Community educator has been teaching since ‘63

Joanne Flom makes a variety of items to give away and to sell at craft shows in Brainerd. Photo by Jennie Zeitler

Seeing how community education classes have kept people active and involved in community life has propelled JoAnne Flom, of Baxter, to keep teaching, even as she advances through her 80s. She has taught 18 different community education classes over the course of 55 years in 39 different schools throughout Minnesota, plus schools in Indiana, Iowa and North Dakota.

“In the last 10 years, I’ve pretty much taught just in the Brainerd district at Forestview Middle School,” Flom said. “There’s no place in the world any better, with the helpful staff there and the accommodations they give me.”

Flom began teaching in community education in 1963, when she and her young family lived in the Anoka district.

“I was scared silly,” she remembered. “I remember the first class so well; there were two women there who didn’t get along, and I prayed that the Lord would let it be a peaceful night. One of those class members showed me how we should not be selfish and hang on to everything but to reach out to others.”

Flom has appreciated the opportunity to be a positive influence in the lives of others.

She noted that as people age, they can feel sorry for themselves because of their limitations, or they can approach life with a “can-do” attitude. It’s evident that Flom models that positive attitude every day.

“When people get out and do things rather than just staying at home, they communicate with others much better and make new friends,” she said. “I’ve seen some very close friendships develop in classes.”

Flom herself has benefitted from the camaraderie of classes, “My students have been most encouraging to me and have brought me through many a trial and tribulation.”

Brainerd crafter and community educator JoAnne Flom keeps herself busy making many different items to sell and give away. Some of the items include a dusting mitt, potholder, afghan, woven rug, quilted potholder, slippers, doll puppet and braided rug. Photo by Jennie Zeitler

Through the years, Flom has taught 18 different classes. Some were dropped as certain styles of crafts became less popular and prices of some supplies increased. They have included beading, plastic canvas, Barbie doll tents, potholders, knitted scarves, coin purses with leather weave, towel holders, crocheted rugs, hooked rugs, woven rugs and braided rugs. The wildly popular cookie baking classes aren’t done anymore as schools no longer have the kitchen classroom equipment to use.

As she gets on in years (despite her youthful mental and physical energy), Flom has cut back the number of classes she does. Now, she teaches woven rugs and braided rugs. At home, she goes from project to project every day, standing for a while to do rugs and then sitting to crochet or knit.

“It’s easier on my body, and I don’t get tired of a project as quickly,” she said.

Family ties have become much more important to Flom as she gets older. It was her grandmother who taught her to braid rugs when she was 6 years old.

“It’s always fun to see grandmothers and granddaughters together in class; it carries things across generations,” she said.

Flom emphasized that community education is not only beneficial for the class members but for the schools as well.

“Community members get into the schools, and they see the value of the building and how the district serves the community,” she said.

In addition to teaching, Flom sells her handmade items at three craft shows each year. The shows are hosted at Brainerd High School during opening weekends for fishing in May, duck hunting in October and deer hunting in November.

“I keep prices at a decent level; lower prices sell better,” she said. “I make a lot of potholders, rugs, slippers and other things. They all sell very well, and I often get orders for more.”

Flom has seldom had to purchase anything new in making her crafts, as people know she is eager to receive fabric, yarn and other supplies. Her apartment is well stocked with bins filled with jeans, fabric and other materials just waiting to be transformed into attractive and usable items.

“I’ve always encouraged people to use everything – not to throw things away,” she said. “I use scraps from one project on other projects.”

Flom also donates many items each year to silent auctions and other fundraisers.

“Not only did those things cost next to nothing to make, but they get a lot more for them than I would at a sale,” she said.

Joanne Flom crochets bodies to go with doll heads to make hand puppets. They are a real delight to the children visiting her craft booth. Photo by Jennie Zeitler

Flom has given back to people in other ways as well. As her four children grew up, she was active with 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Bible school, Sunday school and the Anoka County Fair. She worked with the Salvation Army in St. James and was an election judge and Ladies’ Aid president. She also took death counseling classes at Mayo Clinic while her husband was being treated there.

She travelled across the country to help people affected by natural disasters with Samaritan’s Purse, a 40-year-old relief ministry established by Franklin Graham. She went to Mississippi two times after floods, three weeks one year and one week the year after. She has also gone to North Dakota and Iowa.

“Seeing how we could change lives with the little things we were doing made me want to help change more lives,” said Flom. “Each homeowner is given a Bible signed by the volunteers who worked on their home. Their gratitude was unreal. I’d give anything to be able to go back and work with Samaritan’s Purse again.”

There are other ways to help closer to home, and Flom continues to do everything she can.

“Life is what you make it and how you deal with what happens,” she said. “You never know what life is going to bring, but there is always a way. There have been many times I’ve had nothing in my wallet, but God has always provided.”

Flom has found great satisfaction in using leftover and donated materials, making the most of the resources she has. Continuing to craft items keeps her active every day. Interacting with other people while teaching or volunteering keeps her mind sharp. She is glad to live every day to the fullest. As always, her primary interest is community education.

“There is so much value in community education,” Flom said. “Class participants have time with other people for fellowship and education. It’s fun!”

For more information on classes or crafts, contact JoAnne Flom at (218) 270-3503.