Joan Komer is the CEO of the Peak Performance Institute Inc. She is an educator, self-esteem coach, seminar speaker, author, and a researcher. With Dr. Larry Komer, they have shared their “Be Menopositive!” seminar on women’s health and well-being to over 35,000 people.
As Joan reflects, “I was youngest of three and a baby boomer, with two boys before me. I was the girl my parents so badly wanted. I was “a youngest child”, but because I was 6 and 7 years younger than my brothers, I have characteristics of an only child too.
I always loved crafts. When I was in high school, I was in the “academic” stream so I was only allowed to take Home Economics for the first year. Devastated, I arranged with the sewing teacher to audit all the daily sewing classes for the next three years. After school, she would show me what had been taught that day and I would go home, do it and bring back the finished project, crafts and sewing, the very next day. Eventually, I made all my own clothes and sewed for my mother as well. I planned to take a degree in Home Economics, but changed my mind in Grade 13, as I wanted my passion to be a hobby and not a vocation.
I loved high school. I was a cheer leader, in the choir and played second saxophone in the band. I was in musicals. I won the Grade 13 music award for the highest marks in music. I was winning my campaign for President of Student Council in the 12th grade when I became very sick with mononucleosis and ended up spending the next 4 months in bed. Against my doctor’s wishes, I went back to school in the fall for my Grade 13 year. There was no way was I going to miss moving on with my friends. I attended about half of the classes because I was so tired, but I did graduate as an Ontario Scholar.
Doing well academically was expected. I did, but I never felt as if I did, because I was always comparing myself to my older brother, David, who was an academic phoneme. As a result, I developed a fear of speaking up in class, lest they find out the truth that I knew that I really was a fraud, not smart at all. It developed into a crippling fear of speaking in public that haunted me for a lot of my adult life, especially in University.
I received an honours degree in Psychology from Queen’s University in Kingston. I won the Psychology prize in my third year, which surprised everybody, because I was so quiet in class. Instead of carrying on with Master’s degree in Psychology, I enrolled in McArthur College of Education at Queen’s, and with a degree in Education, Counseling and English, I taught high school for several years, counseling being my passion.
Music has always been very important to me. I have sung in my church choir for 25 years. I have performed in musicals and concerts. I love to sing and I love to perform. I discovered later in my life, that I also love to act. This has led me to have leading roles in many amateur productions. Acting is energizing for me. It renews my soul, and has helped me cope through some of the very difficult times we have had in the last 10 years. I also enjoy speaking, as it is a way for me to perform.
I love flowers and color and beautiful things. Gardening has been a passion all my life beginning in my early years. Back then, I would spend hours with my father in our half-acre property, we planted every vegetable, fruit and flower possible. While my brothers liked to help our mother with the inside chores, I was happiest outside. As a five year old, I spent all day outside, and my most memorable times were riding on the back of our tobacco-growing neighbor’s cultivating machine. For years, I lovingly tended my 100 varieties of roses at our present home. Eventually, time and energy and the rose diseases made me change to less demanding perennials.
My early interest in crafts and sewing developed into an interest in and aptitude for interior design. I was one of those original Pinterest people. After 10 years of collecting ideas in a scrapbook, Larry and I designed and built our very unique “California” inspired house, 35 years ago. I was inspired to put a garden inside down the center of the house.
More important than anything else I have done, I was a mother of two. I loved being a mother very much and gave up teaching to stay at home with our daughter Kim, and later our son Scott. I made the costumes for the many musicals and skating shows for both kids. Halloween required my creative sewing as they were very particular about the authenticity of their costumes. It was the days before ready-made costumes of today, and even the large craft stores. I attended every one of Kim’s dance and musical performances, and hockey or lacrosse game of Scott’s. Larry was a very busy Gynecologist during those days, so my committed role as a full time wife and mother was crucial, and never regretted.
Once the kids were in school and at an age to need me less, I found I needed more. I missed the high school kids, so for several years, I became a leader of a teenage girls’ group in our church called Canadian Girls in Training.
As part of my searching for self-fulfillment, I had the opportunity to attend a conference called The Million Dollar Forum. It was an uplifting week of powerful motivational speakers. This included Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, authors of “Chicken Soup for the Soul®” series. As a result of my experience there, I arranged to attend training on Self-Esteem by Jack Canfield in California. It changed my life. I returned home to speak on Self- Esteem to groups. I also developed a seminar for women called “The Rose” (Radiant – Opulent – Self-Esteem). It was extremely well received, as low self-image is rampant in women especially.
As doctors were not allowed to incorporate, I became the CEO of a management company, Anigav Professional Services Inc. that handled the business end of Larry’s practice. (This was during the very early days of computers). As well, we started Peak Performance Institute. We organized weekend seminars in exotic destinations for the personal development of physicians and their spouses called “Chicken Soup for the Physician’s Soul”®; we were fortunate to have Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen as two of our motivational speakers. It was while they were still trying to get any publisher to take them seriously!
As part of Peak Performance Institute, Larry and I co-developed “Be Menopositive” which was a public information seminar on Menopause, which has now expanded to Andropause as well. My half of the lecture covers the self-worth and coping issues around aging. In 1999, I received a “Woman of the Year Award” from the Toronto Star for my work with women.
Also under the Peak organization, we have participated in several clinical trials on women’s health issues, most notably, several on low libido. I have really enjoyed over the years my relationship with the ladies who enrolled in these trials.
