California Mother of the Year Has a “Strong Urge to Help Children”

Contributed By Valerie Johnson, Church News staff writer

  • 10 July 2015

JoAnne Michels and her husband, Jerry, with their children and grandchildren. Sister Michels, recently named California’s State Mother of the Year, has made it a life goal to help children.  Courtesy JoAnne Michels.

Article Highlights

  • JoAnne Michels helped her daughter give birth in a car on the side of a highway.
  • She taught an emergency childbirth class and advanced first aid for the Red Cross.
  • She has also been involved with Operation Underground Railroad, a rescue and recovery operation for children involved in human trafficking.

“I am absolutely appalled at … child sexual slavery in the world. It’s the number-one problem for children in the world. It’s one thing to die of poverty. It’s another to have your soul killed.” —JoAnne Michels, California’s State Mother of the Year

BURBANK, CALIFORNIA

In the middle of rush-hour traffic, JoAnne Michels pulled off onto the shoulder of State Road 134 and opened the passenger side door to assist her daughter, Catherine Marsh, who was in labor. A few moments later, she “practically caught the baby.” Sister Michels wrapped baby Avery in a yellow flannel pillowcase and held her up where she could see the California landscape. “Welcome to the world!” she said.

Avery, now 11 years old, has SR 134 listed as her place of birth on her birth certificate, thanks to the skilled hands of her grandmother. Only a few years earlier, Sister Michels had taught an emergency childbirth class. She has also taught advanced first aid for the Red Cross, mountaineering orientation, and emergency care.

JoAnne Michels of the Burbank 3rd Ward, North Hollywood California Stake, was recently honored as California’s State Mother of the Year by American Mothers Inc. “When I was asked if I would be willing to accept the nomination for Mother of the Year, I didn’t have any idea of what that would entail, but my preliminary thoughts were it could provide a platform,” Sister Michels said.

Recently, she has been involved with promoting Operation Underground Railroad, a rescue and recovery operation for children involved in human trafficking. “I am absolutely appalled at … child sexual slavery in the world,” she said. “It’s the number-one problem for children in the world. It’s one thing to die of poverty. It’s another to have your soul killed.” Sister Michels not only educates people about the state of human trafficking in the world but also teaches others how to recognize and prevent children from being trafficked.

Born in Salt Lake City, Sister Michels attended Brigham Young University. She then met Alan Gerald “Jerry” Michels, who is a dentist. They raised their family of eight children—seven boys and one girl—in Burbank, California.

“My husband and I taught a Becoming Better Parents course for many years,” Sister Michels said, adding that this experience helped her become a better parent. “I think everyone tries to identify problems and fix them. We identified good things and amplified them.”

Through many trials, including chronic back pain for many years and having a son pass away several years ago, Sister Michels has relied on the gospel for strength. “The gospel helps us deal with the adversities we have and build on and recognize the miracles of everyday life,” she said. When facing obstacles, she decided she “was going to be cheerful.”

“My priorities are my grandchildren, seminary teaching, and the temple. After that, I have a very strong urge to help children around the world,” Sister Michels said.