National PTA chief leads cheers Ellicott City resident at forefront of group's 100th anniversary

February 17, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

As president of the National PTA, Joan Dykstra will be at the forefront of this week's celebration of the group's 100th anniversary. But the Ellicott City resident says she wishes she could share the spotlight with all of the organization's 6.7 million members.

"It's a very special time, not so much for the leadership, but for all of the people who are members of local PTAs and are involved in their neighborhood schools every day," Dykstra said. "Sure, it's nice to be in the leadership, but what has been really special is how this anniversary has been an opportunity for PTAs across the country to reflect on its importance."

Those local celebrations can be found in PTAs throughout Howard County, many of which have been serving birthday cakes at school meetings and decorating school display cases.

The national celebration includes a black-tie gala in Washington, D.C., tonight, which will be televised via satellite at PTA parties in Annapolis and every other state capital. The U.S. Postal Service plans to unveil a stamp in honor of the PTA tomorrow morning at the National Postal Museum, a ceremony at which the Howard Children's Chorus will sing.

For Dykstra, the anniversary comes about 20 months into her two-year term as national president, a period in which she has helped raise the PTA's profile and continued her fight for the welfare of children.

"Every step Joan has taken at the PTA, she has worked really hard to build it up at a grass-roots level and make it a strong voice in children's issues," said Linda Oaks, a member of the National PTA's board of directors who lives in Cedarburg, Wis. Oaks has known Dykstra since 1981, when they began working together on Wisconsin PTA issues.

"She has this contagious enthusiasm and a great ability to make volunteers want to challenge themselves," Oaks said.

History of PTA service

Dykstra, 50, a native of Racine, Wis., moved to Ellicott City in 1989 because of her husband's job, bringing with her a history of PTA service that dates to 1973 -- the year her oldest child entered kindergarten.

In Wisconsin, Dykstra was elected the state's PTA president and the region's national vice president. The Wisconsin Jaycees called her one of the 10 Most Outstanding Wisconsinites.

Since coming to Maryland, she has served on the executive board of both Howard's and Maryland's PTAs and has been the national vice president for membership.

"We were very fortunate she moved to Howard County -- here was this tremendous resource for both the county and the state PTAs," said Rosemary Mortimer, president of Wilde Lake Middle School's PTA.

Mortimer was elected county PTA president the spring after Dykstra moved to Maryland and says she quickly persuaded the Wisconsin transplant to join her executive board.

The women discovered they both liked to walk -- but not alone -- and quickly struck up a habit of walking around Ellicott City's Centennial Lake, halfway between Dykstra's home in Mount Hebron and Mortimer's in Clemens Crossing.

"Unfortunately, since she was elected, I think we've only walked once," Mortimer said.

On the road

Instead, Dykstra has found herself on the road at least three weeks a month, speaking to PTAs and other national groups -- as well as spending time in the group's Chicago headquarters.

During her term, she has been active on such issues as television ratings, teen-age smoking, the need to repair school buildings and classroom use of technology.

Dykstra also said that by the end of her term, she'll have visited all but one state.

She declined to reveal which one -- not wanting to earn the wrath of that state's PTA -- but said her visit to Alaska this spring will be No. 49.

With the slogan "Working Together for Children" as the theme of her term, Dykstra said her hope is that she has encouraged more parents to become active in their children's lives.

"That's the No. 1 issue -- parental involvement," Dykstra said. "Parents have to become involved with their children, even in these chaotic times.

"If we've been able to encourage more parents to come out and find a way to get involved, then I think we've been successful."

Pub Date: 2/17/97

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