Jan Vineyard: A Legacy of Love & Achievement

Jan and Make-A-Wish

About 8 years ago I had the opportunity to meet and begin a relationship with Jan Vineyard. Our paths crossed through my husband, and little did I know that it would spark a relationship with someone who I truly admired and looked up to. When I think of Jan, several words come to mind: successful, service, selfless and caring. She always wanted to make sure everyone was taken care of and truly had the best interest of those around her. Her laughter and smile were contagious.

When I first met Jan, she was with her husband Gary, and we were at an event. In speaking with them, I learned about their son Craig. Throughout the conversation we established things in common, and it was that conversation that begin a friendship that I am forever grateful for.

Jan with Marisa and Make-A-Wish families

Fast forward a year later, I was offered a job to become the regional manager of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It was during my tenure that my relationship and admiration for Jan grew. Upon taking the job, my first task was to speak at our largest donor event, I had no clue it was the association that Jan ran. As I was sitting in my office preparing my speech, a call came from Jan to welcome me to the foundation. Her calm voice reassured me that the speech and this event would be a success. Upon arrival to the event, she made sure I felt at home, introducing me and sitting me at a table with a group of individuals that calmed my nerves. Needless to say with her help and guidance, I was able to deliver a speech and do it as if I had the job for a long time.

Over the next several years, Jan became a huge advocate for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Each year before we kicked our campaign off she set lofty goals and each year she made sure that her team delivered. Never did she waiver on her commitment to making sure the wishes were granted. During that time, I got to witness someone who would give the shirt off her back, always went above what was asked of her and continued to check in to make sure that each child’s wish was fulfilled. She used to say to me, “Oh Marisa, my heart just melts for these kids. If there is ever anything else I can do to help, let me know.” A couple examples were when she offered to help paint a child’s room on a Saturday morning. She also helped organize a wish party and made sure the entire party was completely donated.

Moreover, her passion and dedication was truly demonstrated through her service to the community and her family. She believed everyone should have an opportunity and always wanted to lend a helping hand. Her cause was children and that was because of her journey with her own child. To her, it was a way to pay it forward. She did this through her time and commitment to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Children’s Home Society.

The best was hearing Jan talk about her family and friends. When she was sharing memories, it was through her smile illustrated the joy and satisfaction that filled her life. She was a dedicated daughter, sister, mother, wife, friend, and colleague.

During my journey with Jan, our relationship grew both professionally and personally. I looked up to her in so many ways. As a young professional, I was at awe at watching Jan as she entered a room and seeing the respect she commanded and watching how people reacted to her leadership and guidance. For a woman to dominate and command respect in a man’s world throughout her professional career was simply amazing. Her professional accomplishment prove this to be true.

Personally, never did I question her friendship or commitment. She was always my biggest cheerleader and strongest critic. She saw me at my very best and picked me up during the lowest times in my life. She was my mentor both professionally and personally.

Gary & Jan Vineyard at Doug & Marisa Skaff's wedding, with Traci Nelson

When she got sick, I remember my visit with her. She did not want to talk about her, she wanted to focus on my family and what was going on. She cared more about others then herself. Jan left a mark on so many lives. Sitting at her life’s celebration, I recall the video that was played. It was her acceptance speech for being inducted into the business school hall of fame at Marshall. She related every one of her major life decisions to Marshall's motto: “Best Decision Ever.” I can honestly say my “Best Decision Ever” was talking to Jan and her husband, and growing an amazing friendship. I am forever grateful for the time I had with Jan. I am a better person because I had an opportunity to know Jan Vineyard. It will forever be an honor to say Jan Vineyard is my friend.

In closing, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes, by Maya Angelou: “If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.“ A life taken too soon, she will forever be remembered for her legacy and the mark she made on the lives she touched, especially mine.

Please join me in honoring Jan's legacy of love and achievement on March 2 at the Women of Achievement Awards Luncheon!