That's What She Said

Episode 45: Visiting with Joan Zernich and her story “Just Ask Joan”

Woman holding a mic on stage laughing, women sit on couches behind her

Joan Zernich That's What She Said


ANNOUNCER 00:01 Raising women’s voices one story at a time. Welcome to The She Said
Project Podcast.

[music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]

You guys ready for something fun and exciting? [realizing she made her own She Said joke:] That’s What She Said.

You are listening to The She Said Project Podcast, where we have way too much fun, Kerry Rossow. This is Jenette Jurczyk, Co-Host, National Director. Kerry’s here with me, cracking all the That’s What She Said jokes.

I’ve had two years of pandemic! These are just… I’m just dying to get them out.

KERRY & JENETTE [together] 00:52
That’s What She Said! [together with Jenette][laughing]

KERRY 00:55 And I have got a partner in crime here today I’m so excited about because she just tees me up, every time. I gotta swing, I gotta swing!

JENETTE 01:03 You would not expect it,  she comes across as a very, very classy lady, but our guest today was a speaker in That’s What She Said 2022 in our flagship show in Champaign-Urbana. Now, special show alert: this was our first show back after the COVID pandemic. And these women worked really hard to you know, to bring it back to bring it live to make it exciting and interesting. But the community loved it. They were ready for women to come back together and share stories. So, I’m so excited for our listeners to meet our beautiful, darling friend, Joan Zernich. Hi, Joan.

JOAN ZERNICH 01:45 Hey guys, [changes direction] hey, women, hey. Good to see ya.

JENETTE 01:49 She’s shaking her head already.

KERRY 01:51 So good to see you. And for all of you at home, Joan, you will not be shocked to know, looks like a million dang bucks.

JOAN ZERNICH 01:58 Do you know how a million bucks looks wrinkled? You know? It fits.

KERRY 02:01 Yeah, I see it in my mirror every morning. [Jenette laughs]

JENETTE 02:04 I just want to celebrate the fact that we are live in the studio, recording with our partner, WILL, Illinois Public Media, so exciting that they support our podcast because it is so much more fun to do it in person.

KERRY 02:19 That’s what she said.

JENETTE   02:20 So Joan, your story in The She Said Show, first of all, you were nervous, you like, I asked you to be in the show and you weren’t 100% sure.

JOAN 02:30   That’s true.

KERRY 02:32 What?

JENETTE 02:32 Okay…

KERRY 02:33 I did not know this story. Spill it, Joan!

JOAN 02:35 I just met Jenette for another reason. I had no idea she was going to offer the opportunity to speak to all these other women. And I said what will I talk about? Well, I mentioned that because we were discussing the 40th anniversary of Executive Club. And Jenette’s a newer member, and they didn’t have a strong history of Executive Club, but I kind of save everything. So I showed Jenette you know, the first newsletter and the salaries we made in the dark ages and all kinds of things from Executive Club. And she seemed kind of interested in that. And then this was not a plan, but accidentally there was a page of 75 Things I Learned When I Was 75. And when I said to Jenette what will I talk about, she’s shaking this paper at me and I’m there, “really?”

JOAN 03:34 Your audience, the demographic, is young people. That is not me. And so, long story short, I thought, okay, she somehow typed my name on something and I thought there’s no backing out now.

JENETTE 03:49 [Kerry laughs] That’s it. We’ve got you now because your name is, you know.

KERRY 03:52 In print.

JENETTE 03:52 In print.

JOAN 03:53 It was in, like this pre-program, whatever… and in January of that year, I was going to celebrate my 80th birthday, and I did, and so in February, I ended up telling the world that I was eighty and it went from there.

JENETTE 04:11 The most fabulous eighty you could possibly be. Joan, you are what women dream about looking like and being and living their life in such joy when they’re eighty. But can I just point out for a second? Okay, we had coffee and if you have coffee with this woman, can you not imagine wanting her to be in That’s What She Said?

KERRY 04:29 Oh Yeah. Yeah.

