Janna Kisner is an Iowa native who has lived in small counties all her life. With one daughter living in Wake County and another living in Charlotte, she and her husband came to North Carolina to be near them, and she found in Person County a place that felt like home. She also found a community that she could serve through her own talents, interests, values, and perspectives. Her story proves that open arms and loving hearts can make a small town like ours a desired destination for others.
Q) What brought you to Person County?
A) I've lived in quite a few different states but I went to high school and college in Iowa. My parents still live there. My husband and I came here from southwest Pennsylvania where we had lived for 26 years. When my husband retired from his work, we moved to Person County to be closer to our grandsons and further away from snow. We've been here five years. We considered moving to a place like Durham or Cary, and it just seemed so anonymous. I enjoy the opportunity to know and to be known. We wanted to be in a place where we could contribute and network and have a chance to have a sense of community. And so I appreciate that about Person County. My dad was a pastor. I was a preacher's kid, and so I've always been supported by a church family, and I had an opportunity to become involved right from the very beginning here at Long Memorial United Methodist Church. It felt like home to come to people who were ready to welcome us.
Q) What is your career path and what are your proudest achievements?
A) I went to Central College in Pella, Iowa and I majored in music. And later on, well into adulthood, I was able to earn a Master’s Degree in Education Technology from Waynesburg University in Pennsylvania.
I've mostly been a church musician and a piano teacher. I’ve worked as an organist and an accompanist for choirs. And I’ve directed choirs of all ages at the different churches in the different places where we've lived through the years. When we lived in Pennsylvania, my husband was a professor there and I was able to be an adjunct instructor there in music and accompany the college choir. Right now I'm playing the organ and the piano at Long Memorial.
But I've also had piano students for almost 30 years now, so it's been great to be able to encourage and help students learn how to play the piano. I had about 20 students here in Roxboro before the pandemic. During the pandemic, I'm only doing FaceTime lessons, so about half of them have decided to continue. The others are on pause, hopefully getting back to in person lessons after the pandemic.
Q) What organizations or community endeavors do you participate in?
A) I've enjoyed being involved at the Kirby Arts and Cultural Center. When I first came, I was invited to help with one of the summer youth theatre productions there. And it was a great way to get to know my community as a new resident here and meet people. And so, then I ended up helping with Summer Youth Theatre for several years now, and that's been good.
I also love gardening and in my semi-retirement I love working in my yard, so I joined one of the garden clubs so I could learn as much as I could about this growing climate and about local plants. And so that's one of my loves.
And then I am also committed to better race relations and equity. We now have a multiracial family with our sons in law, so I want to do what I can to break down some of the barriers that have long existed. So, I was involved in BASIC (Brothers And Sisters In Conversation) from the very beginning. It was right when we first moved here that they first started having conversations together. And I've really enjoyed all of the people that I've met. I’ve had really meaningful conversations with people. I've just recently during the pandemic started paying attention to P.A.I.R. (Personians Against Injustice and Racism) and I've gotten to know Mr. Avie Lester with the NAACP a little bit. So I’m hoping to continue to build relationships and make things better.
And my other love is bicycling. I love bicycling. And I have done a lot of bicycling in Person County. When I first moved here, I worked for a little while at the library and I met a couple of people there who bike. They came to the library on their bicycles and then I became friends with them and they have escorted me all around Person County and all the country roads. Since then, we have started a Facebook page called Bicycling Better in Person, trying to gather people who enjoy bicycling. And I'm hoping to help promote it more in this county like it is in a lot of other counties, maybe connecting to some of the Greenway activity that many other communities and counties are doing. There are so many benefits to that, for physical activity, for enjoying green space, saving green space, making use of green space and getting more people outdoors. I'm hoping to help with the bicycle ride that's coming through Henderson the first week of October. And then I plan to ride from Henderson to North Topsail Beach with them. That's my goal for 2021.
Q) Why is it important that women be recognized for their foundational work in our community and our nation?
A) Well, last March was when I discovered Just Love. And I was so encouraged to see and read the stories of women in Person County that were featured last year. And I love the title on one of the more recent Just Love Stories, I think with LaTonya Penny, “Qualified. Verified. Amplified.” I thought that was a great title. I'm older now, so I've witnessed a lot of different stages of women's participation in communities and leadership. And I'm encouraged to see more and more women elected to public office, serving in churches and being able to share their leadership in so many areas of life.
Q) What do you envision for the future of Person County?
A) Well, I would like to collaborate with others to continue to dislodge injustice and racism. We have a lot of need for that yet in our county and a lot of other places. That's kind of the bigger vision that I would hope for this county.
I also hope to participate in creating beauty through the arts: music, dance, film, visual arts, and poetry. And I hope that young leadership will rise up and that they can be encouraged and empowered to bring their gifts to Person County. I was really so happy to learn about Amanda Gorman, the poet at the inauguration, and it made me think about all the young artists and leaders that we have probably hiding here in Person County. I hope they can come forward to take their place in leading our county for the common good.
Q) What is your advice for girls and young women who may look to you as motivation?
A) It's really been a delight now, as I look back on my life, to be able to encourage and empower so many young people as a teacher; so many students that I've just tried to encourage with their unique giftedness and to empower them to do what they could do.
So I would hope that all the young women can be encouraged and empowered and be able to shine with their unique giftedness. And I think that everyone has a unique story to tell and to do what your giftedness is and to step forward and work on that gift, develop that gift, and then rise up and share that gift in whatever way you can. I hope that for my own daughters. I hope they keep listening and learning. I hope they participate and network and make connections with people. And I hope that they feel courage to rise up.