Jacqui Brandli: Finding Strength In Deep Roots

Strong women have been part of Jacqui Brandli’s life from the start. Those examples set the course for her life. 

Her family’s roots run deep in the local communities of Cane Hill, Cincinnati and Fayetteville. So, when her grandmother’s husband died in 1932, she and their three children left Springfield, Mo., for Fayetteville and the support of family. 

In early 1949, when Brandli was almost 5, her nine-month-old brother died. She can still remember his sweet face. She and her mom lived with her grandmother, uncle and aunt from the time of her brother’s death and through her mother’s divorce later that same year. 

Through the grief and sadness, Jacqui saw how families help each other, and she always knew she was well-loved, cared for and protected. Early on, she learned how to listen.

“I learned that when bad things happen you just get on with life. I learned that women are strong and do not have to depend on a man to survive. I learned about resilience in many forms,” she said. 

She has some special memories from growing up on Willow Avenue: playing with paper dolls, acting out stories she made up, making a cake with Mrs. Silverman two doors down, and watching TV at Mable’s next door. She learned to play canasta and sometimes filled in as a fourth player with her grandmother and her grandmother’s friends. She read books and listened to radio shows. She loved to learn and was especially interested in history and math. 

Brandli formed strong bonds with her friends in elementary school. Several of them still meet monthly to share memories of their youth and updates on their modern lives.

Her mom played cello in the city orchestra, which had members from the U of A and from the community. Jacqui briefly played piano and violin, but she really wanted to be a dancer. She studied ballet for many years through the end of high school and assisted her teacher to offset the cost of lessons.

In high school, she was also a waitress at the Mountain Inn. Because of that experience, she was able to work at resort areas during the summers. She thoroughly enjoyed a dude ranch between the Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, and a hotel in Central City, Colorado.

College and Beyond

When Jacqui was growing up, her mother worked for the ROTC program on the University of Arkansas campus. It was a given that Brandli would attend college, and she completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1967.

She married her first husband in 1965, and they had a daughter, Tacy. Then, the family moved to Tulsa, where she had their son, Patrick, born three years after their daughter. Jacqui stayed home with the children for about 10 years before deciding to go back to work to help support the family. 

She studied accounting at the University of Tulsa and finished her bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1976. She worked as a computer programmer at an oil company in Tulsa for a while, but found the work was too solitary. She moved to the Bank of Oklahoma in the auditing department and then to First National Bank of Broken Arrow as their internal auditor. 

But this line of work didn’t nourish her. Her skills were in listening and helping people. So, she changed course and got her master’s degree in social work at Washington University in St. Louis, where she studied family therapy and gerontology. She focused on two areas for her practicum — hospice and psychotherapy — and completed her degree in 1990. 

Though hospice work was emotionally heavy, she felt good about how much she could help patients and their families during that tough time. “You could make that last transition better,” she said.

Brandli had been single for about 10 years when she met Doug Cummins, a college professor of theater, at a church camp. They started dating and eventually married in 1992. 

She worked in psychotherapy and established a private practice, and they spent several years in Greenville, South Carolina. Once Doug retired from Furman University in 2010, they relocated to her native Fayetteville. 

BTV Service

Almost four decades ago, some members of the local Presbyterian church wanted to create a retirement community like Butterfield Trail Village. David Lashley helped them establish the place; his grandmother and Jacqui grandmother were sisters. Brandli, who finished her term as president in December, was the last of that family to serve on the board.

BTV was created as a continuing care retirement community, a nonprofit organization established by five local churches that wanted to support the elderly in the community. Still today, members from the churches are recruited to serve on the BTV Board and the Foundation Board. The BTV Board has 13 members; each serves a three-year term and is limited to three terms.

Jacqui got involved with the BTV board when her friend Kay Trumbo asked if she’d be interested. She and Trumbo spent time together at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church working on the Caring Friends Ministry (respite care for those with early-stage dementia). She joined the board in 2014 and went on to serve for nine years. 

Her mix of experiences proved valuable to her as a board member. Her social work and psychology backgrounds helped her tune in to quality-of-life issues for the residents, while her accounting background provided a keen insight into the financial needs of the overall organization.

Brandli spent the first few years listening and learning. And she always tried to view things through the lens of what she would want the place to be if it were her home. She was secretary for a while, and then became vice president. When the president, Mike Jones, reached the end of his terms, he asked her to take his spot in 2018. 

Listening to Others

Jacqui said her biggest strengths are listening and organizing, and, as board president, she focused on open communications with residents. To make sure she connected with them, she ate lunch each Wednesday in the Bistro to visit with them. She wanted to hear their concerns and see how she and the board could help. 

“When people are heard, that takes a lot of the problem away,” she said.

She said she feels her biggest accomplishment was fostering an atmosphere of acceptance, transparency and respect. And she was able to win over some people with reluctant or negative attitudes. She enjoyed working with the staff and getting to know so many interesting residents.

The operations of BTV are handled by leadership that includes a chief executive officer and chief financial officer. The Residents’ Council manages things like the recycling program, the gardens and the library. The BTV board handles areas such as long-term strategic planning, governance and review of operations. 

A range of programs and activities make this place attractive to residents – the exercise classes, the library, music and other programs. A bus takes them to arts and cultural events in the region. With renovations around 2017, the facility got a face-lift with a new main entrance, a living room, the Bistro and a performance hall. 

But the biggest draw to BTV is the sense of community. Residents look forward to catching up with each other each evening in the dining room, and neighbors check in on each other. 

During her time on the board, Brandli has seen how residents cope with aging – some handle it gracefully, while others fight hard against it. She understands. It’s difficult to see people decline, but this community is one that supports them through healthy approaches and cultivation of friendships. 

Before serving on the board, Jacqui hadn’t thought about eventually moving to BTV. But now, she said, it’s a definite possibility. 

“There are caring and capable staff in every area,” she said. “There are talented people making up the leadership staff. There are so many fascinating and interesting residents. It is an amazing place to be.”

Next Steps

Brandli has noticed a rhythm to her life. About every 10 to 15 years, something big has shifted. After practicing psychotherapy for 15 years, she retired and returned to Arkansas. And now after nearly 10 years as a board member, she’s on to the next thing. 

What that is isn’t set in stone. For one, she looks forward to working with the historical societies for the small community of Cincinnati and for Washington County. Her mother’s side of the family dates back to the 1840s in the county. 

Jacqui has remained active for many years in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, even while living far away. She has served on the Vestry, and she schedules the lay readers. 

She enjoys spending time with her family: her son, Patrick, and her 21-year-old grandson, Alex; her daughter and son-in-law, Tacy Joffe-Minor and Ray Minor; and her two granddaughters, Lela, 23, and Abi, 18.

She reads Smithsonian magazine and mystery novels by Agatha Christie and Anne Perry and loves historical novels. She enjoys listening to music, especially classical, and has Symphony of Northwest Arkansas season tickets.

She’s creative in the kitchen and likes the challenge of making something tasty with whatever ingredients are on hand. She likes dining out for a variety of cuisine – Italian, Greek, Indian, Mexican. “I wish we had a really good Chinese restaurant that makes it better than I do,” she said. 

Some of Brandli’s time will be spent with her canasta group that meets monthly and perhaps tackling several unfinished needlepoint projects. 

She has a large stack of books waiting to be read. And she’ll keep setting out food for the wildlife in her neighborhood — birds, skunks, racoons — whoever’s interested.