Joan Bricka died peacefully in her home at Country Meadow Village Friday August 31, 2018 at 11pm surrounded by her beautiful treasures and photos. She spent the day surrounded by her loving children, their spouses, two of her beloved grandsons and many dear friends while listening to the Requiem masses composed by Faure and Rutter. She was able to have a conversation with her grandson Blake too. The staff of Country Meadow Village cared for her with such love and kindness. Her rapid decline came on quite suddenly. We are forever grateful that Hospice of the Northwest was able to care for her in her final days too.
Joan was born in Binghamton, New York on July 27, 1929 and spent the first 9 months of her life in an orphanage as she was given up by her parents for adoption. The fact that she did not know her biological parents was a source of sadness for her. Her family is working on putting the pieces together and will continue to do so in the future. She was adopted by Merle and Gladys Geddis of Port Jervis, New York.
As a kid, she wanted to play the trumpet, so she took lessons, and marveled at the connection she had with her instrument because it proved to be very significant throughout her life. To start, she remembers her neighbor running up the stairs to tell her of a job opportunity at a summer camp playing the bugle. She applied for the job at Twin Lakes camp and got it! She was ten years old. When the camp closed two years later, she was devastated, but she took her mother’s advice and checked out the classifieds in the New York Times as they often advertised for summer camps in the spring.
She wrote many letters to many camps and received a response from Mr. Ferdinand Penley of Hartford CT. His positive response began a connection that continued for the rest of her life as she kept in communication with her camp sisters. She was bugler and Waterfront Director of Camp Penko until she was 24 years old.
She played trumpet all through high school and was first chair of the first section. She deferred solos to the male second chair, something she’d reconsider today.
In 1950 she headed to Skidmore College and joined a sorority. She and her new sorority sisters were excited for a visit from a representative of the national chapter. Joan remembers the young woman vividly as she was dressed in a purple suit and wore pearls. They were looking forward to hearing about the exciting plans for the year. Unfortunately, her message was not what they anticipated. She informed the gathering that one of the pledges was unable to join due to the color of her skin. The sisters were told that if they did not agree with the decision, they could turn in their pledge pins and leave the house. Joan and 12 of her pledge class sisters did exactly that. She transferred to New York University at Cortland where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education in 1953. She was honored that she was a member of her college Acapella choir.
After graduation she was looking to move at a different part of the country, so she sent out 25 letters to various universities inquiring about post graduate opportunities in counseling and leadership. She received a few responses, but the stipend offered usually were not adequate. That all changed when she received a letter from Dean Holmes, with a Pullman, WA post mark. She was not only accepted into the master’s Program but received a full-time position as head resident of a brand-new dormitory called Regent’s Hill. She packed up her gear and headed West after receiving a warning from her mother to watch out for the cowboys and Indians (Seriously this happened in 1953.) She got off the plane in her boat shoes and slicker and knew she was in for a big adventure.
When summer classes started in 1955 she caught the eye of a handsome young man, George C. Bricka, Jr. who was working on his principal’s credential while teaching Biology and coaching at White Swan High School near Yakima. She invited him to dinner and they fell instantly in love. They married on campus six weeks after they met. Washington State University and all things associated with Pullman are very important to Joan, as she refers to it as her love town. She had the opportunity to attend her grandson Michael’s graduation in December of 2012. The entire family was there for the festivities.
George and Joan moved into a converted chicken coop and they immediately started their family. Barbara was born in 1956 followed by David in 1958. George was offered the job of principal of Concrete High School in 1959. Sarah (Sally) was born in 1960.
The family moved to Sedro-Woolley in 1963 when George became principal of the High School.
George and Joan worked as team those early years raising their family. They made clear choices in the style and way that they raised and disciplined their kids tapping into their education careers. They were true innovators for their time, and all three of their kids are thriving and active members of the community.
She worked in the home for many years and volunteered in the community for several causes. She was active in politics and was the successful campaign manager for Ann Ross when she ran for County Auditor. She and the Bricka kids were very involved in the campaign and spent every day at the Skagit County Fair passing out flyers for the successful candidate.
She worked at the Auditor’s office in the early 70’s temporarily converting the country voting records to a computerized system.
She signed up to work for the 1970’s census, and because of the high score she got on the aptitude test, wound up being a regional supervisor. All the canvassers would come to the house to check in with Joan as they traveled over the County doing their job.
She spent the fall and winter of 1975-76 volunteering with a group of local businessmen and women to build the Sedro-Woolley Community Center. It was a huge task that was done entirely with volunteer labor. She oversaw setting up the schedule for the volunteer construction workers. She was on the phone everyday making sure the volunteer contractors had enough workers to pound nails, etc… George always was one of the guys that was there to work. Both of her daughters held their wedding receptions at the Community Center. It was always fun to hear stories of those times.
When the kids were in high school, Joan headed back to the classroom as a substitute teacher. She really found her calling at the high school level. She listened to kids that acted out and caused trouble and really became a powerful role model for them. She was the “go to” sub at Concrete High for many years. She respected her students, and in turn demanded the same type of respect in return.
One day during class a group of boys were very disrespectful of fellow students and her. She had had enough and went to the principal telling him that she was done and left the building. The thought of losing such an asset to the school was too much, so the principal called an emergency assembly of the entire student body to get Mrs. Bricka back to Concrete! She still received cards from former students at Christmas time and is very proud of the impact she had on so many lives.
