Nan Flesher and Joie Rake: All’s Well that Ends Well
Sometimes it’s not easy to follow our dreams. But when we bend to “tradition” or pressure from others, we run the risk of living our lives saddled with regret and a vague melancholy over what could have been. Now how’s that for a cheery and upbeat first sentence? But it certainly does apply to my subject matter for this installment of "Before the Beach," namely long-time partners and Rehoboth area residents Nan Flesher and Joie Rake. So read on. There is a happy ending.
Nan was born on a farm in the tiny borough of Berwick, PA. From the time she was six years old, she always wanted to teach. Her love of activity and sports inspired her to earn a degree in Health and Physical Education. She taught junior high for 18 years, eventually earning her masters in Health Education from Syracuse University, settling down and getting married.
Joie (pronounced, “Joey”) was born in Williamsport, PA, earning her certification as a Registered Nurse from Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, PA. She tells me, “Back then, a woman did two things: (1) She became a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary, and, (2) she went to high school, got married and had kids. It’s what you did.” And that’s what she did. Though her first marriage generated two daughters, it didn’t last. So she got married again. “I was unhappy and didn’t even know it,” she smiles. “I tried to fill the void with ‘things,’ but it was never enough, and it never made me happy.”
Back at the junior high, two of Nan’s homeroom students were none other than Joie’s daughters. Educators agree that parent/teacher communication is very important, and their common interest in the girls’ welfare drew the two women together. But their relationship grew into more than that, and what started out as parent/teacher communication became friendship. And the friendship turned into a strong attraction. Nan states the obvious: “It was a small town, and it certainly wasn’t easy. What we were feeling, and what needed to happen, would have an effect on many people—people we both loved. But we just couldn’t wait around until everybody died.” (Refer to paragraph #1!)
The resulting turmoil lasted three years. Needless to say, Nan’s small-town teaching career came to a screeching and ignominious halt. Heather Has Two Mommies was still six years away and not yet a glimmer in author Lesléa Newman’s imagination. Thinking back to what it was like in 1983 makes you appreciate what we have today; but that was no consolation back then. Joie’s daughters endured taunting and difficulty, and both divorces were painful and ugly.
Both women left town and settled in York, PA. Nan owned a women’s fitness center where Joie used her nursing skills to help clients with weight control. Self-employment is punishment enough for anybody, and Nan eventually landed a job as an admissions officer for Penn State in York. She spent the next 20 years of her life there. Joie worked in home healthcare, mental health, hospice, and even in a surgery center as an OR nurse.
Nan and Joie had vacationed here in Rehoboth Beach for many years, enjoying the ever-increasing social freedom, the ocean, and various campgrounds. Joie retired first, and she moved here to set up housekeeping for the two of them. Nan tells it best: “I retired from Penn State in June, 2005. On my last day, at the stroke of five, I got into my car and drove to Rehoboth Beach. I never looked back.” Many of us know that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Nan missed the structure of regular employment. She now works mornings at Southern Delaware Physical Therapy as, in her words, a “Jane of all trades,” helping clients deal with various phases of their rehabilitation.
All’s well that ends well. As Joie’s daughters matured, so did their view of their two mommies. The entire extended family—grandkids and all—goes on cruises, and spends holidays together. Joie sums it up nicely: “I could never understand the meaning behind love songs. I thought I knew what love was, but until I met Nan, I had no idea. Finally, the songs make sense.”
Both women are self-proclaimed “kitty people.” After reading an article about Safe Haven No-Kill Shelter (now going strong near Georgetown), they volunteer their time to raise funds and contribute as much help as they can, including trapping feral cats for spay/neuter.
“We’re not young, but we enjoy life to its fullest,” smiles Joie. “We’ve always gone on great vacations and taken advantage of our youth when we could. No sense waiting: You don’t know what will happen in your old age.”
It’s been 35 years since they met, and about 29 years since the turmoil that eventually resulted in this article. It’s hard to buck conventional “wisdom” and the beliefs of others, but Nan Flesher and Joie Rake are here to tell you that doing so can have a happy ending.
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident. Email Bob Yesbek