NewsWomen's History Month


Longtime Genesee resident Joanne Greenberg releases 21st book at 91 years old

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Posted at 2:41 PM, Mar 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-01 12:56:46-04

GENESEE, Colo. — Not everyone is able to live to 91 years old, let alone release a 21st book, participate in drama class, live alone and navigate Colorado's winding mountain roads.

But longtime Genesee resident Joanne Greenberg defies all those preconceived notions — writing daily, nestled in her home perched on the edge of a slope off Interstate 70.

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The road up to Joanne's home, that her late husband Albert and her shared, is one way and narrow with a steep dropoff on one side. But just like each challenge she's faced in life, it doesn't faze her.

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Greenberg said she has even experimented with backing up the driveway, instead of having to back out — as there is no way to turn around once you're committed.

She seemingly goes with the flow with every unexpected opportunity life has handed her — from her marriage to her position on the Lookout Mountain Fire Rescue to her job teaching elementary school and college students at Colorado School of Mines.

Greenberg and her late husband met in Washington, D.C. when they were both engaged to other people. The 91-year-old recounted being in a relationship with a nuclear physicist, PhD candidate, with a good upbringing. But when she met her husband, she said, "this was the most comfortable I had ever been in my life." And she never looked back.

After the two got married, they moved to Colorado where a friend recruited her to join the Lookout Mountain Fire Department.

Greenberg's response?

"Sure, why not?"

The two became some of the first women on the force. But they didn't get there without some pushback. Greenberg joked the leaders back then argued, "people with boobs should not be working fire equipment."

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Once the pair of them joined, a woman who had been a secretary also signed up. And the ripple effect continued.

She chronicles her experience there in her newest book "On the Run."

Greenberg then joined Emergency Medical Services.

She responded to countless emergencies, but one of the most notable was when she was called to the rescue of Lori Poland — a toddler who was left for dead in a 10-foot toilet pit in 1983.

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She described going into the outhouse and hearing a voice coming up from the hole saying, "I'm hungry."

Greenberg helped get the young girl out and took her to the hospital. But that's not where their story ended.

"Fifty years later, they're celebrating Genesee [Fire Rescue's] 50th [anniversary]. They had her up and they invited me and we reconnected. And in a couple of days, we're going to have lunch again. We have lunch with each other," Greenberg said.

Those kinds of relationships are one of the things that stood out to longtime friend Ed McManis as evidence of Greenberg's impact on Colorado.

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"Her whole thing is community. And she'll talk about, you know, being in the mountains," McManis said. "She was there when it was the bathtub community. That's now become the hot tub community with all the money that's come down the highway. So, she's very much old school that way in terms of community, knowing folks, knowing your butcher, knowing everybody, saying hi, doing all that stuff."

Even at her drama class, she ran into a sibling of one of her former sixth-grade students.

But Greenberg said she never planned to be a teacher. Parents were unhappy with a previous sixth-grade teacher and another friend asked her to take over the role.

She also never set out to teach on the collegiate level.

She lobbied Colorado School of Mines to add an anthropology course, which Greenberg studied at American University. She believed as students graduate and work across the world, they needed to know the customs expected of them. And school leaders asked her to come up with a plan to teach it.

That eventually led her to also teach fiction writing at Colorado School of Mines — a class she was more than qualified to teach as she's published numerous books.

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Her most famous work is the classic "I Never Promised You A Rose Garden," which was adapted into a 1977 movie and a 2004 play. Her novel "In This Sign" was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie called Love Is Never Silent.

McManis has edited a number of Greenberg's books and interviewed her about each one.

"You just see the depth of her," McManis said of her writing. "It's just astounding every time you get in there because she's not a lot of bells and whistles. But it's, you know, it's those deep waters. And just her range of interests."

And Greenberg echoed that sentiment, explaining her ideas for so many books materialized in reaction to things happening in her life, exploring "what if?" and "how come?"

While many people desperately seek a plan for their future, going without has, in many ways, been a factor to Greenberg's success.

"I had no idea — none of the richness, of the variety. I am the luckiest person in shoes there ever was in the whole history — in the people I get to hang out with. I mean, all these people in the synagogue and the singing group and the drama group and the fellow writers — I was John Williams friend," Greenberg said.

While she may not be a household name, Greenberg has had a storied life. And that's what she embraces most of all.

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