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From a saddle to a wheelchair—Rediscovering the bright side of life

When Joyce Blair Anderson was only 2 years old, her happy place was in a saddle on the back of a pony. Her family owned Blair Pony Farm north of Glenwood where they bought and sold ponies to area farmers.

Joyce stops to pet Finn, a friendly dog brought in for a visit by Kay Feuchtenberger, an employee at the assisted living facility that Joyce calls home (Holly Ridge). Photo by Faith Anderson

“Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, every farm had a pony or two for the kids,” said Joyce. The Blair family cared for, loved, rode their ponies and horses and traveled to shows all over the state. For years, Joyce was a member of the Waska Riders Saddle Club and fondly remembers riding in the Waterama parade and others in the area. In addition, she was a member of the Western Saddle Clubs Association (WSCA) which was officially formed in 1955 to promote western-type horses and saddle clubs. In 1990, Joyce was named WSCA’s Ms. Congeniality.

After graduating from high school in 1968, Joyce finished a nine-month course, became a hairdresser and worked in St. Cloud and Glenwood. She also spent time working for a home care organization and at her family’s western shop near Alexandria.

“I never really saw a paycheck when I was working there,” said Joyce, “because I spent everything I earned on equipment and stuff for my horses.”

In 1972, Joyce married Dale Anderson, a local dairy farmer. The couple had two boys, Cullen and Barry, and milked 35 cows, fed calves, baled hay and raised corn and soybeans on their Pope County farm. The work was hard, but Joyce loved the rural life and knew it was a good place to raise their sons. Barry and Cullen were involved in 4-H, and Joyce loved helping them get ready to show their animals, participate in the county and state fairs and go on trail rides. Whenever she found time, she would jump on her horse, Bonanza, and go for a ride around the countryside.

In April 2007, the couple moved to the nearby small town of Farwell, and their adult sons took over the operation of the farm.

Joyce Anderson rode in many Waterama parades as a member of the Waska Riders Saddle Club.

Five months later, as Joyce and Dale were on their way to church, they were involved in a serious car accident. Because of the severity of their injuries, both were brought to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. Joyce sustained a head injury, and although she didn’t break any bones, she suffered trauma to the muscles, ligaments and tendons in her legs. Time moved slowly in the hospital, and she became terribly homesick. She worried about their sons managing the late fall harvest but was grateful for the help of friends and neighbors. During Joyce’s hospital stay, their son, Cullen, and his wife, Angie, had their first baby.

“I would have loved to have seen that baby,” said Joyce, “but I knew that would have to wait.”

Joyce spent two months in the hospital, six months in a nursing home and countless hours going to physical therapy to get back on her feet. In order to return home, their house needed to be remodeled to accommodate the handicapped person she had become. Unfortunately, physical problems persisted, and issues with balance caused frequent falls.

“It was a very difficult time for me,” said Joyce. “I cried all the time and slipped into a depression.”

Her family was supportive as were friends and neighbors who called and came to visit her. Even her dog seemed to sense that things just weren’t quite right.

“Sophie would come over and lay her head on my lap to comfort me,” Joyce remembered.

In 2008, she and her husband divorced. She fought depression every day. “It was quite a battle, but I found help for my depression through pills and Jesus,” she said with a smile. “I prayed and prayed that I could get better and live a good life.”

She leaned heavily upon her faith and her family as the days went on. Soon Joyce realized that she needed to be in a wheelchair full time. “I knew that I couldn’t keep falling and risking more injuries,” she said. “So, I put myself in a wheelchair and have used one ever since.”

Joyce spent many hours riding and caring for her horse, Bonanza, until a car accident changed her life. Contributed photo

In 2011, Joyce moved into an assisted living facility in Starbuck. Her two-bedroom apartment was just what she needed to live a fairly independent and active lifestyle, despite being handicapped.

She goes to an in-house exercise class whenever possible and likes using a seated stepper machine each day to help tone her legs. Most of all, she loves getting out and about, especially on Sundays, when a friend picks her up for church.

During the week, Joyce follows a consistent schedule of volunteering. On Wednesdays, she wheels herself down the long hall to the charter school that’s connected to the assisted living facility. She heads to the classroom and spends time reading with and encouraging the young students.

“Joyce is a joy to have around,” said Deb Mathias, director at Glacial Hills Elementary. “She’s a wonderfully positive role model for the kids, and they love having her here.”

Joyce’s two grandsons go to Glacial Hills, and she enjoys seeing them each week.

“Sometimes, the boys come over after school when their parents are busy,” Joyce smiled. “We even have sleep-overs!”

Another place Joyce volunteers is at the Glacial Ridge Hospital in Glenwood. Twice a week, she takes a public transport bus to and from the facility. Upon arriving, she checks in and is given her schedule of visits for the day.

“I love to talk, and I feel comfortable whether I know the patient or not,” stated Joyce. “It’s my mission to lift their spirits, if I possibly can.”

Some days, Joyce visits with as many as seven patients, chatting about a wide variety of subjects. Before she leaves the patient’s room, she always asks if they’d like her to say the Lord’s prayer with them.

Left, she is pictured carrying the flag as she passed the Lakeside Ballroom in the summer of 1998. Below: She volunteers at a local elementary school every week, listening to the children read and being supportive in their classes.

“Most people want that,” Joyce said. “I think there’s something comforting about hearing that or saying it with someone. And it’s a way I can share my faith.” And as she lifts the spirits of others, she feels it herself. “It energizes me,” she said. “I hope I can keep doing it.”

Now that summer is here, Joyce dreams of spending time outdoors. She has a battery-operated scooter which allows her the freedom to move around Starbuck.

“It’s not quite like being on a trail ride,” she joked, “but I’m just grateful to be able to get outside.” Joyce has a goal of using the scooter at the Pope County Fair this year because her grandsons will be showing their 4-H animals, and she wouldn’t want to miss that.

Joyce’s life took a dramatic turn when she was involved in that car accident 12 years ago. But, it seems as if she’s found the bright side of life again.

“All in all, I have a very blessed life,” said Joyce. “I thank God every day that he has brought me to a point where I can accept my life the way it is and help uplift others. I’m really still the same person I always was…I just happen to be in a wheelchair now.”

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