Joyce Black’s grown children don’t like it when their mother wants to climb on a ladder.
It’s not that they don’t like the delicious fruits of her labors, such as a jar of jam that might be on a high shelf in the kitchen cabinets.
They just think that a ladder can be a precarious place for for a 92-year-old.
“There’s a whole lot of things I could do on a ladder, but they discourage me,” Black said wistfully, recalling the days when she could wash windows in the kitchen or pick peaches and pears on a ladder from the small orchard on her family’s farm.
While the two grown children, Roger and Rhonda Kay, have persuaded Black that climbing ladders might be a tad dangerous, Black will not be deterred from doing things for other people.
“My father-in-law always said ‘Faith without works is dead,’” Black said, “so I try to do whatever I can.”
Black has cooked, canned, cleaned houses, babysat, sung, visited sick friends and family — all while having a full-time job, raising her own two children and helping her husband grow soybeans and raise registered Angus cattle on a Fluvanna County farm.
Her giving nature has won her many friends and fans in Fluvanna, where she has lived for decades and been a pillar at Cunningham United Methodist Church.
It’s also led to some moving moments. Black recalled one of her ill 91-year-old friend who didn’t feel like eating. A third friend had asked the ailing friend if there was anything she could consider eating.
“Isn’t there anything you want?” the friend asked.
“I’d like some of Joyce’s coconut pie,” the frail woman answered.
So Black made the coconut pie and took it to her friend on a Monday. The two shared some time together as her friend enjoyed the coconut pie. Black was grateful for the time with her friend, who died two days later.
This year is a busy one for Black who is getting ready to make pies for the men’s group chili dinner at her church the second week of January. She regularly visits sick friends. She’s helping to produce the latest edition of the church’s cookbook, to which she’s been an avid contributor for decades. She pickles and preserves cucumbers, blueberries and strawberries to raise money at the annual church bazaar. Black is up every day at 7 a.m. and not in bed until 10 p.m. and tries to fill the day looking for ways to serve others, she said.
“Everybody has been so good to me and my family,” said Black. “Everybody has a need some time, and if I can fill that need, that’s what I’m going to do.”
This spirit and generosity led Charleene Frazier to nominate Black for the Distinguished Dozen.
“Joyce is such a compassionate person and always thinking of others with kindness and generosity,” said Frazier, who meet Black when Frazier first visited Cunningham Methodist Church.
“She welcomed me my first Sunday, and she kept welcoming us back every Sunday,” said Frazier. “She drew us back to the church because we just felt so welcomed and loved.”
Black plays down such talk.
“Well, I have done a few things like that, but I guess it’s because I have a big mouth and I like to talk,” she said when asked about her warm welcomes to new people at church.
Black was born Dec. 29, 1930 in Louisa County. She met a soldier stationed at Ft. Bragg in 1950 when he visited Louisa County with a friend. Hollis Black wrote her when he got back to the North Carolina base. The two were married in Cuckoo, Va., a small unincorporated community in Louisa County, at Gilboa Christian Church on Thanksgiving Day, 1952.
Joyce Black continued to work for State Farm Insurance as a bookkeeper until she became pregnant.
“You didn’t get maternity leave then,” she said. “You just had to quit.”
When her kids were school-aged, she went back to work at State Farm. In 1960, the family moved to Fluvanna County, near Lake Monticello. She retired from State Farm in 1993 after nearly 35 years of service.
But that had not been Black’s only job. She and her husband farmed; she remembers coming home from her two children’s high school activities and eking work out of the last hours of sunlight to help Hollis and the farm hands make hay before the sun set. The farm included a small orchard of pear and peach trees, and Black made pints of jams for the family, neighbors and church.
Black stayed busy. She sang in the Cunningham church choir and made quilts for auction at the church bazaar. She started a parents’ night out at the church and delivered meals to parents of sick children. She was a youth leader, started a singles group for those who had lost their spouses and became a volunteer at All Blessings Flow, a non-profit that helps provide equipment and supplies to families who are taking care of a sick family member.
“Whenever she goes to Charlottesville for a doctor’s appointment, she doesn’t just go see the doctor,” said Frazier. “She goes to visit anyone up there who’s sick or in a nursing home. She is just so loving. It’s what the world needs more of right now.”
As for Black, she insists she has done nothing out of the ordinary.
“I can’t imagine what I’ve done that’s distinguished,” she said when told she’d been named a Distinguished Dozen. “I’ve done what I could do, and I’ve been lucky.”
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