Joan Walne is passionate about Dallas city parks. The Lake Highlands North Recreation Center spraygrounds, Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden at the Dallas Arboretum and Klyde Warren Park were all created during her 9-year tenure on the Dallas Park Board, but she’s also a fierce advocate for postage stamp-sized plots deep within neighborhoods where families can toss a ball, fly a kite and spread out a picnic basket.
Threads of Walne’s impact weave through all aspects of Dallas life. She convinced Richardson ISD to keep the community together with one freshman center instead of carving the neighborhood up for a third junior high in the 1990s, and lobbied for a new aquatic center at the Lake Highlands North Recreation Center when our pool was scheduled to be shut down. She’s held leadership positions in Lake Highlands Women’s League, Children’s Medical Center, Junior League of Dallas, the Dallas Arboretum, Fair Park, Preservation Dallas and the Dallas Historical Society. She’s currently board chair of Kershaw’s Challenge, which supports women and children in Dallas, Los Angeles, Zambia and the Dominican Republic; on the board of the Trust for Public Land, working to create parks and green spaces in urban areas; and a member of the executive committee at the Dallas Zoo.
Walne learned the art of selfless service from her mom, Patricia Graves, and her mother-in-law, Frances Walne. Graves reared her two girls as a single mom in a one-Dairy-Queen-town near Denver and later became a school counselor in RISD. Her daughter earned a scholarship to attend SMU.
“She taught me that our circumstances don’t define us and you don’t know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes,” Walne says. “She always said this life is not a dress rehearsal, and I’ve carried that forward with my own children and grandchildren.”
Frances Walne, a leader in Lake Highlands Women’s League and area PTAs, became an early widow when husband Herb, founder of Herb’s Paint and Body, died of lung cancer at 58.
“Frances set a wonderful example of loving her family well and placing importance on the value of family. I’m not a big events person— I like celebrations, but I love everyday life. I love knowing what my grandchildren are doing. I don’t want to hover, but I enjoy jumping in any time I’m asked,” she says.
Walne and husband Alan are often referred to as “Lake Highlands’ Power Couple,” and she embraces the idea that the two can accomplish more working together. Alan has credited her wise counsel during pivotal moments on the Dallas City Council, State Fair of Texas board, Parkland Hospital Board of Managers and Salesmanship Club of Dallas board, among other leadership roles.
“I think we’ve tag-teamed well,” she says. “His involvement has never been just his, and when opportunities have come my way, Alan has been my best cheerleader. Sometimes we dovetail and sometimes we have our own role, but we always support each other.”
Walne says she and her husband share an overriding philosophy to leave the community better than they found it, and the attitude has been adopted by daughter Sarah and son Robert. Sarah and Ryan Hefton are rearing their children near White Rock Elementary, where Sarah recently served as president of the PTA. Robert and Stephani Walne also send their kids to WRE, and Robert just finished his term as president of the Exchange Club.
Walne says encounters with young moms in the neighborhood have left her bowled over by their dedication and capabilities. “I recently had an opportunity to sit in on a committee, and I could hardly speak. They were, one after the other, so talented and so impressive.
“Today’s moms find amazing opportunities for service alongside their children, which models wonderful behavior, and I see school groups trying not to focus so much on themselves. It doesn’t take them long and they don’t have to look far to find a place where they can make a difference, whether it’s a one-time project or an ongoing effort.”
Young moms know the secret to service, Walne says; the person who benefits most isn’t the person in need at all.
“We weren’t put on this earth to be takers. We were put here to share our talents and be other-centered. It’s so rewarding to know you made a difference in someone’s life.”
It’s too early to tell if Walne’s spirit of service is rubbing off on her seven grandchildren, but her love of Dallas seems to be. They gleefully accept her invitations to visit the Arboretum and the zoo, even if they’re too young to understand the role she’s played in building them.
“The Arboretum provided a perfect spot to refresh with my mother and Alan’s while they were well and while they battled illness, and now we enjoy taking the littles,” she says. “I appreciate the opportunities they open for families and for learning.”