Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Finding Napa or Napa Finding Me” July 2007.
Finding Napa or Napa Finding Me – Joan Lockhart
By JoAnn Busenbark
How does a North Dakota farm girl end up in Napa, California?
When we start out on life’s journey, we are never sure where we will end up. Our families hope that we will never move to far away. That often happened before transportation was as developed as it is it is today. In the modern world, when you can fly from the west coast to the east coast in four or five hours, families are scattered. World communications via email or telephone make it possible to keep in daily touch with family.
Here’s my story of Joan Lockhart’s journey.
Joan was born and grew up in North Dakota, where she graduated with a degree in speech therapy from University of North Dakota and did graduate work in Visual Impairment Education. She taught at public and private schools in North Dakota. When she met her husband Bob and married in North Dakota, she was happy to be near family and friends. Joan was a teacher of disabled children and was teaching at the North Dakota State School for the Blind.
Bob, being a young man motivated to do well for his family, headed into a business venture that led them to Great Falls, Montana. Great Falls is farm country, cold and snowy in the winter, and not near family. Joan and Bob owned and operated two radio stations in Great Falls and it was there that their two children, Katie and Robb, were born. While Joan focused on raising their children, Bob ran the radio stations.
Katie was born with multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy and autism. Joan’s background with children with special needs gave her and Bob the knowledge and understanding they needed to get Katie into a school setting at a young age. In Great Falls, they started Katie in school at the age of 2. Sadly for Joan, the classroom was outside of town in a segregated, all-handicapped setting.
Joan knew that the law said Katie could be integrated into a preschool setting. She fought hard for that to happen. Joan now was on the other side of the table, advocating for the rights of the student. Her tenacity and her concern for her daughter’s development drove her to become more knowledgeable of the Family Support Systems that were emerging all over the United States.
That’s when she began her career as an advocate and manager of a Great Falls program she helped start, PLUK-Parents Let’s Unite for Kids. With the recently passed Early Intervention Federal law, Joan knew the importance of early intervention and training for her daughter, with parental support and education key to understanding the laws that provided help.
When Katie was eight years old, Bob decided to make a career change. He sold the radio stations and dove into financial planning. The family relocated to California to accommodate Bob’s new employer.
As they researched their choices, it was clear that Joan was still a farm girl. You know the saying, you can take the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.
She told Bob if they moved to California, then it had to be northern California-in as rural a setting as possible. When they visited possible communities, they always visited the Special Education Department to find a school system that had an integrated program for disabled children into the mainstream of general education.
After visiting the Napa school system, Joan and Bob decided this was the right place to raise their family and start their new life. As parents and advocates, Joan and Bob were very active in the educational process for their daughter. They were determined Katie would have the best public education available under the Federal and State laws.
As Katie progressed thru her school years, the system became less friendly and the battle stronger. In the middle and high school levels there is much less integration. The system said that severely disabled individuals need intense training and gain more by being in a setting with their peers. Joan adheres to the philosophy that we tend to model the behavior and efforts of those with whom we spend time. In her fight for more inclusion and independence for her daughter, Joan became more involved in advocacy groups. She joined forces on the state and national levels as well as continuing her local activities.
Joan is currently the executive director of ParentsCAN, which stands for Parent-Child Advocacy Network. Its mission is “To empower families of children with disabilities to become successful advocates for their unique needs.”
Currently, son Robb has returned to Napa County to work in the wine industry. Katie is now 26 and lives independently with support services provided by the Department of Developmental Services. Katie, though nonverbal, expresses herself through a picture communication device. She has grown tremendously, and is now a beautiful young woman and a budding watercolor artist. Her art has been shown at a local winery and she has sold a number of paintings through local shops and the Brown Street Gallery.
Did Joan and Bob make the right decision in moving to Napa? Yes they did. Their children, now grown, are their proudest accomplishments. Both are wonderful human beings who have found their place in life and both are currently in the Napa Valley. Thanks to the Lockhart family for coming to Napa and adding character to our community.
For more information about the ParentsCAN organization, contact the agency at 253-2244, or visit their web site at http://www.parentsCAN.org