Sometimes even a resourceful person can be amazingly creative. That’s true of Joann Hunt, a friend I met a few years ago in a pool aerobics class.

For 33 years, Joann has lived in an apartment, then a condo, on the fourth floor of an Edina building called Fountain Woods. It has only one elevator. Residents were informed that the elevator needed to be brought up to code and would be completely shut down for repairs from Nov. 21 to Dec. 21.

That presented significant problems. Joann lives alone and can’t manage the stairs, particularly not three flights. At age 78, she has asthma and foot neuropathy and has had body parts replaced — one ankle, two knees, one hip. She uses a walker or cane.

Minnesota law does not require a working elevator in a residence if stairs are available. Building management offered her a guest suite on the first floor at no charge, but the room had no stove, refrigerator or even a table. Both management and Joann declined to pay for a short-term residence elsewhere, which she estimated would cost $3,000.

So Joann decided to make the most of what she jokingly termed her “confinement” or “incarceration,” or what friends called being trapped. She stocked up on groceries and penned a list of 38 projects.

No lying about — she’d get herself up and eager for the day by 9 a.m. Then she’d meditate. After breakfast, she’d walk a mile in her fourth-floor hallway for exercise. She would work on her memoir, which tells about her life as a stockbroker in the years when few women were permitted into the profession. She would draw, a talent she’d recently expanded with a class. She’d cook; she’s good at that. And she’d strive to be her cheerful self.

Disciplined, she kept those promises (except for memoir writing; she was too busy). Friends who could walk stairs delivered bananas, lettuce and, more welcome, human contact.

With her “release” coming only three days before Christmas, she phoned far ahead for Dec. 22 dental and nail appointments. She planned a hair appointment. You may remember seeing Joann Hunt about town. She’s the white-haired woman with an audacious pink streak in the front, eyelashes a mile long and a fetching smile, always happy to chat.

By the end of her fourth week in confinement, she found her temporary lifestyle “peaceful, almost spiritual.” Alone with no outside activity, she had less stress, less worry.

Poor vision makes reading difficult for her, so a friend delivered to her the audio version of Anthony Doerr’s novel “All the Light We Cannot See.” Stick with the book, Joann was advised. It’s confusing at first — the novel about World War II skips around in time and place — but it won the Pulitzer Prize and is just astounding. Joann scheduled time each evening to listen to a chapter.

After three tries, Joann had to admit she was more than confused. The novel made no sense at all.

Then she determined the reason: Her CD player was set to “shuffle.” She heard Chapter 18, followed by Chapter 3, followed by Chapter 9, etc. No wonder it made no sense! She unshuffled the shuffle setting, laughed at herself, heard the chapters in order and found the book incredible.

Joann is out now, enjoying the wide world. If you see her, please tell her she’s inspiring, like the novel.


Peg Meier is a retired Star Tribune reporter who writes books about Minnesota, including “Bring Warm Clothes.”