By Ken Gillespie
If you are a parishioner at Nocatee’s Saint John Paul II Catholic church, you’ve seen Janice Cushman leading a choir and serving as Cantor at Sunday services. As a local resident she is often recognized and greeted by congregation members while shopping at Publix, dining out at M Shack, and relaxing at the Splash Park.
She and her family relocated from Pittsburgh four years ago, when husband Ron took a new job with CSX. She works as a guidance counselor at Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine and is the mother of two teens in the St. Johns County School District. Advising and coaching young clients is close to her heart as she has always valued the helping profession; however, music and song may be closest to her soul.
As one of five children raised in modest means, Cushman showed a strong personal drive to succeed. An aggressive early move was enlisting in the U.S. Air Force after high school, serving four years. Her GI Bill benefits, supplemented with part time jobs, loans, and music scholarships, enabled her to earn a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University. She later followed up with a Masters in School Counseling. While not a Florida native, she was familiar with the state from being stationed here while serving.
Q: Tell us about your time with the Air Force.
A: Those years helped me grow up fast. I had a terrific opportunity to audition and be selected to become a member of the Air Force’s touring performance ensemble, Tops In Blue. Composed of more than 30 vocalists, dancers, musicians and technicians, our group performed an average of 120 performances a year at more than 100 base locations worldwide. Besides singing, I had to be in top physical shape since we were our own roadies. We would spend hours unloading 50,000 pounds of equipment from two truck trailers, set up our stage, perform, then tear everything down the same day. One precious memoir is a photo of me and Bob Hope, the military’s most revered entertainer.
Q: With a full time job as a school counselor, choir leader, and mother of two teens is there any time left over?
A: There’s always time for music and singing. Just ask my husband about my (sometimes annoying) habit of loudly breaking out in song as we ride in the car when the radio plays a favorite song. On the home front it’s great fun doing Karaoke with neighborhood friends. Professionally, I frequently sing at celebrations marking life’s starts and ends … weddings and funerals. Many of my fondest memories come from 10 years as a wedding singer, both as a solo performer and with a Pittsburgh area group called “Night Life.” I recall absolute crazy times at weddings; working with hungover drummers, putting up with stage crashing guests grabbing the mic, and occasionally impersonating celebrities like Lady Gaga.
Q: What does the future hold?
A: Three wishes come to mind. One involves travel. Having experienced a wider world while touring with the Air Force I want to expose our children to some of this planet’s exciting places. Ron and I have a bucket list of sights to see. Another desire is to explore acting in theater. I’ve performed as a singer all my life and am comfortable being on stage, but I’ve never acted per se. In my younger years I had dreams of singing on Broadway or perhaps in opera, but life took a different turn. Performing allows a person to temporarily become someone else while staying in their own skin. It’s a liberating feeling. I’m beginning to research the local theater scene to see what’s out there. Lastly, we are truly beach people and someday would like to live on or near the ocean. That one is a longer range goal.
Photo courtesy Janice Cushman