Michael Mercier | UAH
On October 5, 1975, Joan Sloan was driving her Volkswagen Beetle at Memorial Parkway in Huntsville when she was 28 years old, when a drunk driver sped through a red light. The resulting accident killed her almost instantly. Joan’s family, including her father, sister, and brother, established a Memorial Scholarship at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), part of the University of Alabama system, where Joan worked. In the more than 40 years since its inception, the JoAnn Sloan Memorial Scholarship has helped countless UAH students realize their dreams of becoming a nurse.
JoAnn was the eldest of three siblings, Sister Janice (Sloan) Jensen and brother Joseph Sloan Jr. JoAnn is remembered as an intelligent, compassionate, and sociable person. “She was kind, and always happy,” Mr. Sloan recalls. Ms. Jensen adds: “She had a sharp wit, and she was very extroverted. If we went out, she would have known everyone.” The three siblings were very close, something that Mrs. Jensen and Mr. Sloan recognize as something special. “People were always very surprised, but we were very well,” says Mr. Sloan. Ms Jensen, who shared an apartment with JoAnn at the time of her death, said: “She meant the world to me, and I looked at her.”
At the time of the accident, Joanne was working at what was then Ohio University College of Nursing, and although she had a business degree from Jacksonville State University, she dreamed of becoming a nurse someday. “She was a candy-slicer when she was younger and always wanted to be a nurse,” says Sister Janice (Sloan) Jensen. “Even at the age of twenty-eight, I thought she might continue nursing. I thought about doing it via the military.”
Ms. Jensen recalls JoAnn’s passion for nursing and her excitement about the school’s growth. Only the previous year, the school’s baccalaureate program was awarded initial accreditation by the National Nursing Association, and JoAnn praised the school for adopting a more hands-on approach.
The car accident that caused JoAnn’s death has had unexpected results. The ensuing investigation resulted in the driver of the other car being convicted of first-degree murder. The driver was the first person to be charged and the second to be brought to trial in Madison County under a newer, stricter policy on drunk drivers involved in fatal accidents, a policy established by then-Attorney General Fred Simpson. Simpson has vowed to sue every drunk driver involved in a fatal wreck that influenced other district attorneys to take a tougher approach to drunk driving accidents. Mr. Sloan recalls the resulting trial: “The driver was very fickle about that.” “He had no remorse. It was such a terrible case they went for a murder conviction.” The driver was convicted of first-degree manslaughter, but his 10-year sentence exceeded any sentence handed down in previous drunk-driving fatal cases.
Combined with the 1976 death of 15-year-old Mark B Beetz while drunk while driving, of the Alabama-based Beitz department store family, Joan’s accident cemented the Simpson District Attorney’s case, but also had another impact. Ms. Jensen and Mr. Sloan say these two events, especially the notable Beitzer incident, became the nucleus that developed the idea for the Madison County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), an organization aimed at ending drunk driving and drunk driving. Support for victims of drunk driving.
JoAnn’s family wanted to find their own way to make a positive difference as a result of her death. Within a year of the accident, the JoAnn family established the JoAnn Sloan Memorial Scholarship as a way to remember JoAnn and honor her passion for nursing. “My father created the grant,” Ms. Jensen recalls. “He wanted something that was permanent and could grow over the years. Being permanent keeps it up [JoAnn’s] name alive. Mr. Sloan adds that their father wanted the scholarship to be “not only for A+ students,” but also for students who worked hard and were serious about being nurses. Mr. Sloan and Ms. Jensen say their father’s conviction to give influenced their philanthropic principles. Mr. Sloan asserts that “My father He grew up very poor.” “But he was always the kind to give. He was generous with what he had.”
The scholarship started simply, but has grown over the years as the family continues to contribute. Mrs. Beth Sloan, Mrs. Sloan’s wife, noted that as a family they all eventually agreed not to exchange gifts on holidays and instead made monthly contributions to the scholarship fund. Recently, Mr. and Mrs. Sloan decided to add a heritage gift to further develop the scholarship and support UAH forever. “We wanted to continue to support the scholarship,” Ms. Sloan says, “and we put the scholarship in the box. When you do that, you feel like a part of you is still giving. What we do continues.”
This ongoing gift helps UAH nursing students pay for school expenses and focus on their education. Ms. Sloan says the letters of thanks they receive from scholarship recipients are very moving. “We get feedback from students, and it’s beautiful, honest feedback that reinforces what we’re doing.”
“Sometimes you wonder if what you’re offering is enough,” admits Sloan. But for some of these kids, this makes a huge difference. The fact that it helps is important, and that kids who really need it can get it.”