Joan Rossiter Burney, C’73
Joan Burney chose Mount Marty College for her collegiate education because it was close by, since she was raising a family of six children on a farm just outside of Hartington, NE. Returning to college at age 40, taking one class at a time with encouragement from the Benedictine Sisters, while always putting her mom and wife roles first, she graduated cum laude from MMC in 1973. She was really one of the first non-traditional students before that term even existed. Joan also earned a Master’s Degree in Psychological Counseling from Wayne State College and in 2009 she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Mount Marty College.
Joan is one of those rare people who has friends she has never met. She met those friends through her writing, over decades of columns and stories, and through her motivational speaking. They are people she has touched so profoundly, through her words, that they feel they know her and she knows them, and they like and care for each other. She has shared laughter with them, and insights, sorrows, and concerns. She has lifted them up, understood their hard times, encouraged them, made them think, and think again. And they remember.
It was not until the age of 39 when Joan’s writing talents were discovered. She was writing columns for the local Cedar County News in Hartington. Joan had all of her six children well on the way in school before those Cedar County News columns became part of her life.
Over time, Joan grew to be a self-syndicated columnist, writing weekly columns under the titles “At Random” and “Joan Burney” that ran in the Norfolk Daily News, Sioux City Journal, Missouri Valley Observer, Yankton County Observer, Cedar County News, and Maverick Media newspapers. She wrote bi-weekly columns under the titles “Offer it Up” in the Catholic Voice and “Joan Burney” in the Omaha World Herald, and a monthly motivational column titled “Comes the Dawn” that appeared in the Nebraska Farmer and the Colorado Farmer Rancher. Plus there was a bimonthly column titled “Over the Feeders Fence” that appeared in Nebraska Cattleman. Joan also wrote feature stories and articles for each of the papers just named, as well as for the Magazine of the Midlands, the Midlands Business Journal, the Catholic Digest and Common Lot. Also, she is author of three books that are compilations of columns she wrote over the years. Each titled The Keepers, volume one is subtitled A Merry Heart Doeth Goodâ€¦, volume 2 is Comes the Dawn, and volume 3 is Hyacinths to Feed the Soul. In addition she has co-authored two other books, the first, Sharing the Faith with your Child (Birth to Six), with Phyllis Chandler, and the second, Sharing the Faith with your Child (Seven to Thirteen), with Mary Jo Pederson.
The books came about because her readers, and the audiences she encountered in her popular role as a motivational speaker, were always asking her if she had a book they could get. Since at one time Joan averaged between 50 and 75 speeches and workshops yearly as a motivational speaker, and traveled all over the country presenting them, plus wrote for all those publications, that was a lot of people asking. In response to those requests, Joan decided to put a book together and enlisted her readers’ help. She asked readers to send her the columns they’d kept, columns that met something to them, made them laugh, and touched them in some way. Joan wasn’t sure what she would get in response to that request, but hoped it would be enough columns for one respectably-sized book. Instead, columns came pouring in; enough for three books that have been published. Joan signed each column she received and sent it back to the sender with a heartfelt thank you.
A true community journalist and caring volunteer, this 45 year member of Nebraska Press Women and the National Federation of Press Women has been honored with more than 250 awards, including being named the Nebraska Mother of the Year, which was followed by her being named National Mother of the Year by American Mothers in 1991, National Communicator of Achievement in 1993 by the National Federation of Press Women, and Women of Distinction by the Nebraska Commission on the Status of women in 1995, Nebraskan of the Year in 1999, Marian Andersen Nebraska Women Journalists (NE Press Women) Hall of Fame in 2015, and many more.
Once during an interview, Joan stated, “I’ve been blessed with the ability to communicate. I believe strongly that whatever talent the Lord gives you; you are to use it doing His work. People have told me than my columns have changed their lives.”
In 2014 she was recognized by the Nebraska Speech-Language-Hearing Association for her work to overcome the effects of the traumatic brain injury she suffered in 2007 when she fell after presenting one of her popular motivational speeches, and then the stroke that occurred in 2013. Both took her words from her, leaving the residual effects of aphasia, making it often difficult for Joan to verbalize the words she wants, making recalling names of people, places and things the most difficult. In addition to aphasia, she has alexia without agraphia, which is a very rare condition in which Joan can write words and spell words, but she can’t read or comprehend the written words.
Yet, Joan Rossiter Burney does what she has done, as reflected in decades of her past columns. She goes on with a positive attitude, determined to do the best she can, to learn and regain all the skills she can, and to help as many people as she can, with dignity, grace, faith and humor.
(A special thank you to Joan’s daughter Juli Burney as well as Judy Nelson, a NE Press Woman for providing highlights of Joan’s career.)