Janice Warner long ago earned her angel’s wings with a loving attitude toward others, but now the lady with Down syndrome has become an inspiration as she handles adversity with grace.
Last month, 52-year-old Janice broke her neck in an accident at her Clinton home and had to be fitted with a halo neck brace at University Hospitals in Iowa City. The halo later became dislodged and Janice had to return to Iowa City to have it refitted.
She is recuperating at Mercy Medical Center-Clinton south campus, not far from Arch II, the house she lives in with longtime roommates Becky Tyler and Brenda Connell. All three are core members of The Arch/L’Arche, a community of people with and without developmental disabilities who share life together in houses and apartments. Clinton Franciscan Sister Marjorie Wisor founded The Arch in Clinton in 1974.
I became acquainted with Janice during visits to The Arch over the years and accepted an invitation to visit her last week at Mercy South. Seemingly imprisoned in the halo device, Janice stretched out her hand to me, smiled warmly and said, “I remember you.”
Sitting beside Janice was Jo Anne Horstmann, who served 12 years as community leader of The Arch and a decade as regional coordinator of L’Arche’s Central U.S. region. Jo Anne led a retreat for Janice and her housemates at Our Lady of the Prairie near Wheatland just days before Janice’s accident.
As she assisted Janice with her lunch of beef stroganoff and broccoli, Jo Anne said she feels blessed by Janice’s presence. “She really exemplifies someone who is going through a difficult time, but it doesn’t rob her of her joy. That’s what I see in Janice; that’s what I can learn from her.”
An online “Friends of Janice Warner” visitors’ calendar is being distributed as a way to help Janice realize she’s not alone and to ensure her safety from accidental falls. But for Jo Anne, the visits are also “a great opportunity to receive a blessing. So it’s good to put this out for other people so they can receive a blessing.”
Visitors can sign up for three-hour or split shifts between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Along with The Arch community, members of Janice’s church, First United Methodist in Clinton, and the broader community are being invited to be involved.
Pastor Bobb Barrick says Janice is a cherished member of the congregation and an enthusiastic follower of Jesus. Her favorite hymn is “Awesome God,” which she gets to “sign” in front of the congregation when members sing it. She also loves to share prayer concerns for The Arch community and for others, the pastor said. “She’s really loved here.”
Everyone has a “Janice” story; Keith Kalaukoa, The Arch community leader, has several. He shares this one from his first L’Arche USA meeting in 2004, which Janice also attended. He had been on the job just four months:
“I was asked to direct a skit on the Scripture reading of Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’ feet. Janice presented me with a giant grin and a gentle nod of her head after I asked her to play Mary Magdalene. I was relieved. During practice she was spot on with her cues and made a convincing portrayal. I was moved by her vulnerability.
“Then it was time to present the skit to the national assembly of 75-80 members. Everyone’s eyes were on Jesus and his guests and out came Mary Magdalene with her long black wig imitating Michael Jackson’s moon walk. I never witnessed people to laugh so hard in one given moment, and I thought I was going to lose my job. Nine years later, I still share this story with great joy.
“Janice is that ray of sunshine and sign of hope for others to be true to oneself, and if you have the opportunity to make someone laugh, then go for it.”
If you’d like to visit this angel with a halo, email Jo Anne at email@example.com.