JENETTE 04:29 And she was stalking me. She, she sent me news articles of me in the paper. She had been watching me. So I think the admiration was very mutual.

JOAN 04:40 Yes, I, I always clip out pictures of people I admire and friends and I’m an old fashioned person. I still get the hardcopy newspapers and I go digital. I use my iPhone every morning and try to challenge the Wordle, whatever that is that crazy, crazy game. And but I don’t post whether I doing well or not with the Wordle? I mean, okay, that’s a whole nother story.

JENETTE 05:03 Who wants to be judged like that?

JOAN 05:05 Yes, yes. But so somehow we really clicked and I thought, dang, I’m so glad I met Jenette in person. I want to be friends with her. So, you know…

JENETTE 05:16 Well, being friends with Jenette has consequences. You may actually be asked to stand up on stage and share your life story in front of, you know, almost 1000 of your closest friends, which you did, and you did beautifully.

JENETTE 05:30 So, before we say another word, let’s go ahead and share that story so that our listeners know exactly what we’re talking about. Because, Joan, you really shared eighty years, in what, seven and a half minutes.

JOAN 05:41 Right.

JENETTE 05:42 And that is.

KERRY 05:43 Amazing.

JENETTE 05:44 That is amazing.

KERRY 05:45 You nailed it.

JENETTE 05:46 She nailed it. Okay, so here’s Joan Zernich. That’s What She Said live on stage Champaign Urbana 2022. With her story, “Just Ask Joan.”

JOAN 05:57 Here we go. 80 years in seven minutes. Hang with me. I can do this.

JOAN 06:06 If you ask me if 80 is the new 60, I’d have to say it depends. [audience laughing] It depends on your lifestyle and your luck. My lifestyle has been based on progressive passions. I call them progressive because they’ve changed as I’ve aged. Yes, I still do those 10,000 steps most days. I still love learning and I take OLLI [ed. Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Illinois] classes. I have even attempted tap dancing, as in the word ‘attempted.’ And for adventure, when I was 74 (not too long ago,) I actually climbed a glacier. [applause] I was in Iceland with my wonderful teenage grandchildren and it was an amazing experience. But I know there’s a few people out here and they’ve going, “Yeah, really, woman?” [laughter] I have a video to prove it. A few years ago, I was recognized in a 70 over 70 celebration. [applause] Hey, better late than never right? [laughter] And we were asked to share our most outstanding achievement. Great. Here I am in a university community. We have Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, and me. But I simply told the truth. Raising two well-balanced, kind, successful daughters has been my greatest achievement. [applause and cheering]

JOAN 08:01 Thank you. I often say I’m a VIP: Vicariously Impressive Parent. [audience laughter] However, when my parents raised me, it was a different time for women. Women were expected to know how to use an ironing board, a cutting board, but never be on a real board of directors. At that time, the careers for women were somewhat limited. I could be a secretary, but I couldn’t type. I could be a nurse, but you don’t want me near you in a surgical setting. Or I could be a teacher. Now, I love children and I love learning. So I became an educator.

JOAN 08:52 I had a position as a kindergarten teacher in central Pennsylvania, in a farming town. We did a lot of architectural work, creating farms out of Playdough. Now, a number of years later I had a career that dealt with real dough. In fact, I’ve had several careers and one time I was in a large corporation in the Office of the CEO. And when the meeting was over, I went to open the closet door, instead of the office door, to leave. I tried to recover by saying “Ha, I didn’t bring a coat,” but it was summertime. [laughter] Friends would call me—I guess they’re friends—and they’d say, “I just pulled a Joan-O.” Uh, if you want the translation a Joan-O is sharing their embarrassing moment. Well my kind, wise husband of over 58 years, who, [applause] who edits his thoughts. Joan, why did you share those embarrassing stories? [aside] (58 years, he should have figured it out.) And I said, Ted, nobody likes a perfect person. That’s why I have friends. [laughter and applause]

JOAN 10:18 So, [applause continues] I love you guys! By the way… [laughter] I love to laugh. [Joan laughs loudly] And you can see why it embarrasses my family. [laughter]

JOAN 10:34 But so what! Laughter is a natural resource, and it improves the environment. [laughter and applause]

JOAN 10:48 Okay, I know. Life is not always funny. And it sure hasn’t been for me. In the past a lot of things happened that sure wouldn’t happen today. But they did then.

