This month, we had the honor of speaking with Joan Burkett (formerly Joan Suwyn), a member of Denver Christian’s Class of 1964. Since her time at Denver Christian, Joan has gone through an amazing journey as a wife, mother, business owner, and believer. Joan is a believer in the seasons of life. While we cannot see or control everything from our current position, we can trust the Lord’s plan for our lives and embrace what he sets before us.
Joan’s Denver Christian Legacy
Joan begins her story by reminding us of the sacrifice that her parents, Marinus and Joanne Suwyn, made for her and her siblings (Terry, Lynn, and Mark) to attend Denver Christian. Joan says, “Without that willingness to sacrifice, I wouldn’t have been at Denver Christian. That has to be said first.” Looking back, Joan recognizes how Denver Christian’s partnership with her family encouraged her to honor her parents and grow her faith.
In High School, Joan benefitted from Denver Christian’s tight community which allowed students to participate in many different activities. She participated in everything from skiing, choir, a sestet, folk quartet, cheerleading, etc. Joan spoke at her class’s graduation after winning a speaking competition and continues to use her public speaking skills to this day.
Joan has many memories from her time at DC. One day, her German class decided to have pizza delivered through the window. They had planned and had soda pop in the closet, ready to go! Sometimes their food antics benefited everyone. Since there was no hot lunch option when Joan was in high school, a group of friends decided to bring dozens of 15-cent McDonald’s hamburgers and sell them for a profit. Talk about entrepreneurship! More than anything else, Joan remembers her teachers fondly. She is still in contact with her High School English teacher, Mr. Cole. She says, “He liked us–he enjoyed us. We had fun in his class and learned because of that.”
Post-Graduation at CSU and Beyond
After graduating from high school, Joan attended CSU in Fort Collins, where she met her husband, Norm, who was a running back for the CSU football team. Sadly, Norm’s D1 football scholarship was pulled because he was dating Joan (they were an interracial couple). Losing his football scholarship meant that Norm was drafted into the army during the Vietnam war. Norm and Joan spent the next three years in Germany, which they enjoyed immensely. Joan’s church and the community were not kind to Joan or her parents during this time, which is why Joan chose to distance herself from Denver Christian.
The community had little diversity and interest in inclusion. Joan recollects, “When I went to high school, there was only one black family at the school.” About fifteen years ago, Mr. Cole (Joan’s English teacher) reached out to Joan with a letter of apology, repenting for not being more supportive of her family after she and Norm were married. During this time, Joan’s parents continued to set an example by ministering in marginalized communities like Sun Valley, where others might have overlooked. Others in the church ended up following as well. (As an amazing coincidence, Joan’s daughter-in-law now works with the Denver Housing Authority in this community!)
An Alumni Advocate for Diversity and Belonging
Joan wasn’t in touch with DC for many years. She points out that she probably wouldn’t be if she hadn’t ended up responding to an invitation from Matt Covey. In 2019, Joan joined two friends to tour the campus. Joan struck up a conversation with Matt, discussing his desire to make DC a place of diversity and accessibility. Joan invited Matt to her church and he attended soon after. Joan says, “He’s a man of his word; he’s a man of character who is willing to do new things.” We are grateful Joan reconnected with our community and continues to challenge us. She serves as a valuable member of our alumni board and provides an incredible perspective as we continue to grow as a community.
Joan’s life repeats the themes of embracing the seasons the Lord has her in, and obedience to him. After being a wife and mother for many years, Norm asked Joan to also become an insurance agent for his company in 1983. While Joan was hesitant, this ended up becoming a huge blessing in her life. When Norm passed away in 1999, Joan was able to continue running the company and providing for their family. Her son, Jeremy, who was playing professional football in 1997, came on to join Joan in leadership. Joan says, “What fun to own a business! Making decisions, impacting people’s lives–it is a fun and exciting opportunity to trust God daily.”
Being open to God’s opportunities
In 2000, Joan’s church held a missionary Sunday event where each member received a bracelet with a name to pray for. Joan prayed for Ronald Lafronc in Haiti. Joan went on a short-term mission trip, initially thinking, “What can you do in 10 days?” She was impressed by the ongoing relationship that they developed with Light and Peace Mission. Since 2002, Joan has continued to go twice a year.
Joan has visited Haiti 25 times and serves through a program that grants micro-loans to small business owners. The group has a 96% repayment record–meaning that the businesses are thriving and impacting their communities. (For example, one of the companies started with her son, Matthew, teaching a group how to tie flies for fly fishing.) Joan says, “They have the ideas; they just need the resources and we assist them.” There is also a professional school to help students find work after graduating from secondary school.
Joan notes how the Lord has used her skill set as a businesswoman in ways she never expected. While she didn’t want to go into insurance, she was humble and willing when her husband asked for her partnership. Today, she thrives in running Town & Country Insurance and has been able to bless so many others. When we asked Joan what advice she would give new alumni, she said the importance of being patient and being open to what the Lord has for us. “It isn’t me making wonderful plans. It is me being available when He has put something there.”