I have always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. It was a “Chandler” family tradition mandate. Both my parents, Evelyn and George, were heavily involved in church, senior’s organizations and The Legion. They held positions of leadership and influence post-retirement, until they passed away. Dad was instrumental in getting the Remembrance Day poster and essay programs in the Ontario schools. Mom became an advocate for seniors, traveling all over Ontario, advising senior’s groups.
I have been so fortunate to have had very strong female role models in my life.
My grandmother, Alice Maud Mary Dunningham, came to Canada as a young woman from England to marry a young man she barely knew from school. The young man had come to Canada to settle. His home was meager. They had a daughter, Evelyn, my mother. When she was two, her father was killed at the front during World War I. In those days there was no army widows’ pension. Making a life for her and her daughter, my grandmother raised chickens. She took them by train to a wealthy clientele that she had developed in the city.
She had heard about a new company called Purina, who made feed. Giving her chickens the new feed grew them bigger and better. Her poultry was in huge demand. Purina heard about this amazing woman and asked her to go on the road for them as a salesperson. This was in the 1920’s. She declined because she had a young daughter to bring-up at that time. She was a women’s-libber long before it became popular. She was strong and resourceful and saw to it that her daughter was educated, exposed to culture, and had a good life. She provided a home for her daughter and her two young boys when our father served in the army in WW2. We laugh, because she always referred to any couple using the female’s name, but only an initial for the male. It was “Joan and L. Kim and the boy.”
My grandmother was the one from whom I inherited the “crafty” genes. She was a prolific knitter, creating vests for third-world children, even after losing her sight completely. She sang in the church choir, was an active member of the Women’s Institute and the community. She was a widow her whole adult life. She passed away in her 102nd year. I asked her why she never married and she said, “I didn’t have much, but what I did was mine. You don’t know how somebody is going to change things.” She was interested in the world, and stayed mentally sharp until the end. She was always dressed beautifully. After the early years, she never wore black but instead, always bright colours. When her vision failed, I bought her cheerful clothes for her, knowing her style. She was always very elegant. This was probably a result of having been bought up by a Victorian-era grandmother. She always wore earrings. I always wear earrings. I do not feel comfortable any other way. She was always there for me. I hope someday I will be able to be a grandmother like her.
Most influential has been my mother, Evelyn. She was one of those people who dealt with every set back in her life with a positive attitude of acceptance and fortitude. She dug in to do whatever was necessary to carry on. Her motto was always, “Keep on Keeping On” and “This Too Will Pass.” She had strength of character and a determination that was awesome.
Having trained as a Registered Nurse, (though she wanted to be a doctor), she was a stay at home Mom for my brothers and I. It was always so comforting to smell dinner cooking when I came home from school. I wanted my children to feel that way too. Also, she was always ready and willing to listen to my concerns, to chip in and help research a topic of interest. She would drop everything she was doing to get out the resource books. A brilliant student, she was advanced several grades in school. With the local doctor being many miles away in another village, she became the village medical person, even when she was not practicing officially practicing anymore.
After I was married, she decided she wanted to go back to work. She felt nursing was not possible, as she was no longer up to date. At 55 she was hired as a one woman baby-sitting coordinator for a day care program for children with cerebral palsy. It was a respite for parents of seriously physically handicapped children, in a little room in the basement of the local hospital. Her salary was paid by the Rotary Club.
To her, it was not right. She felt these children should also be getting therapy, both speech and physical, while they were there. Fierce and determined, she approached the Health Ministry, and physical therapists were hired. Still, this was not good enough; she strongly felt these children should be educated, and so even more determinedly, she approached the Ministry of Education and the local school board. They were granted half of a school that was sitting empty and they became officially The Landsdown Children`s Center, named after the school they were now occupying. They had many more physically challenged children and than they had teachers. She was a true coordinator now with staff, budgets, and volunteers. At her funeral, at 92, those who had been part of the school, parents and kids alike, all said the same thing: “Mrs. Chandler always had time for you; If you were a child who had to be toileted and needed help, or if you were a parent who needed a shoulder to cry on, or if you were a staff who needed support (or a place to go for Christmas), she was there and without judgment.”
The school became the prototype for the treatment and education of physically challenged children. On top of her running this school, she was asked by the Ministry of Health to go to other communities to talk about their success. They outgrew their adopted school. A beautiful large modern facility was designed and built for them. Having turned 65, and after 10 years of brilliant service, Mrs. Chandler was required to retire. They had to hire 3 people to do her job. There is a large beautiful picture of Mrs. Chandler, Coordinator and Founder, on the foyer wall of the new Landsdown Children`s Center.
She learned to drive when she was in her 60`s. When my father died, she was 75, and she became the delighted designated driver for her friends, traveling everywhere. She had always had an incredible sense of direction, the original GPS, and so she never needed a navigator. A serious complication of her eye health forced her to give up her license at 80.
Serious arthritis and mobility problems meant giving up her house for a nursing home. It was just one more thing she handled with grace and acceptation. She was always the good patient listener, and often the staff could be found in her room gaining comfort and support.
She was always reading until she fell victim to the family curse, macular degeneration and glaucoma. I arranged audio books for her. She had a wonderful mind until she suffered some sort of cerebral accident just before her 92nd birthday. She passed away a couple of weeks later.
She truly was an amazing person in every respect. She was smart, kind, generous and loving.
I have been blessed with so many inspirational people in my story.
You may contact Joan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Joan Chandler Komer’s CV is available on the website www.drkomer.com