ANTIGO — Joyce Zaverousky’s body is bowed, but her spirit is unbending.
Zaverousky will celebrate her 88th birthday on Saturday, Dec. 9, a special day she shares with her great-great-granddaughter, Naja Jayne, who will be 1 year old.
“If you ask me how I am, I always say, ‘I’m as good as God wants me to be, but so are you,’” she said. “You can use it anytime. People need to realize that.”
It’s that can-do attitude that has brought a lifetime of service to her family, her community and her church.
Zaverousky was born in 1929 in White Lake, a time that remains tied to the loggers and railroad men of eastern Langlade County. Her father was both — a timber cruiser and a railroad engineer — and she was the oldest of 10 children who survived past infancy.
The family moved “68 feet inside the city of Antigo” in 1932 and she received her education at the city’s public schools along with the Langlade County Normal School, which churned out teachers by the dozen for the one-room schoolhouses that dotted the area.
With a Baptist father and a Lutheran mother, her early spiritual education was eclectic. The family attended a variety of churches, but it wasn’t until 1950 that she discovered Catholicism.
“We took a senior field trip to Canada when I was at the Normal School, and on the way home we stopped at a little chapel in Superior,” she said. “I was the only one who had a hat. Well, I wore that hat into that church and it was such a calm and warm feeling. I knew this is what God wanted. I never felt as comfortable as I did when I walked into that church.”
She was also comfortable with the Latin Mass common at the time, thanks to her father’s foresight.
“He told me to learn Latin in high school,” she said. “He said that if I was ever in trouble anywhere in the world, I could always call a doctor or a priest because they spoke Latin.”
Zaverousky was baptized in the church the day before her wedding in 1951.
After her marriage, Zaverousky raised three children and taught in small schoolhouses that dotted the area, with picturesque names such as Rocky Glen and Trappe River. She gained her four-year teaching degree from Stevens Point State Teachers College, graduating in 1964, and served as a 4-H leader for 24 years in Shawano and Langlade counties.
Her role in the church grew exponentially after she and her three children moved to Wittenberg in 1970. She found a spiritual home at Holy Family Parish (now Holy Family-St. William), led by Fr. Claude Zabinski.
“He was like a father to me and I was willing to help him,” she said. “As he grew older I took on more and more duties.”
While continuing to teach at Birnamwood Elementary School, she served the congregation by teaching and coordinating religious education classes for near-toddlers through high school-aged students, along with serving as a lector for 26 years and sacristan for 16 years.
“They would put the call out and I would say, ‘OK God, I’ll do that,’” she said. “Especially with the CCD classes, I wanted them to know the same stories from the Bible that I knew. I also learned more about the Catholic Church by teaching them.”
She added organist duties after Fr. Zabinski overheard her playing.
“He asked me if I could play anything else and if I could read music,” she said. “I said yes and he said, ‘You’re on that organ bench from now on.’ Within a month I had to play the ‘Gloria.’ I sweated through that. The other playing was easy.”
With her children grown and teaching career concluded, Zaverousky returned to Antigo, but not to slow down. She was soon volunteering at All Saints Catholic School, “doing the same things I did when I taught — only with fewer students,” she said.
She became a hospital volunteer and also assumed an active role at SS. Mary and Hyacinth Parish and its Rosary Society.
She also became involved in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary, an organization devoted to veterans and their families. She just stepped down as president this year after nearly two decades, and remains secretary.
Her children, once far-flung, have returned to Antigo, which is comforting to her as she battles health issues. There may be brakes on her walker, but that’s the only thing that holds her back.
“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, have mercy on me, a sinner,’” she said. “I’m always questioning and then saying, ‘OK God, I’ll do it.’ I do whatever God wants me to do.”