath walked up to Jo Anne and held her hand, his unspoken, but powerful sign of affirmation.
“Well Jo Anne, one of your gifts is that you connect with people,” said Keith Kalaukoa, The Arch’s community leader. He invited everyone to join him in singing an Arch standard of Jo Anne’s — “I love you a bushel and a peck.”
Leaving the celebration that night, I felt I’d absorbed a bushel and peck of love and a lesson that reminds me — cleaning the bathrooms in my family’s house is a small act of love.