What do a Shih Tzu, a life-changing epiphany at 50, and Nixon on an elevator have in common?
Hint: Their names are Jeanne Broyhill and Joe Ventrone.
And when the two got married in a Lutheran Church, they told Joe’s Catholic grandmother that the saint figurines in the church were missing because they were “being cleaned.” Thankfully, she was just so happy to see Joe getting married, she didn’t even notice.
Humor, grit, and civil service have been driving forces for Jeanne and Joe their entire lives. In the mid 1970’s, only a few years out of college and after working in advertising in New York City, Jeanne became the first female sales rep for Springmaid Sheets in Cleveland. Around the same time, Joe could be found running an elevator in the U.S. Senate and pursuing his Master’s of Public Administration and Urban Affairs at American University.
“I was running the elevator so long, I was tenured,” Joe jokes reflecting on those years. “I ran Nixon up one week and then again three weeks later during the State funeral for Lyndon B. Johnson. Nixon said to me, ‘I remember you. You are wearing the same suit.’
“I was 20. It was the only suit I owned.”
After a few years in New York and Cleveland, Jeanne put her sales and marketing career on hold to be with her mother who was battling cancer. When her mother passed away in ‘78, Jeanne chose to stay close to home in Virginia where she “started all over again” as a receptionist for a member of Congress.
From there, she grew into a “legislative aide”, particularly in housing issues, working for two Members of Congress. Little did Jeanne know, up to this point in time, Joe had been working close by for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the area housing for the elderly before coming to Capitol Hill as a legislative aide on the Housing Subcommittee of the House Banking Committee.
“That’s how we met,” Jeanne says. “We were at a conference on Capitol Hill in one of the caucus rooms. It’s a true D.C. love story.”
“We’re swamp people,” Joe playfully interjects.
Over the next couple decades, Jeanne and Joe continued operating in the housing arena in various capacities on Capitol Hill, HUD, with Freddie Mac, and the National Association of Realtors. “We had incredible, incredible work experiences,” Jeanne says of those years. “We also endured too many 14-to-16-hour days.”
Yet even with such demanding schedules, the couple sought opportunities to support a cause that had long been close to their hearts: care for the elderly. In 1997, Jeanne joined the board of Culpepper Garden, a low income housing community and services for seniors in Arlington County. When at HUD, Joe helped finance Culpepper Garden.
Soon after the turn of the millennium, Jeanne joined a leadership and community-building program that would transform her life. “My life up until 2001 was totally geared toward my professional life. Period. End of statement. That’s what you did.
“And then I did Leadership Arlington. I was 50 at the time, and for the first time, I truly learned about the community that I was born in in and how community needs intersect with government, business, and nonprofits. And it blew my mind. It turned me into a community activist and philanthropist, or a ‘community philanthropist’ as I like to say. That’s what I’m going to start listing as my occupation: ‘community philanthropist.’”
The couple’s careers and lifelong passions made the shift into community philanthropy an organic one. They spent decades watching funding and resources for elderly housing ebb and flow. “It will always have ups and downs,” Jeanne reiterates.
This unreliability in yearly funding moved Jeanne and Joe to establish a type of funding that is reliable no matter the year. Working with their estate planning counsel, they made a charitable bequest to Arlington Community Foundation (ACF) in their estate plans. The ACF team guided them through drafting a legacy plan that includes gifts to specific organizations they care about and the creation of a legacy fund that will support the community and causes they care about forever.
For Jeanne and Joe, their top priority is “for the fund to support programs and policies that ensure safe, stable, affordable housing and services where Arlington low income seniors can thrive.”
Jeanne explains, “I want this fund to help bring the elderly issue to the table, similar to what the Shared Prosperity Initiative has done for inclusive economic growth, making it part of how we think about the connections in the community between for-profits, nonprofits, and other agencies. That would be our goal.”
Beyond this priority, their fund also provides the flexibility for grants to be made in the area(s) of greatest need or opportunity in any given year. Namely, homelessness, housing and food security, community leadership and philanthropy, and animal welfare.
“We didn’t have kids because we got married later in life,” Joe says, “So we had dogs instead.” He describes their two beloved dogs, Sophie, a Maltese, and Benny, Shih Tzu, both rescues. The dogs have now passed, but their own legacies will live on through Jeanne and Joe’s legacy fund.
No matter the area of need they’ve designated in their fund, Jeanne and Joe have a deep, personal relationship with it. They serve as living legacies to community service and leadership with trademark style and sass, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down any time soon. Whether they do or not, their legacy fund will carry their names, their passions, and their community for generations to come.
Their love story is far from over.