After being deported at age 19, Joyce Brown has become a U.S. citizen, had great success on Wall Street, served as a Lutheran minister and is now trying her hand at goat ranching.
Brown, 71, was recently sidelined by an ATV crash on her property outside St. Clair and not even that has slowed down her lifelong quest for knowledge and new skills.
Canada to NYC
Brown was born in Canada, moved to Los Angeles with her mother and sister when she was 18 months old and spent her childhood and teen years in California.
The one problem was, she and her family were living in the United States illegally.
“Nobody ever bothered to get a visa,” Brown said. “Back then, as long as you looked like everyone else and behaved, nobody cared.”
Eventually, the FBI caught up with her and her family and they were deported back to Conway, Ontario, where she then obtained a student visa and was educated in New York City.
“I went to college for $19 per semester,” Brown said. “It was so much easier then. After I got my MBA from New York University, what else do you do in New York? Finance and investments.”
After riding the ups and downs of the Wall Street wave, Brown decided it was time for another change and she moved to Chicago in May of 1978.
“In 1980 I got my citizenship just in time to vote for Ronald Reagan,” Brown said. “It was shocking how arbitrary it is. The person in line in front of me had to do a full interview and answer a bunch of questions. They only asked me one question. Who makes the laws? That was it. Now, I have dual citizenship. I can go back to Canada any time. Once Canada has you it doesn’t let go.”
Also in 1980, Brown became a certified public accountant and began working with an insurance firm.
“The company was just making the transition to computers,” Brown said. “We developed a cash flow accounting system that was a huge success. It was a real high and that’s when I started drinking too much.”
When all of this was going on in her life, Brown felt a curiosity about what other skills she could learn, so she enrolled in a night school locksmith class.
“I was tired of words and numbers and this was something a girl could do,” Brown said. “I had to do an apprenticeship since I was basically carrying around burglary tools. Usually, when you call a locksmith, you are in some kind of crisis. You are either being thrown out, or you are throwing somebody out.”
Little did she know, her new hobby would lead her to a higher calling that she had been ignoring her entire life.
After a brief stint caring for her mother in Florida, Brown found herself again in New York where she achieved the greatest accomplishment of her life.
Having been estranged from her father her entire life, Brown was given an opportunity to meet and build a relationship with her father for the first time.
“In 1989, I finally got to know my dad,” Brown said. “It took a lot of deep work, but he and I got to be a real father and daughter. Later, I got to baptize him.”
A few years earlier, Brown met her future husband George, who she would share the next chapter of her unplanned future with.
“I had a radical transition to Christianity,” Brown said. “Before then, I had been worshiping sex, money and power. I knew from the outset God had something more up his sleeve for me than money.”
She quit finance altogether, entered the seminary, and in 2000 was ordained as a Lutheran minister and became pastor of an Evangelical Lutheran church on the northwest side of Chicago.
Off the Grid
After eight years of ministry, the times and philosophy of the church were changing and Brown decided to focus on yet another bucket list item.
For many years, her husband George had owned property in St. Clair and the couple had been coming down every chance they had.
“I had always wanted to grow my own food and know what I was eating for a change,” she said. “In 2010 we sold our house in Chicago and moved to St. Clair. After living under a neighborhood association telling us what we could and couldn’t do, we decided we didn’t want any neighbors. Now we have 117 acres and the only neighbors are rocks, trees and goats.”
Brown said she and George are now living “off the grid,” using solar panels and a windmill to provide power supplemented by a propane generator from time to time.
George raises chickens, guineas and ducks along with the herd of goats they use for food and income.
“We have the goats for milk, cheese and meat,” Brown said. “You can taste the difference in fresh food and our bodies can feel the difference.”
Third Time’s a Charm
In August, Brown had just enrolled in a welding class for a third time, although she had already passed it once.
Two weeks into the semester, she was involved in a four-wheeler crash on her property that resulted in her being airlifted to Mercy Hospital in Creve Coeur.
“I spent six days in intensive care that I don’t remember at all,” Brown said. “I ended up with four broken ribs, a broken collarbone and a bump on the head.”
Brown said she dropped out of the welding class the first time after spending two weeks watching OSHA videos on how dangerous the profession was.
She passed the class the second time around, but enrolled for a third time because she became obsessed with creating a perfect welding bead.
Due to her injury, Four Rivers refunded her money for this semester, but she vows to sign up next year.
Learning to Listen
Because a call to ministry is never silenced, Brown volunteers five days a week delivering Meals on Wheels to homebound residents of the St. Clair area and visits residents of two senior care facilities each week as well.
“God never lets up on ya,” Brown said. “You get grateful really quick when you see how other people are living. Since my accident, I understand better what people go through and how important it is to listen.”
Taste of Culture
Despite the self-sufficient living and cutting ties with the fast paced life, Brown and her husband still have a taste for some of the culture only a big city can provide.
“The main thing I loved about New York City was the music,” Brown said. “When I lived there, the Metropolitan Opera was just down the street. I’m learning Mozart now and that will probably take me the rest of my life. Plus, you are supposed to play music when you milk goats.”
The couple also takes the train back to Chicago frequently to utilize two theater subscriptions they renew each year.
“We see all sorts of shows,” Brown said. “Although we have to walk out of some of them, most are wonderful.”
Although still wearing a back brace, Brown says she is getting back into her daily routines, but is still a bit gun shy about getting back on the ATV any time soon.
“There isn’t a skill I don’t want to master,” Brown said. “I get out of bed every morning saying, ‘Let me at it’.”