Joan Reichardt, a prominent Nelson seniors advocate, died May 5. Photo: Greg Nesteroff

Nelson seniors advocate passes

Joan Reichardt (1928-2018)

Greg Nesteroff

Joan Reichardt, a tenacious advocate for Nelson seniors, has died at 89.

Among her honours, the retired home support administrator received the freedom of the City of Nelson in 1992 and the Queen’s Jubilee medal in 2012.

Reichardt was the face of the Nelson and District Seniors Co-ordinating Society and known for her outspoken views. She frequently contributed to the editorial pages of the Nelson Star and Nelson Daily News, criticized health care cuts, and was never afraid to stick up for others.

In the last year alone, she took the city to task for raising fees for seniors parking passes, condemned a lack of funding for the provincial Better at Home program in Nelson, and questioned new rules that required garbage bags to be removed from their containers for pick-up.

She rarely minced words.

“Interior Health is just a front for a callous and uncaring government, with no respect or regard for seniors,” she bristled in one letter. In another: “Either Nelson city council is targeting seniors or we have fallen off their list of citizens to care about.”

She chalked up her advocacy to her grandmother’s advice that those born to fortunate circumstances have a duty to give back to others.

Reichardt was raised near London during World War II. She carried a gas mask in her school bag.

“We spent every night in the air raid shelter, listening to the scream of falling bombs, often the days as well,” she once wrote. “The rule was if we were closer to school than to home when the air raid siren sounded we went to school.”

One day the headmistress told students that three of their classmates had been killed the night before. The same incident destroyed all the windows in Reichardt’s house and blew their front door halfway up the stairs.

Even in the face of tragedy and hardship, she was an indefatigable volunteer, organizing benefit concerts for the Red Cross, collecting canes for wounded soldiers, and amassing piles of books for army camp libraries — so many that the local postmaster begged her to stop.

At age 16, she went to a dance and accepted a dare that changed her life: she kissed a red-headed Canadian solder. She joked that she literally swept him off his feet, for he was 6-foot-6 and she had to push him onto his seat and sit in his lap to reach his lips.

She and John Reichardt married less than seven months later but he then returned to Canada. She followed in May 1946, travelling by ocean liner and train to Saskatoon. They spent 22 years there, until Reichardt couldn’t take it any longer.

“It was the weather. The wind. The topography. The flatness. The nothing,” she recalled in a 2012 interview. “People were wonderful and I still have friends there, but when you spend the summers dreading the winters, you know this is not the place.”

In 1968, after exploring several places in B.C., the couple and their five children moved to Nelson. The chestnut trees reminded Reichardt of England and she immediately felt at home.

In Saskatchewan she had been a homemaker and dedicated volunteer, but in Nelson she was determined to find a paying job and found one as supervisor of home support. She began working three half days a week with an annual budget of $3,500. When she retired 24 years later, the budget had grown to $3.5 million and she was responsible for many programs aimed at keeping people in their homes despite age or disability.

Reichardt was a director on the boards of BC Transit, Mount St. Francis, the Nelson and District Housing Society, and Community First Health Co-op.

She was also active with the Canadian War Brides and Families Association, which organized reunions of women and children who crossed the Atlantic during after World War II to join their husbands and fathers. In 2006, she retraced the route that brought her to Canada.

Reichardt passed away on May 5. She was predeceased by her husband Johnny in 1996 and is survived by her five children, seven grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.

A celebration of her life is planned at the Prestige Inn on June 30.

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