Joan Hackner likes to be called Miss Joan. She’s in her 80s — she won’t say exactly where in her 80s – and so you can imagine that she’s earned the right to be called whatever she wants.
But to those who know Miss Joan, uttering that name likely brings up something warm and something comforting. She’s like that because if there’s one thing about her, it’s that she cares about people.
Miss Joan came to Elizabeth City 21 years ago. She’d moved to the West Coast from New York City because of chronic bronchitis.
She eventually made her way to the Hampton Roads, Va., area but when she found Elizabeth City, Miss Joan decided she would like to make this community her home.
Apparently it was a good decision because she’s stayed and she’s given back in many ways.
You see Joan Hackner lives by the belief that she’s here to serve others. For many years now she’s the lady who sews and crochets head coverings for cancer patients. She also recruits others to do the same.
She makes sheets for homeless shelters and most recently crafts dresses for less fortunate women living in far off countries.
Miss Joan doesn’t miss an opportunity to share her desire to help folks.
The Daily Advance: You sew items to help people in need. How did you get started making these things?
Joan Hackner: I’ve always done sewing. … I’ve always done repairs and alterations. My good neighbor showed up and he said ‘I’ve got lung cancer.’ … I took him for his treatment and in the waiting room there was a tray with caps. I went home and started making caps. Then when winter came I started crocheting caps.
TDA: What are some of the items you create and who are they for?
JH: Hats and other head coverings (for cancer patients). There’s skullies and then there are bandanas. Then I use T-shirts for head wraps. When people find out what I’m doing they give me things.
Then there are sheets for the shelters. One king size flat will make two fitted sheets, singles.
The dresses (made from pillow cases) just came two years ago. They’re for women in the tropics (sent with church missionaries). … You can also take a T-shirt and put a pillowcase at the bottom.
I make small Afghans for the Crisis Pregnancy Center.
TDA: How long have you been doing this work?
JH: I’ve always volunteered. … Two weeks after I got here I went to Winslow (retirement home) with my Bible and said, ‘I’m here to read,’ and they said, ‘Come on!’
TDA: How many items do you think you’ve created over the years?
JH: Oooh. I can’t tell you. There’s just no way. … Don’t try to put a figure on it. There’s just too many.
TDA: This work is clearly important to you. Why is it so important?
JH: Because there is a need. I only do it where there is a need. … Where there is a need I’m available.
TDA: You are always on the lookout for people willing to help with this work. Do you feel more people should get involved with service work and why?
JH: Absolutely. Because the need is there. There is such a need.
TDA: Sewing seems to be
a dying skill. Do you think young people should learn to sew, and why?
JH: Absolutely. Because, first of all, you can create, and also you can repair your own.
TDA: Young people today don’t seem to be concerned with service work. Do you think that is something that can be changed?
JH: Yes it can be changed. But, and this is the BIG but, their parents aren’t doing it. And then insist that home economics be reinstated (in schools). But everything now is instant electronic and instant everything and everything is a lost art. There’s not but two or three sewing machines on my street.
TDA: Aside from sewing items for people in need, what do you think are other ways to be a service to our neighbors?
JH: By being good citizens and by having good manners.
TDA: What do you believe is the most pressing need in communities today?
JH: That’s a tough one. More civility. We need more. It’s difficult to help people because you’re invading privacy sometimes because some people want to be left alone.