An Extraordinary, Ordinary Woman

Janetta McCoy

 

The first contact I had with Janetta McCoy was at our neighborhood’s National Night Out. I knew she had purchased a beautiful historic mansion a couple of blocks from my house, but that was all. She turned it into the Pecan Manor Bed & Breakfast and it’s the shining star of our neighborhood. I told her that I had used the home’s front door for the cover of my fourth novel, and she still had a picture of that from the previous owner. 

 

Fast forward several years, and three of my good friends stayed at her B&B while in town. Janetta invited me to come for breakfast the next morning, so I walked over and stepped inside. I went upstairs to find my friends, and all the rooms were empty. I came downstairs and finally found them perched at Janetta’s breakfast bar visiting with her as she made breakfast for her guests. We learned that she was a retired college professor and had moved to Taylor to be closer to her children and grands. At breakfast, eight people of various ages, political persuasions and professions sat around the dining room enjoying both a delicious meal and diverse and civil conversation. It is such a nice memory for my friends and me. 

 

My friend Kate Alexander and I recently visited Janetta on her welcoming front porch to get to know her better. Janetta was raised on a horse ranch outside of Checotah, Oklahoma, a small community of a little over 3,000. Although her parents never attended college, it was expected that she would attend, so she enrolled at Oklahoma State University. Her parents didn’t necessarily have the money for college, but whenever tuition was due, her father would sell a horse. 

 

Growing up, Janetta was fascinated with floor plans and couldn’t wait for the Farm Journal to come in the mail just so she could see the house plans they included. So at OSU, she wanted to study architecture. But at registrations, the man told her that architecture was for men and sent her over to a program for women, which was interior design. At age 17, she didn’t know to question that. 

At OSU, Janetta met and married her husband who was already in graduate school. He wanted to go on and get his doctorate at Cornell University in New York, so she didn’t complete her bachelor’s degree at OSU. She also didn’t have the confidence to finish her degree at Cornell. She and her husband had their first child, a daughter, in New York. Then they moved to Florida where he worked as a plant pathologist studying plant diseases. They had two more children in Florida, a son and another daughter. Janetta earned an associates degree in interior design there and began working in that field, which involved designing law offices, bank trust offices, and stock brokerages. 

 

When the marriage didn’t work out, Janetta decided to move within a day’s drive from her family, so she drew a circle with a 500-mile radius around her hometown in Oklahoma. She chose Austin, Texas, and continued her career in interior design there. 

 

After her kids graduated from college, someone asked her, “What are you going to do now?” Janetta thought she was plenty busy at the time, but that question became a pivotal moment for her. She decided to finish her bachelor’s degree at St. Edwards in Austin. Then she took a huge leap of faith by quitting her job, selling her house, and returning to Cornell to get her Master’s degree at age 46. She received a full scholarship “just in time for menopause,” she said, laughingly.

Janetta became hugely interested in learning how people’s designed environments impacted their creativity, and this became her master’s thesis. She learned that the common thread was that people were more likely to be creative when they were connected to nature, whether visually or tangibly. She went on to the University of Wisconsin to earn her Ph.D. in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning. During the summers she returned to Cornell to teach. She also had the opportunity to visit Australia for a month to help the University of Sydney decide if they should develop an interior design program there. 

 

Dr. McCoy taught at Arizona State University for six years and was selected 2004 Centennial Professor of the Year. Then for eight years she taught interior design, human behavior, and research methods to advanced design students and graduate students at Washington State University. She and her students worked with citizens in the small, community of Ritzville, Washington, to figure out ways to pull visitors off the interstate and bring some economic vitality back to the declining town. The project was called The Rural Communities Design Initiative, and the design intervention model was used in other small communities in Washington as well. (2) Dr. McCoy received the 2011 Interior Design Educators Council’s Community Service Award for her work. (3) The program she developed continues today.

 

After Dr. McCoy retired from university teaching, she wanted to move closer to her children and grandchildren in Austin. After considering several smaller towns in the area, she chose Taylor, and that also involved creating a bed and breakfast in a historic home built in 1905. She continues to use the principles of the Rural Communities Design Initiative in working with Taylor to encourage both historic preservation and economic development. Since 2013, she began serving as a member of the Greater Taylor Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors and served as its Chairperson in 2015. In 2014 she led the 7th Street Campus Task Force to find a new purpose and funding for Taylor’s “Old High School” (circa 1920), which resulted in a developer purchasing and renovating the school. (4)

 

At age 74, she calls this time of her life retirement, but she finds herself busier than ever running her bed and breakfast establishment. The pandemic hit hard in the middle of March when reservations, most made months ahead of time, were canceled. For six weeks, there was no income coming in. She started experimenting with the house, doing things like sleeping in a different bedroom each night. Eventually, government and other types of grants became available, which got her through financially. 

