Senior Profile: Recalled to life?

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By Lupita Gonzales

Imagine a person who combines the full spectrum of reality and communing with nature with deep convictions of spirituality — a transcendentalist, perhaps — of the 21st century.

Janice “Jan” Arrott, the embodiment of this combination, was born in October 1932 in Worthington, Minn. She never knew her father, Arthur James, who died two months before Jan was born.

Jan’s mother, Judith Johnson James, raised Jan and her older sister, Anne, earning a living doing day work as a housecleaner and washerwoman. The girls proceeded through public schools and into professional arenas. Anne became a teacher, and lives in Sibley, Iowa. Jan pursued nurse training at Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis, an educational experience she describes as being “like a trade school,” adding that she was a member of the last class of anesthesia training that did not require a degree.

After her training, Jan moved to Colorado and then to Chicago, but in 1961 as a certified nurse anesthetist, she took a position with Bernalillo County Medical Center (now UNM Hospital) in Albuquerque, where she worked for 40 years.

It was a challenging career, “like 60 hours’ work (weekly) of intense pressure,” but Jan says she loved it. She’d begun at the hospital when things started changing, as nurse anesthesia had been the prevalent practice after World War II. Jan worked variously as a trauma center nurse, assisted in open-heart surgery and was a pediatric anesthetist.

Life was full of adrenaline, Jan said, “but I held it together.”

She credits her boss and mentor, Dr. A.W. Talley, for helping her during those years.

“He was like a father figure,” showing confidence in her abilities. He helped Jan organize orientation programs at UNM Hospital. “He treated me as an equal.”

Early in her stint at the hospital, Jan met and married James W. Arrott Jr. in 1962. He died in 1991. During those years in Albuquerque, Jim and Jan spent summers with Jim’s sons, Christopher, Neale and James “Jay.” Neale died in 1994, but Chris and Jay survive, living in San Francisco. With pride, Jan says, “Christopher and Jay love Las Vegas … they come here often.”

Asked about the Highlands University Arrott house connection to the family, Jan explains that her husband’s father, James Arrott Sr., who bought a ranch in Sapello, near Las Tusas, in 1929, was devoted to history of the Southwest and was instrumental in the development of Fort Union, as we know it today.

The elder Arrott received an honorary PhD from Highlands University, and subsequently Arrott House, a hall for married couples and families, was named in his honor.

• • •

Jan moved to Las Vegas in 1999. She had read an article in the Albuquerque Journal about this area, and having been widowed for some time, decided to sell her Albuquerque home to move north.

It was the perfect getaway venue for this once-overstressed individual — even though she had loved her work.

“Life happens in the only way it can — my life was unfolded. I’ve been so lucky in such marvelous ways — the job, then here. I’ve been very blessed.”

She adds, on another note, “I have no children, yet I have two children (referring to Christopher and Jay Arrott). I’ve been very blessed.”

And, one might say, so have Las Vegas and the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge. Jan moved here in 1999, and with help from local attorney Danelle Smith, she acquired a private parcel along the dirt road to McAlister Lake bounded on two sides by the Wildlife Refuge.

Jan recalls that the road was at that time variously referred to as the loop drive, the trash road and even lovers’ lane. Some of these designations she had no control over, but as an avid bicyclist and nature lover, she believed she could make a difference. She acted.

She and a partner, Alex Martinez, joined their energies and talents to build up the house, landscape the yard and clean up the general area. The “trash road” eventually cleaned up its act, one might say.

Or, as Jan puts it, “Alex, kids and I started cleaning up the trash — there were layers! At that time (in 2003), the refuge had not experienced a lot of public outreach.”

Then, other developments occurred.

“Philip Garcia, Las Vegas Wildlife Refuge manager, called me. He wanted help in advertising and promoting the centennial celebration for national wildlife refuges.”

That same year, the refuge hired an outdoor recreational planner — Kristin Kuyuk. She had the vision of creating a formal “Friends of Las Vegas National Wildlife” group. And so, the group, with Jan Arrott among them, united to develop the program, which became official in 2004. The group formulated bylaws and was subsequently designated as a nonprofit.

“My dream was that there could be interpretive talks to the people to inform them of the plans,” Jan said. Her dream came true — through the action of the many individuals who volunteered their time and talents.

In fact, Jan’s dream has evolved.

”This year,” Jan said, “there is a huge thrust to get the children involved.”

Both Las Vegas school districts will have classes for fourth- and fifth-graders. Buses will transport children of these grade levels to the refuge for a day of education geared to science standards.

Working with individual teachers and classes, Eileen Everett, an individual contractor with “Down to Earth Education,” has developed the program called “Through the Eyes of a Bird.”

Jan and other volunteers will visit the classrooms ahead of time to orient the children on the refuge, and on the scheduled day for each group, on the bus ride over and at the refuge, Eileen takes over, providing the children with classroom instruction and guidance in specific, relevant activities.

Besides volunteering for this program, Jan is involved in many aspects of the Friends group.

“I have my finger in everything.” Jan volunteers with the Refuge newsletter, “La Voz del Refugio,” the classes, the refuge booth at the People’s Faire, Public Lands Day, trash pickup, and more.

• • •

Interestingly, though, when asked if she has any other passions besides the refuge, she responds, “I’m not a joiner and resist being a groupie.”

She admits, however, that she practices T’ai Chi Chih (moving meditation) daily and other self-care activity such as yoga stretches — and, of course, her bicycling.

“The older I get, the more important that self-care seems to be,” she said.

Jan audits classes at Highlands — perhaps in fulfillment of another of her lifelong dreams.

“I never had the privilege of a liberal arts education,” she said. “I went into nursing.”

However, as she lists the university coursework she has been auditing — history, anthropology, literature, philosophy, art — there is little doubt that this woman is submerged in the liberal arts.

To the suggestion that she is self-disciplined, Jan replied, “I’m stubborn, and I adhere to the 12-step program principles — leading to self-appreciation. We’re in this world for our own spiritual growth; we’re here to grow inside spiritually. Our life is what is meant to be fulfilled.”

She mused, “This (her current life and activities) is totally different. I’ve been literally healed: It’s like I had a life then (during her career years) and this is like I have another life now.”