New Castle News

April 29, 2013

Making a Difference: Local woman constantly giving back to the community

Kayleen Cubbal
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — When her two young daughters asked to put a lemonade stand in the yard of their home, Jan Grigsby readily agreed.

“Sure,” Jan told them. “You can keep half of the money for yourself and donate the other half to a charity of your choice.”

Although the girls were only 6 and 10 years old at the time, the mandate came as no surprise to them.

Grigsby is a giver — of herself, her time, her money, her talents — and those nearby just seem to fall in line behind her.

“Jan is the best person I’ve ever known in my life,” said her best friend, Lauren Cotton. “She makes everyone around her want to be a better person.”

That certainly seems to be the case.

Grigsby’s daughters, Rachel and Carly Edman, made a pretty penny that summer over a decade ago, and they picked the Lawrence County Humane Society as their charity. Not surprisingly, once Jan walked into the humane society with her daughters’ donation, she never left.

She has become not only a volunteer patron, but a member of the board of directors at the humane society.

Her love of animals, though, is just the tip of the iceberg for this pretty lady from the North Hill who was nominated by Cotton as Lawrence County’s latest Person who Makes a Difference in the Community.



A FAST FRIENDSHIP

Grigsby and Cotton met some 20 years ago when Cotton visited the home of Grigsby and her husband, Neal Edman, who were looking for a caregiver for newborn Rachel.   “We interviewed her, looked at each other and nodded,” Grigsby said. “We were so worried about finding someone we could trust with our daughter, but after a short time with her, we just knew.”

Cotton says she knew, as well.

“I won the lottery that day,” she said. “Little did I know that it was a day that was going to change my life forever.”

Cotton says she has watched in wonder and amazement as Grigsby has woven her magic throughout the community.

In the case of the lemonade stand at the corner of North Mercer Street and Fairfield Avenue, Grigsby turned every kid’s summertime fun and moneymaking activity into a life lesson.

“They had quite a little business,” Grigsby said. “All the neighbors patronized it, policeman driving by in their patrol cars would stop. Once everyone on a city bus got off and bought lemonade.”

The girls were featured in the humane society newsletter in an article titled, “Turning lemons into love.”

“I wanted them to understand,” Grigsby said, “that when some good fortune comes your way, you should always think about giving back.”



BUSY LADY

Jan, a native of Illinois, met Neal when the two were in graduate school in Bloomington, Ind. The two moved to Lawrence County 25 years ago when Neal accepted a position as associate dean at Westminster College, where he now is vice president for student affairs.

When Rachel was born, Grigsby vowed she would not work full-time as long as she had a child at home. Herself a longtime educator, Grigsby currently works 2 to 3 days a week as a professor in the master’s degree and counseling program at Slippery Rock University.

But while she limits her work schedule, Grigsby is constantly in motion with the good deeds she does. According to Cotton, Grigsby will welcome any new family that moves into Neshannock Township with a plate of brownies. If someone is sick, out comes the pot to make some homemade chicken soup. If Grigsby gets wind of someone going through a rough time, as in the loss of a loved one, Grigsby is there with a home-cooked meal. At Christmas time, she is known for her cranberry bread, which she makes and delivers to those who need a lift.

“Jan and Neal do not have relatives in this area, but there are always friends around their table. Whether it’s munchies in the kitchen, burgers on the deck, or a buffet in the dining room, the welcome mat is always out,” Cotton said. “And if Jan gets wind of someone who does not have plans for holiday dinner, the invitation is automatically issued.”

For Grigsby, the reward is much better than the deed itself.

“I get so much out of it,” she says with complete humility. “It makes me feel good inside to be able to do a small bit of something for someone else.”



A HELPING HAND

Cotton tells of an older friend who Grigsby aids on a daily basis. She also has helped two young students get into college.

“I just gave them some advice and took them on some visits,” Grigsby insists, as Cotton shakes her head with a knowing smile.

“She is just so kind,” Cotton said. “When she’s helping someone, she somehow manages to turn it around, so they feel like they’re doing her the favor.”

Grigsby is also quite involved in her Youngstown church, where Cotton says, “she doesn’t just attend services, she jumps in and does everything from cleaning restrooms to being on committees, to fixing food — whether she’s asked or not.”

For years, Grigsby took her certified therapy dog, Maddy, to nursing homes, but when Maddy had to be put down last year, the family’s energetic Jack Russell terrier, Bailey, picked up where Maddy left off.

Grigsby is a regular at pet fairs and clinics in the area through her work with the humane society.

“She can’t pass by a dog without a collar, or one that seems lost without stopping to see if it needs help,” Cotton said. “We joke that she’ll jump from a moving car to check on a dog.”

Grigsby’s good deeds have been infectious for Neal, Rachel and Carly, all of whom volunteer their time in various ways. Rachel, now 21, is a student at Slippery Rock University, while Carly, 17, is a junior at Neshannock.

Neal is a mainstay at the New Castle Playhouse, where he won’t hesitate to grab a lawn mower or paintbrush if it is needed.

Oh, and when she’s not helping people or dogs, Grigsby finds time to enter her quilting and cross-stitch at the Lawrence County Fair, where she has won numerous ribbons.

“I love ribbons,” Grigsby said, adding with a chuckle, “I have an obsession with them.”



GIVING BACK

So how does Grigsby keep track of everything going on in her life?

“Oh, good heavens, I write it all down,” she said. “I don’t even try to put it into my phone, I could never keep it straight that way.”

Grigsby said while there never is a shortage of good deeds to be done, she admits they do seem to find her.

“I’m probably too nebby,” she said with a laugh. “It’s not like I look for situations where I can help, they just seem to fall into my lap.”

Through it all, the twinkle never leaves Grigsby’s eye.

“She has a wonderful sense of sarcasm,” Cotton said. “And her sense of humor is unbelievable. People gravitate toward her — people in all walks of life — and she embraces every one of them. She picks her friends and her pets the same way —pedigree does not matter to her. If you need her, Jan is going to be there for you.”

Grigsby said that while her plate is full, so is her life.

“People do so much for me just for allowing me to be a part of their lives,” she said. “My life is a good one because of so many of the people that I have around me.”

(Email: kcubbal@newsonline.com).