JOAN 11:00 For example, I was working with a chauvinistic insurance salesman. And he wouldn’t talk to a woman, he only would talk to my husband, duh, he didn’t know my husband. And it sure didn’t know me. I cancelled the policy. [applause] I should have thanked him though, because that led me to earn an insurance license myself. [applause] And that, and then I went on to take financial planning courses. And I taught a base of financial planning to women who didn’t have credit in their own names and couldn’t get loans even though they owned the business. [cheers and applause]

JOAN 11:58 I guess you could say I help them manage real dough, whatever. [laughter]

JOAN 12:02 Another challenge was when we wanted to purchase rental property. I personally wouldn’t recommend that for us. It was a fiasco. So after that fiasco, I earned a real estate license. [laughter] Knowledge is power.

JOAN 12:25 Shortly after that, I was hired by Carle Health Systems as their first representative to market their first HMO. It was called Carle Care at that time. My children were so excited, they were younger, and I’m there really? Then I realized they thought I was marketing HBO. [laughter] No, we didn’t get HBO. In my career at Carle, I’ve had an opportunity for several advancements. However, it has been my daughter’s generation that really benefited from all the changes in the workplaces today in almost all fields. Recently, my older daughter, Amy was promoted to executive vice president at a Fortune 100 company. And yay, Amy! [applause] And when I texted her, (that’s what we do,) she said, “Thanks, Mom. You paved the way for Sari and me because you had a career. That mattered. Love, Amy.” [cheers and applause]

JOAN 13:45 As you know, there are no guarantees with parenting. And trust me, there are no guarantees with aging either. It can be awful, or it can be awesome. For example, I recently had to get hearing aids—after denying it for maybe two years. But I was pleasantly surprised to find out I could stream podcast and music directly into my ears. [laughter] And you don’t see me walking around with those oversized Q-tips hanging on my ears. [laughter] As I aged, I celebrated each decade with a party because any excuse to be with my girlfriends is a good reason to have a party. [cheers and applause]

JOAN 14:41 When I turn 60 (that was some time ago!) my daughters planned a big party. My younger daughter, Sari, did all the cooking. Today, she’s a successful restauranteur and she has worked with Julia Child, Charlie Trotter, Martha Stewart, and she’s cooked for Oprah, three US Presidents and major Hollywood stars. [applause] Yay, Sari. Well, Sari was being featured as an Outstanding Young Alumni and The News Gazette sent photographers to our house the day of the party. I tried not to be in the picture. But when it came out in the paper, there I was in the corner behind my amazing daughter. Now, everyone in town knew I was 60. And quite a few people knew they weren’t invited to that party with the good food. [laughter]

JOAN 15:43 Well, I always say that you can have fun and help others at the same time. So when the party invitations went out, they said, “Joanie wants a truck.” If you know me, that didn’t quite make sense.

JOAN 15:58 However, I was on the board of directors of the Eastern Illinois Food Bank at the time, and they needed a truck. So I’m proud to say with the donations we raised, we raised enough money to help the food bank buy a truck. [applause] I like to say if you’re feeling bad, do something good. And I’ve also found that being kind, volunteering, mentoring, and sharing sincere compliments doesn’t cost a cent. It’s very valuable.

JOAN 16:36 Obviously, I’ve been retired for some time. And I noticed other people didn’t seem to like the word “retired.” I didn’t like it because it had the word ‘tired’ in it. And I wasn’t tired. In fact, when I say it was I’m retired, people would act like I had a bad case of COVID, or leprosy. I was dead to them. They were so wrong!