During this time, Janetta came up with a creative solution to help the B&B by starting a “Swim Club” where individuals, families, or small groups could rent the pool exclusively for two-hour time slots. Many have enjoyed that since the public pool didn’t open this year.

 

People have begun staying at the B&B again, but they are making reservations with very short notice, unlike before when the calendar was often filled months in advance. This ties Janetta down even more waiting around for last minute calls. Prior to the pandemic she had part-time housekeeping help, but has been doing everything by herself since March. 

 

A typical day for her running the B&B includes preparing the rooms for her guests and greeting them as they arrive. She offers wine and snacks, and it usually takes an hour to answer their questions about the house and the community. She sets the table the night before and tries to be in bed by 10 p.m. because she is up at 6 a.m. fixing breakfast for her guests. Her French toast and frittata breakfasts are the most popular. 

 

After all five rooms are occupied, it takes Janetta from noon (check-out time) until 10 pm to get everything laundered, wiped down, floors immaculate, and bathrooms cleaned for the next guests coming. She literally wore out her washing machine and is currently having to use the laundromat while waiting for a new washer. 

 

Besides overnight stays, the B&B hosts wedding rehearsal dinners, showers, gender reveal parties, family and school reunions, funeral receptions, and it’s about to have its first baptism, so the facility covers the whole life cycle. Pecan Manor Bed & Breakfast has hosted a former governor of Oklahoma, a former senator of Wyoming, and a current astronaut. Churches like to have their prospective new ministers stay there because Janetta does such a great job “selling Taylor”. When the City of Taylor was interviewing for a new city manager, they put all four candidates up at the B&B at the same time, and they assumed she must have been in on the selection, but she wasn’t. She figured out who they would choose, though, and she ended up being right.

When one party booked the entire B&B for four days over the 4th of July holiday in 2013, she spent around $500 for food for their stay. Two of the guests arrived first and were upset to learn she would be staying there. They left to get pizza, they told her, and never returned, which meant a substantial loss of revenue. But Janetta made lemonade out of lemons and put out a call that she would be serving breakfast on her patio the following morning so all of that food wouldn’t go to waste, and forty people showed up.

 

Janetta said her sister was her greatest inspiration. Eight years older, she was the smartest, most aggravating person she’d ever met. She read all the time and was very knowledgeable about so many things. But she was always so encouraging to Janetta telling her what a wonderful person she was. The many people who know Janetta today would tell you that the words hit home.

 

Janetta represents ‘new Taylor’, like so many who have moved to town in the past several decades and love living here. She has no regrets running the bed and breakfast, other than wishing she had done it with a partner to share the tremendous work load. 

 

Don't not try!

 

Her best advice to others: “Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Risk is where the adrenaline comes from.” She never felt more alive than when she sold her house, quit her job, and headed to Cornell to pursue her educational goals. “Education is wasted on the young,” she said when she learned at mid-life that there were so many opportunities out there. And she’s proved that age has never been an obstacle. To put it simply, she said, “Don’t not try!” I think that would be a great t-shirt slogan for women in the second half of life.

Donna Van Cleve

October 2020

Extraordinary, Ordinary Women

References:

  1. http://www.pecanmanorbb.com

  2. https://nexosarquisucr.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/architecturalresearchmethods-groat_wang.pdf pp. 52-53, including photo of Janetta & students

  3. https://cahnrs.wsu.edu/blog/2011/03/cahnrs-news-march-25/

  4. https://www.linkedin.com/in/janetta-mccoy-ph-d-39085a8/ 

 

The rest of the photos were from Janetta, LinkedIn, and her B&B website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Janetta McCoy, Ph.D.

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Kathryn's Suite; use of the cowboy hat is one of the perks

WSU students visiting with Ritzville, WA citizens to figure out ways to boost the declining town's economy. Dr. McCoy's Rural Communities Design Initiative grew from a one-semester project to an ongoing program at WSU (2)

During the pandemic slow-down, Janetta came up with a creative solution to rent out the B&B's pool for exclusive 2 hour time slots for individuals, families & very small groups.

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Janetta in the kitchen of her B&B;

& a peak at one of her delicious breakfasts. 

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The B&B porch has also hosted caroling and hot chocolate during the holidays

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Janetta's best advice? "Don't not try!"

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