This is the fourth in a series of articles about the Best of Reston Award winners.
The 17-year-old John Lovaas sat in front of Fran on the school bus telling jokes to his friend. That day he walked through the front door of his house and announced, "I just met the woman I am going to marry."
Nearly 50 years later John Lovaas says his mother tells that anecdote, although both him and Fran Lovaas say it is probably not true. Regardless, in July the couple will celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary.
Recently the two High Point High School — Beltsville, Md. — graduates were selected as one of the seven winners of the Best of Reston award. Their claim to fame is their tireless activism in many aspects of the community. Among other activities, Fran Lovaas devotes time and energy to educating Reston's youth, especially girls in local elementary schools. Meanwhile her husband is immersed in local politics, as well as social and economic activities such as the seasonal Reston Farmers Market at Lake Anne.
"My mother was an activist. His mother is 87 years old and serves meals on wheels," said Fran Lovaas about the reasons why the couple is so active in the community.
"It is part of our character," said John Lovaas. He said throughout his career in the U.S. Foreign Service, wherever they were stationed both he and his wife worked on a variety of programs with the local population. "We did everything from elections to working with little children, and that worked over into retirement," he said.
John Lovaas said when he retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 1994 he feared he would not have enough to do. However, he discovered retirement does not need to be a bore, especially in Reston. "There is a tremendous menu of options, and you can really bring about change," he said. "Reston is a particularly great place for that, it has a framework favorable to taking action," he added.
SINCE SETTLING in Reston in 1994 — they owned property in Reston before that — both Fran and John Lovaas have been socially active in the community. John Lovaas first became involved with political activism and public policy organizations, dipping his arm deep into Reston's alphabet soup. He chaired the Hunter Mill District Democrats and served as president of Reston Citizens Association (RCA). He helped found, and served as president of, the Alliance for a Better Community (ABC). John Lovaas also served as vice president of Reston Association (RA).
"Public policy turns me on, it always has," said John Lovaas. "I am a harsh critic of elected officials." A factor that contributed to his political involvement, he said, is that as a foreign service officer he was barred by law from it.
His efforts in the community wielded a number of positive results, not least of which is the birth of Reston's Farmers Market. He serves as the market master and is proud that in 2007 the market will celebrate its 10th anniversary.
While he is involved in many organizations in Reston, John Lovaas has also initiated region-wide projects. In the lead-up to the Iraq War he started the peace movement in Northern Virginia with the help of the local faith community. The movement organized a number of peace vigils. "The final analysis, we failed miserably," he said. Despite the failure, he said he met a number of great people in the effort, and learned new lessons that he applied to his Reston activism.
Fran Lovaas, on the other hand, took it upon herself to try to improve educational opportunities for Reston's population, especially elementary school girls. Some of her efforts are coordinated through the American Association of University Women (AAUW), where she served three terms as president of the Reston-Herndon branch. She volunteers her time mentoring at risk girls at Forest Edge Elementary School, while also devoting her energy as one of the organizers of the Girls Excelling in Math and Science (GEMS) conference. In the mornings, Fran Lovaas teaches English to immigrants at the Herndon Official Workers Center.
"I am really enjoying [teaching English]. They [the workers] have a big desire to learn it," said Fran Lovaas, who was trained to become a teacher. She taught at home and abroad in many places where her husband was stationed — for example she started a tutorial school in Niger for the children of American diplomats. She said her desire to teach stems from the fact that her mother was a wonderful math teacher.
Aside from her efforts in the education of elementary school students, Fran Lovaas also contributes time to improve educational opportunities for college students. She is involved with the Orphan Foundation of America (OFA), an organization that sends care packages to orphaned college students across the nation. She also served as a president of a woman's organization that worked with orphanages in El Salvador when her husband was stationed there.
"I ALWAYS DEPEND on her to garner as many volunteers as we need," said Linda Martin, a teacher at Dogwood Elementary School, about Fran Lovaas's involvement in organizing the GEMS conference. Each year the conference hosts roughly 400 fifth and sixth grade girls, and 100 parents, for workshops to increase their interest in the fields of math and science. "She [Fran Lovaas] is always opening the eyes of the girls to the opportunities available to them," said Martin. "She is invaluable and we can't replace her."
Marilyn Silvey, also an officer at AAUW, co-chairs with Fran Lovaas the mentoring program at Forest Edge Elementary School. The program helps at-risk girls improve their academic standing. Silvey said she was more than impressed with Fran Lovaas's resume of what she did while living overseas. "She had a terrific record [of community service] long before moving to Reston," said Silvey. She added that Fran Lovaas is a person who truly cares for the girls she tutors, attending after-school activities such as concerts.
Silvey said that both John and Fran Lovaas are always proactive in finding ways to be of help in the community. "Wherever there is a need for help they step up and ask, 'What can we do,'" said Silvey.
While Fran Lovaas served the AAUW in many roles, John Lovaas joined the organization as its publicity chair. He is also currently the only man in the 83-member organization. "It is wonderful when a man joins an organization that promotes the advancement of women," said Marion Stillson, RCA vice president.
Stillson said that Lovaas, in his role as a member of the RCA board, brings a wealth of knowledge about Reston. "He is a person who knows an awful lot of people in Reston," said Stillson. "He knows who is a good source of information."
Stillson added that Lovaas's knowledge of the community is not only a result of his service on the many boards of Reston organizations, but also from running his own television show. She said his involvement in community affairs stems from his leadership qualities. "He is a leader and an impassioned visionary who wants to make Reston a better place than it is," said Stillson.
THEIR INVOLVEMENT as members of the AAUW board is not the only place where John and Fran Lovaas combine efforts to improve the community. For the past eight years they have greeted children at the Walker Nature Center's annual Halloween Trail. "That's a kick," said John Lovaas, who dresses as a werewolf to greet the children.
Among other activities they do, the couple also devotes a lot of energy to serve food at Reston Interfaith's Embry Rucker Shelter for the homeless. "There are so many things that we do together," said John Lovaas.
The two are not planning to slow down their activism any time soon. Both have gone back to work, Fran Lovaas in commercial real estate and John Lovaas as assistant to the publisher at Connection Newspapers. They are married and have three children — two sons Deron and Terry, and a daughter Jenni. They also have one grandson and a granddaughter on the way. Both said they are ecstatic and proud to be one of this year's recipients of the Best of Reston Award.