SAN ANGELO JoAnne Powell learned the political ropes as an aide to Congressmen Tom Loeffler and Lamar Smith between 1984 and 2004, so it was an easy transition to the same job with U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway when he took office the next year.

Which is not to say there’s anything easy about being Conaway’s San Angelo regional director and service academies liaison officer for the entire 11th Congressional District.

As the Midland Republican’s only staff member in his 33 E. Twohig Ave., office there, Powell represents him at local and area events, counsels service academy hopefuls and meets with constituents, often through her lunch hour, about problems with the Social Security and Veterans administrations, Internal Revenue Service and other agencies like the Department of Labor and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

She works at least 40 hours a week, and that’s at age 86.

“I try to make the congressman look as good as he can and give the best service possible to every constituent regardless of what their situation is or who they voted for,” said Powell, a native of Nashville, Ark., whose husband Charles is a retired Air Force colonel who works in public relations at a local bank.

“The last thing a constituent wants to hear when they walk through that door is ‘No,’” Powell said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m a detective, searching for things.”

Born JoAnne McAdams, she attended Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia and married Charles after he graduated from the Naval Academy. Her father Brooks was a distributor for Sinclair Oil in southwest Arkansas. Her mom was named Iva Mae, and she had a brother.

Noting Conaway has a board that meets here each December to pick his nominees to West Point and the Air Force and Naval academies, Powell said she looks “for the all-around person who has the grades, the SAT or ACT scores and the physical ability.”

“I try to make sure they’re not just trying to please somebody because we have had a number of those be accepted and come home because it was not for them,” she said. “It’s a lot different from high school. But if a person is there and really wants a degree, it can be done.”

Powell gets from 25 to 40 applications annually with the 29-county congressional district’s acceptance rate running at better than 10 percent. “It’s a labor of love,” she said.

Powell said the key to resolving problems with federal agencies is establishing relationships with the people who work at them. “They’re humans just like I am,” she said.

“They understand that I’m trying to do my job just like they are. I’m the eyes and ears for the congressman when he is not here. I stay in touch with (Washington Press Secretary) Emily Hytha and (District Director) Evan Thomas in Midland about what’s going on and what the mindset is of the people here.”

“Age is just an attitude. I pray daily for good health and to keep my mind.”

Powell said one of her greatest difficulties is often to convey that Conaway and she are third parties in the view of the federal government and that constituents must provide written authorization for them to act in the constituents’ behalf.

In an email, Conaway said Powell “has undeniably become a community pillar, devoting her life to making San Angelo a better community for all.

“JoAnne has been a valuable member of my team since I first came to Congress, helping countless constituents navigate through the federal bureaucracy and receive appointments to military service academies,” he said.

“I also consider myself lucky that on a personal level, I get to call JoAnne and Charles my friends. They are tremendous individuals, and the community has been truly blessed with their extraordinary contributions.”