As soon as you meet Janice Pokorski, you realize very quickly that she's "not from around her." The accent gives away the Massachusetts native.
But she's as bubbly and full of grace as any Southern belle you'll ever run across.
Pokorsky and her husband John moved to Guntersville 4 years ago. Her husband had done some work with NASA in Huntsville during the course of his career. He'd played golf in Guntersville and liked the town and recommended they downsize and move here.
What was Janice's reaction?
He said Alabama and I said, 'Alabama?'" she said.
But one look and she was hooked, as they say.
"There's something spiritual about this place," she said.
Her husband passed a few months back, but Janice, 64, isn't planning on going anywhere. She's adopted Guntersville as her own.
She loves culture, art, architecture and helping people and animals and she's finding ways to do that here. She's an RSVP Reading Buddy at Brindlee Mountain Elementary School, helping first graders get on grade level with their reading. She is just beginning to get involved with the local animal group, Friends of Marshall County Animals, and their effort to build an animal shelter.
She is an artist and she paints "doggy portraits" and landscapes. She loves how Southerners decorate their front porches and make them an extension of their living rooms. She enjoys painting porch scenes too.
From time-to-time, she sees something interesting around town. When she does, she sometimes takes a photograph and submits it to the Advertiser-Gleam.
She is 64 but lives by the motto you're only as old as you think you are. She embraces exercise and recently bought a kayak.
After high school, Janice joined the Army. She was an emergency medical technician (EMT) and trained specifically in ear, nose and throat work.
Her duty stations included the 97th general hospital in Germany.
"They called it the Luftwaffe hospital," Janice said. "It had been one of Hitler's facilities."
While the area the Americans used bore no resemblance to its past life, Janice said swastikas and other vestiges of Nazi Germany could be seen in the basement levels of the building.
She enjoyed the culture of Germany as so many soldiers do, but found the weather to be too cold for her liking.
She came home, married and had 2 sons. Lowell is a diverse community with a thriving Cambodian population, among many other ethnic groups.
"I got a job teaching English to Cambodian adults," she said. "I traveled to Cambodia twice."
Cambodians now living in America went back looking for relatives. The genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime meant a lot of artists perished, she said.
"But we found two, a painter and a flute player," she said. "We went into some places where we had to have armed guards."
But she got to see some family members reunite with long lost relatives and it was very moving and rewarding for her.
She enjoyed her travels to Cambodia very much. She didn't just teach Cambodians English. She learned a little Cambodian herself.
She has connected with a Cambodian family in Guntersville who have a business. She surprised them when she addressed them in Cambodian.
"They came here from Lowell, Massachusetts," she said, perhaps showing just how small the world really is.
After her job as an English teacher for the Cambodians ended, she embarked on founding a non-profit in Lowell.
"Lowell and Guntersville are very similar in a lot of respects as far as an appreciation for arts and architecture," Janice said. "But there's not a lot of green space in Lowell."
She started a community greenhouse on some historic park property there.
"We were out no money," she said. "We raised funds and we got a grant."
She had no grant writing experience, but wrote a grant requesting funds from the Parker Foundation. She had to do a face-to-face interview.
"They asked the one question I hadn't prepared for," Janice said. "They said, 'How will you sustain this.' I said 'We will grow tomatoes.' I walked out of there with a $30,000 check."
The greenhouse project lasted 10 years. Lots of different ethnic groups participated in growing food and flowers there. It led to something of a movement in the city.
While that greenhouse is no longer there, it spun off into other greenhouses. So the project in a sense is still going.
"Farmers market programs came out of that too," Janice said.
Janice got her artistic bent from her mother. She has no formal training. She was the oldest of 9 siblings.
"I would sit on her lap while she painted and while she made apple pies," Janice said.
She calls her art "painting by intuition." Her current works in progress including a painting of a black bear in Tennessee. She's never painted a bear before but someone asked her to do it.
"If I have a photograph to go by, I can do pretty good," Janice said.
When she joined the RSVP Reading Buddies, Janice asked to be assigned to the place with the most need. RSVP suggested Brindlee Mountain as Guntersville already had a number of Reading Buddy volunteers.
Janice goes to Brindlee Mountain twice a week and loves it.
"I enjoy the drive too," she said. "It's beautiful."
That's just Janice. She always seems to find some extra positive in everything she sets her hand to.