Many adventures were taking place in 1982. George was retiring as principal after 19 years and youngest daughter Sarah was getting married to local business man David Drummond. The wedding took place on May 8th and it was a wonderful celebration of love. All but one of George’s sisters attended the celebration. Graduation took place in June. There were lovely dinners and ceremonies commemorating his 30-year career in education. Sadly, on the day of his final graduation, his eldest sister died in Ohio. She had been ill and was 18 years his senior. To honor George’s retirement, Joan along with her daughters were working closely with his secretaries to plan a retirement party in August. Son, David had just secured the time off from his restaurant management job in Monterey, California to be the surprise at the party. Before that, George and Joan headed out on a retirement adventure to the east coast to visit family and friends.
On the way back, George suffered a heart attack and died in Superior Wisconsin. Joan became a widow at aged 52.
The community at large was devastated at the loss of a dear friend and colleague. What was the young widow to do with the rest of her life?
Joan always wanted a backyard swimming pool, so, in 1983, the family built a swimming pool in the back yard at the family home. It was a long arduous process, but the result was so worthwhile. It was the center of many great celebrations over the years as grandkids and kids spent countless hours enjoying languid summer days lounging by the pool. Her two oldest grandsons now live in the family home and there is talk of putting in a new pool to continue the many celebrations and tradition. The “Bricka, Drummond, Gurney and Bonacci Beach” was the site for family celebrations. Joan was very strict about pool rules. She taught John, Michael, Blake and Brian how to swim and to respect the water for the fun you can have with it. The doors out to the pool were double locked for safety and the sliding glass door had a bar that locked it. It took a lot of convincing to let us open the sliding glass door during parties when the kids were older. John always had his very special pool birthday party at AMA’s.
Joan and George were going to join the choir at a local Mount Vernon Church after their return. Joan carried on with the commitment and began a great volunteer career serving as the moderator of the Board of Deacons for the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church. She set up a process for scholarship applications based on the work she did with the local Rotary Club honoring her late husband.
She also joined the Skagit Community Band! She has met so many amazing people through this connection. There was one gentleman in the trumpet section that reminded her of her late husband. The shy single trumpeter eventually became her son in law in March of 1993 after she set him up with her daughter Barbara.
Her 4 grandsons, John David, Michael George, Brian William, and Blake David were the joys of her life. She was a powerful influence in all their lives and she spent many hours caring for each one of them. When John was just starting to talk he had trouble with saying grandma, so, it morphed into AMA. She is their beloved Grandma/Ama.
She picked up John and Michael every day after school from Allen Elementary and finally Lucille Umbarger School. Everyone at each school always enjoyed seeing Ama every day. They would do homework, flew kites and played baseball. When the Gurney boys attended Lucille Umbarger, AMA and Blake would wait at the bus stop for Brian to get home. She would play games and help around the house. After school she would take the kids on adventures to Dairy Queen with lil sis Bronte. They’d take change to the coinstar machine and get money for their treats.
Joan’s son David started played taps for military funerals for the local American Legion when he was in the 8th grade. The summer before he graduated, Joan took a call from the local rep who was beside himself because they had three funerals in one day and David was working. Joan told him that she would fill in for that one time. Well, twenty years later she was honored by the American Legion for her dedicated service to fallen Veterans. She has wonderful memories of the men from the legion. Her beloved husband George was a veteran and member of the 101st Airborne Division in WWII. Every time she played taps, she played them for him. She and Bill played echo taps for many years. Her grandsons Blake and Brian played taps as well. Bill will honor her decades of service at her graveside when he plays taps to celebrate her life.
Joan loved playing bridge! She so tried to get her kids to play, but they never did. Shortly after the family moved to town in 1963 she began playing bridge with a group of about 10 ladies for 50+ years. They always met at a different home the third Tuesday of every month. The group even went to Country Meadow Village and enjoyed a great game and lunch a few years after Joan moved in to the retirement community.
Joan moved to Country Meadow Village on October 1, 2011 and became a vital active part of the local retirement community. She was so proud that her son, David was program director and that her grandson’s Blake and Brian volunteered for many years. After Brian’s accident, she took advantage of the shuttle bus and traveled to Life Care every Tuesday and Thursday to be with Brian for a couple of hours. She was able to be there the morning that he died. Joan’s family is grateful beyond measure for the amazing care that she received over the years. Everyone was so kind and nice to her. The family is also grateful that Hospice of the Northwest stepped in quite quickly and truly made her last days peaceful and calm.
Joan is survived by her children and their spouses, Barbara and William Gurney of Burlington; David and husband, Michael Bonacci of Mount Vernon; and Sarah (Sally) and David Drummond of Burlington; grandsons, John Drummond of Sedro-Woolley, Michael Drummond of Sedro-Woolley and Blake Gurney of Pullman; nephew, Jon Gordon and wife, Arlene of Lacrosse, WA; Roger Gordon and wife, Maryanne of Spokane and Stephanie Forshag and husband, Don of Spokane.
She was preceded in death by her husband, George; grandson, Brian; sisters in law, Dorothy Gordon, Bonita Reilly, Virginia Gordon and their spouses respectively, Stewart, Perry and Frank and niece, Elizabeth Gordon.
Services will be held Sunday, September 9, 2018 at 1:30 at Lemley Chapel in Sedro-Woolley. Immediately following the service, Joan’s life will be celebrated at the Gurney Home, 10722 Tani Lane in Burlington.
A graveside service will take place Monday Morning at 10:00am at Union Cemetery in Sedro-Woolley.
A time of visitation will be available at Lemley Chapel on Friday from Noon to 5:00, and the family will be present for the visitation from 5:00 to 7:00 on Saturday evening.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Brian Gurney Memorial Scholarship under the auspices of the Burlington-Edison Alumni Foundation.