Grandmother is inspirational to generations

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Joanne McDuffie likes all kinds of critters.

OKEECHOBEE — Joanne McDuffie is not your typical grandma … or, then again, maybe she is. She just doesn’t realize she is not everyone’s grandma. Ms. McDuffie does do all the normal grandma things like inviting her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren over to spend the day. They go to the skate park or the science museum or they play outside in the back yard together.

Her oldest granddaughter, Jamie, said, “I think she has to be the coolest grandma in the world. I remember as a kid being so excited when it was my turn to spend the night with her. She would take us yard saling and treat us so nice. Even my kids now love getting to spend time with her. She always thinks of fun things to do with them, and they love it.”

One of the unusual things about Ms. McDuffie is that she likes critters of all sorts — dogs, rabbits, geckos, you name it. She’s even been known to pet an alligator or hold a snake once or twice.

Ms. McDuffie has always had a soft spot for anyone who needs her. She worked as a nurse’s aide most of her life and took care of senior citizens. Most people would find working with those who have Alzheimer’s sad or depressing, but Ms. McDuffie just focused on the bright side and tried to make their lives a little better any way she possibly could.

When her children were young, their house was the one where all the neighborhood kids would gather — the Kool-Aid House. It was the fun place to play, because the kids could be loud. She knew kids needed to be kids, and she let them play. After escaping an abusive marriage, she raised four children by herself with no help from the government or anyone else. “She raised us with very little money, but we never lacked for necessities and most of what we wanted. She is the true definition of a mother and matriarch. She taught me the value of hard work, and if I was ever down and needed a friend, she tried to be that friend,” said her son Jerry Atwood.

Her son Steve Findlay said, “What I admire most about my mother is that she never gave up. Being a single mother of four had to have been overwhelming and exhausting, but I never recall her complaining, nor do I ever recall us going without. I do remember a time as a teenager that I was told she had not purchased a single item of clothing for herself in years, because she wanted to be sure all of us had what we needed first. I credit her with instilling my character traits that have made me the father and business man I am today. I love my mom and the woman she is.”

“Our mother has always amazed me, from as far back as I can remember. I couldn’t have asked for a better mother growing up with a single parent. The hard work it must have taken to raise four children alone, I can only imagine. It always made me feel like nothing was too hard for me in life. She set an example of hard work, and for that I thank you, Momma, from the bottom of my heart! I could not have made it through adult life without that type of example, and that is only one of the things I learned from her. I love my mom dearly,” said her son Jeff Findlay.

Her daughter said, “My mother led by example. If something needed to be fixed in our house, she figured out how to fix it. She did not call someone to come and fix it. She would get a book and read up on how to fix a plumbing problem or an electrical problem or a lawnmower problem. Whatever it was, she would figure it out. She didn’t expect other people to take care of things for her. She taught me to think for myself. I always appreciated that.”

Ms. McDuffie has always been softhearted and has taken several people into her home over the last several years, just because they needed a place to go. She became a caregiver to a distant relative who had Alzheimer’s, and allowed her to move into her guest room, where she could take care of her for several years. Later, Ms. McDuffie allowed a neighbor to move into her guest room while the neighbor was going through cancer treatments. She lived with her for about a year until she went into hospice care. At one point, she heard about a friend of her daughter’s who was looking for a place to live near the college because she worked at the nursing home and was trying to get a nursing degree. Without hesitation, she offered to rent her a room for two years while she went to school. It was a huge help, and the friend is now a successful nurse, living in her own place. When she saw a story in the paper about a blind woman who was being evicted, she immediately went and got the woman and took her home with her for several weeks until the woman got a place of her own. Even now, she picks that woman up regularly and takes her shopping or to the doctor or out to lunch, because that’s the kind of person she is.

If you are Ms. McDuffie’s friend, she will be your biggest cheerleader and will defend you against all enemies both foreign and domestic, and if you ask her, she can probably even fix your lawnmower or rewire your lamp.

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