If someone were to ask Jan Cheek what she did in her spare time, the inquiry might be met with laughter.
“What free time?” she asked recently in response to that kind of question after her laughs had taken a break.
Though retired, Cheek has grown to be involved with a variety of local organizations like the Cleveland Shade Tree Board, the Bradley County Democratic Women’s Club, the board of the Polk County Public Library, a Corridor K committee in Polk County and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Alumni Association.
In the past, she has been involved with even more organizations like the International Association of Workforce Professionals.
Now divorced and with four grown children, Cheek said she spends her time pursuing what interests her time allows. Her interests have led her to be nearly as busy as she was when she was working, she said.
“It’s to keep my brain active and to stay in touch with the people I like,” Cheek said.
Originally from Rogersville, she moved to Cleveland as a high school sophomore.
She married at the age of 17 and had given birth to four children by the time she was 27.
“I kind of did all of that backwards,” she said with another laugh.
Wanting to pursue a career, she then went to college. At the age of 34, she graduated with the intention of becoming an art teacher.
Opportunity knocked, and Cheek found herself beginning work at the office of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development instead. She worked for 34 years before retiring in 2008.
Though it was not easy to juggle studying and parenting, Cheek said she was glad her children got to see how she succeeded in college during their formative years. She said she believed it shaped how they would grow up to pursue successes of their own.
Her oldest son, 54-year-old Samuel Cheek Jr., later became a doctor. Her now 53-year-old daughter grew up to be a dental hygienist. Her other sons, 50-year-old Shawn Cheek and 52-year-old Joel Cheek, both earned master’s degrees in mechanical engineering.
“That’s my legacy,” she said. “It’s my children.”
Despite the joking assertion that she has no free time, Cheek said she enjoys painting, making jewelry, sewing, reading and researching her family’s genealogy.
The paintings she has created have so far been on a variety of subjects and made with a decidedly expressionistic style. Still, she said she doesn’t feel confined to just one style.
“Any painting is an abstract of something,” Cheek said. “I just do my own thing with it.”
As for genealogy, she said she enjoys learning where her ancestors came from and what she did. While more research is needed to prove it without any doubt, Cheek said she may be able to trace her family’s history back to someone who traveled on the well-known Pilgrim ship The Mayflower.
As she has gone through her various life experiences, she said she has learned the importance of being accepting of others and not intentionally harming anyone.
That view, Cheek said, will continue to stick with her as she does everything from sharing the importance of trees to debating her political views during her busy retirement years.