“Everyone is called to ministry; only some are pastors or staff of a church.”
— Dr. Tim Bruster
From tireless advocacy for people living with physical challenges to a career spent teaching students who otherwise would miss out on the opportunity for education, longtime church member and lay leader Joan Gaspard sets a high standard for compassion, commitment, and creative involvement with issues and opportunities she feels called to pursue. “Joan has clearly experienced a call to ministry to and with people in need of advocacy,” says Dr. Tim Bruster, FUMCFW Senior Pastor. “She passionately lives out her calling through her vocation as a teacher, her lay leadership in the United Methodist Church, and in all kinds of other ways and opportunities woven throughout her life.”
On September 11 at the interdenominational luncheon and program on World Peace and Human Rights held at Crowley UMC, Joan Gaspard received the Human Rights Award presented by Church Women United. This award recognizes individuals doing outstanding work in the field of human rights; awardees are not always in the public eye, but they are consistent in their high regard for the dignity of others.
Being an ardent and persistent advocate for people living with physical challenges is a lifelong passion for Joan. With a Master’s Degree in Special Education, she served as a homebound teacher for H-E-B ISD for 46 years, retiring in 2015 with the first-ever service pin awarded for 45 years of service. “I thought I was in trouble when the superintendent called me into her office before the banquet,” Joan laughs. “I couldn’t imagine why she wanted to talk to me. She wanted to tell me about the pin!” Joan spent her career with HEB teaching homebound students — children and teenagers who are critically ill or have a health issue, whether permanent or temporary, that keeps them out of the classroom for four weeks or more. Homebound teachers are unique in that they teach all subjects and all grade levels: they might teach a 4th grader in the morning and then a high school senior in the afternoon — and must be prepared to teach each student’s full academic schedule.
The passion Joan brought to her profession also fueled her commitment to advocacy in United Methodist churches throughout Central Texas. For 15 years, as chair of the Central Texas Committee on Disabilities, Joan provided free accessibility audits for church leaders who wanted to remove architectural barriers and provide opportunities for worship, service, and leadership with persons whose disabilities had prevented participation in their church. She has also provided training for individual churches or groups of churches, demonstrating creative ways to remove barriers at low cost or no cost to the church. Leading cooperative effort among United Methodist churches in Central Texas to provide an adaptive and assistive equipment bank for persons with disabilities, Joan helped pastors and laypersons involved in caring ministries to obtain equipment, free of charge, for short-term or permanent use by disabled parishioners.
Extending her compassion to serve people facing challenges that are debilitating but not visible, Joan was an advisor in the establishment of the Depression Connection in 2000, and she has been a loyal member (and chair) of that board ever since. As a non-profit organization, Depression Connection provides information and referral for people dealing with depression issues, as well as small group support meetings held in UMC churches.
In our own First Church community, Joan chairs our Committee on Disabilities and for more than 30 years has been a tireless and persistent advocate for architectural revisions inside and outside the building to make every part of our church available and accessible to all people. She led the provision of complimentary parking assistance on Sunday mornings in front of the Sanctuary, and she has been an avid advocate for fully accessible restrooms. With facility renovations currently in process, she continues to insist on opportunities for full participation and leadership for all ages and challenges.
But all of these accomplishments and lists of advocacies only tell part of Joan’s story. Speaking to Mindy Rumuly, mother of Aly, one of Joan’s longtime homebound students, we get a much fuller picture of the person behind the awards and accomplishments on behalf of those living with challenges few of us can even imagine. For 8 years (for Aly this was from age 8 to16), Joan went to the Rumuly home two times each week to teach Aly, who has a degenerative brain disease. Joan was the only teacher Aly has ever had.
According to Mindy, Joan is not just a teacher but a very special family friend: “I could spend hours talking about Joan,” she says, “She’s been a huge part of the homebound program in our district. I honestly can’t imagine this program without her. She has an amazing gift: this is her calling. I know God has called her to do this; it takes a special person. She doesn’t shy away from situations that would make most people uncomfortable. She is so caring and so warm. Often for these kids, Joan is the ONLY connection to the school — and she is always their biggest advocate.” She pauses. “In any given day, she might teach a student in the IB program in the morning and then next teach a child who is severely disabled. She is dedicated to all of them; she meets them wherever they are developmentally.”
“I know she enriched my daughter’s life through education,” Mindy adds. “She knew how to read my kid and reach in. When they were studying Abraham Lincoln, she had a carriage ride playing on her iPad — as if you were on a carriage ride during that period of time — and while the images were on the iPad, she was talking about all of the different things they were seeing together. It made it come to life! Joan’s impact on not only my daughter’s life, but my family’s life, has been huge.”
Join us as we congratulate Joan on her Human Rights Award, her recent retirement with great honors and accolades, and for her many contributions to our church, our denomination, and those for whom her tireless advocacy has been a true blessing.
The long list of Joan’s accomplishments and accolades are clear reflections of a living ministry. In greeting these opportunities as they arose throughout her life and career, Joan provides living illustration of how hearing and responding to an interest or innate passion can become a personal ministry of countless blessings to us and to those we serve.