JOAN 17:07 So I decided to create a way to change the attitude. When people then asked me, “Oh, where do you work?” And instead of saying, “I’m retired,” I said, “I’m a consultant.” [laughter] Hey, I don’t lie!

JOAN 17:27 I had business cards printed that said, JAJ Consulting.  Just Ask Joan. [applause] The service was free [laughs] and I got a lot of really interesting requests.

JOAN 17:47 So, I also formed a group of women over age seven-... over age 60. (Let’s not push it too far.) [laughter] And the name of our group is REWIREMENT. And so we meet once a month, and we talk about how we have rewired since we’ve left the workplace. Yes, I’ve had a good life. Not perfect. However, being in front of this audience of intelligent, interesting women, and a few smart men has… [laughter and applause cuts her off]

KERRY 21:03 [laughter] This is what I love about you! And the crowd did—they were in the palm of your hand.

JOAN 21:09 The, the audience, energize me, and so anybody that wants to do or hesitates about doing That’s What She Said, Don’t because the audience will be with you.

JENETTE 21:20 It’s such a supportive environment. We set the stage literally and figuratively for women to come together and listen, with compassion, acceptance, support, but we strive to share all the stories, all the life experiences. And you brought it. You are so proud of your two daughters, and you shared quite a bit about them and your story. And I know they were there.

JOAN 21:44 Yes.

JENETTE 21:45 In the audience that night.

JOAN 21:46 Yeah.

JENETTE 21:47 What was their reaction to seeing you on stage? Oh…

JOAN 21:50 They were loving it. And my one, my younger daughter taped the whole thing. (I mean is that illegal? Whatever. She did it anyhow.) [Kerry and Joan laughing] And, and my husband, God bless him, he and my daughter during what we were at the Virginia the whole day, getting ready for the performance. And at home, my husband and my daughter made bouquets to be thrown at the performers. At the end of the day. I did not know anything about this. And I guess they went to the first row and passed them out so that at the end of the performance, those were thrown on stage. And that was a nice surprise for me as well. Yeah, it was a delightful evening,

KERRY 22:29 You, you raised some good eggs, and I gotta say my chicks, my two daughters loved you. And they said there was a quote you had from your husband? Like, why do you get up and say such embarrassing things? And they fell out? They were like, mom, and she’s you? Yeah..

JOAN 22:45 Yeah, well, that, that’s true. They’re called Joan-O’s. I mean, when I worked, unfortunately, people would say I pulled a Joan-O. And, of course, as you realize if you heard the tape, a Joan-O is an embarrassing experience. [Kerry laughs] And I am kind of a master of those. But it’s nice that other people share those as well.

KERRY   23:05 I love that’s what you do to people you make people feel so, you bring everybody in. And you just make everybody feel special. And you shine this your big, bright light on everybody. And when you tell those stories, it just makes everyone feel at ease. And like we’re here to belong. And we all feel special. And…

JOAN 23:24 Well, thank you. And thanks for mentioning my daughters, because as you can tell that, that is my pride and joy. And there are no guarantees with parenting. But my husband and I have got we’re very fortunate and still are.

JENETTE 23:36 So, my mother is retired. She’s in New Jersey, and she couldn’t be at the show. But she watched the video. And she was so inspired by your consulting gig. She wants to go out and get business cards made because she thought that was so creative. To take ownership of life after traditional work and your business cards, JAJ Consulting, she was blown away. What a creative way to keep the conversation going.

JOAN 24:44 Well, people who know me. [Joan sighs] They ask crazy things. Well no, they really ask important things, like “Well, you worked with Carle, what doctor would you recommend for x?” And “Oh, I love your clothes, where did you get such-and-such?” And, “Oh, I had a tailor and she didn’t do a good job. Who do you use?” I mean, that was sound maybe pretentious, except the health questions. But so I actually thought of that when I created the Just Ask Joan because I thought people were always calling me and asking me things, what the heck, you know? And I made the cards as a joke. Well, my daughter has a friend who’s a graphic artist. And so I said, Julie, would you know, she was thrilled. And so she designed the little card.

