Joan Knapp

Joan Knapp, 81, recovering from brain surgery, was recently recognized with a 20-year service pin from Nature Coast Volunteer Center (NCVC) for her years of being the friendly, informative face visitors see when they walk into the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum in downtown Inverness. Currently a resident at Avante at Inverness assisted living facility, Knapp hopes to be able to return to her volunteer work.

Before her brain surgery less than two months ago, Joan Knapp said her prayers and thanked the Lord for letting her live 81 years, a life that she thoroughly enjoyed.

Six weeks later, as she recovered at Avante at Inverness assisted living facility, Knapp is back thanking the Lord and, as she will tell you, “raising holy hell.”

“I have to tell you, Joanie is a hellraiser,” Knapp said. “At 81, you’d think I’d outgrow it.”

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As she explained, she loves to play tricks on people, like moving the maintenance man’s cart just to see him look confused and the other residents smile conspiratorially.

“I do this because people need someone to laugh with,” she said. “So, I’m the ‘designated hellraiser.’”

But Knapp has a serious side and a passion for volunteering.

For the past 25 years since retiring from a 30-year career at IBM in Poughkeepsie, New York, and moving to Citrus County, Knapp has immersed herself in volunteering at local assisted living facilities like Avante, as well as 20 years with the Citrus County Historical Society.

For many years, Knapp has been the first person visitors see when they walk into the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum in downtown Inverness.

Recently, Knapp was recognized with a 20-year service pin from Nature Coast Volunteer Center (NCVC), and since she wasn’t able to attend the annual NCVC recognition luncheon this year, NCVC came to her.

“Joanie’s actually been at the museum for more than 21 years, and she’s been a constant, happy part of the museum,” said Laurie Diestler, NCVC supervisor. “She’s very dedicated and she takes it very seriously, and she loves to talk to people; that’s what brings her joy.”

Flo Jones, historical society vice president, called Knapp “spunky,” informative and a friendly face for museum visitors.

“We hope she’ll be able to return as a volunteer,” Jones said.

Knapp said she loves it when people come to the Old Courthouse and are surprised to learn it’s a museum.

“I’ll tell them about the displays and that two rooms stay the same, but the other changes every two months,” she said. “I just really love talking to people.”

She said when she volunteers at assisted living facilities, she tries to engage the residents in conversation.

“Some of them have no one to talk to,” she said. “I do ‘Bingo with Joanie’ sometimes; I play cards with them or games.

“I love the old people,” she said, and then laughed. “I’m 81, and that makes me old, but I’m not an old lady.”

Knapp said right now she’s not sure what’s next for her. She said her doctor doesn’t want her to live alone, so she’s hoping to find an assisted living facility where she can bring her cat, Rascal.

Wherever she goes, she said she’ll continue to wring as much life out of her situation as she can.

“I’ve had brain surgery,” she said, revealing the fresh scar on one side of her head and the staple on the other side, “and I try to use mine as much as possible. It’s true – if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. ... Life is too damn short to not live it to the fullest.”

Nancy Kennedy can be reached at 352-564-2927 or by email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.