JENETTE 25:19 You said you get interesting requests. I want to know what one of them might be.

KERRY 25:24 What’s the craziest one?

JENETTE 25:27 Do you remember any?

JENETTE 25:31 Just Ask Joan. And now it’s your signature line. It’s the title of your talk. You’re now C-U famous, and infamous.

KERRY 25:31 It’s true. I have to say when I left work today, a young colleague said that you were her favorite and that you were her fashion idol and she adored you.

JOAN 25:49 Well, that was sweet to hear. I told Jeanette the other day I was in a grocery store. And this sweet woman with a cute little kid smiled at me and I smiled back with the cute little baby. And she said you were in That’s What She Said. And I said, Yeah, how do you recognize me? I mean, I wasn’t looking like I was on stage. And she said, well, you were so good. And I’m there. Oh, can I record that? [Jenette and Kerry laugh] So, it was it was a pleasant surprise, it was kind of cute. But the best response I got was from a friend’s daughter, who was 24 years old. And she’s, she told her mother, that’s who I’m friends with the older, I’m older than 24 year olds, and and she said, I can’t believe that women had to go through that. That was so unfair. And so that made me feel good to hear that because I am 80, the audience is not 80. And so I actually did connect with people that didn’t really have the same experiences that I had.

JENETTE 26:52 Absolutely. You, you paved the way as your daughter said, You paved the way for generations to have more opportunity and experiences. And I think you’d give our audience a lot of credit. I mean, I’m not as I’m not as young as, as maybe I’d like to pretend that I am either. But no, we love that we bring together just all the women from all the different generations and backgrounds and experiences. And we can all agree on one thing: that Joan’s amazing. Okay, two things: Joan is amazing. And that sharing your story absolutely connects us—whether it’s in the grocery store, whether it’s onstage, like we can all laugh together and cry together. And Joan, you brought the house down, it was just exceptional. So I know that after this episode airs, we’re going to be getting calls and DMs and social media requests. “I have a question for Joan, I want to Just Ask Joan,” like I’m afraid we’re gonna have to set up a hotline or something. [all laughing] But the goal for the podcast is to take your story and your experience and share it with an even larger audience of women who can learn from you and laugh with you and enjoy Joan all over again. Thanks so much for joining us here in the studio. You are a treasure and we love having you in the She Said family!

JOAN 27:23 And I just have to add, Jenette, I have never met (and I’ve met a lot of people) who have been pure positivity. You, in the time have known you, in what is it? Several months? Many months? Have never said a negative thing to any one of us. Not once. How the heck do you do that? That, that is, that is, that is true.

JENETTE 28:33 I believe you get back what you give out, Joan.

JOAN 28:36 I enjoyed it and and thank you for the opportunity and somebody said, “well, when are you gonna do the next one?” I sent him “No. Do you know how many women out there have stories?” Get real.

JENETTE 28:45 Every. Single. One of them.

KERRY 28:48 Isn’t that beautiful?

JOAN 28:49 Yes. Yeah the stories were fantastic and and meeting our group is like making new friends and at my age I need to do that and that was another plus of the program. [laughing]

JENETTE 29:02 Yeah, so we know that every woman has a story and The She Said Project is our platform to share those stories. So thank you to everyone who joined us today to get to know Joan a little bit better and we’ll see you next time on The She Said Project Podcast.

KERRY ROSSOW 29:15 Over and out.

[music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme outro]

ANNOUNCER 29:20 Thank you for listening to the She Said Project Podcast in partnership with
Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast are the exclusive property of The
She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows, go to This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health
Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best

[music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme playout]

Joan shares her wisdom and zest for life in her story, "Just Ask Joan."  Jenette and Kerry are happy to catch up with Joan and soak in some of the vibrant energy she shared on stage in That's What She Said 2022 in Champaign, IL.

The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at