Born: January 31, 1943
Town: Glen Ridge
Joan Arlene Spillane was born January 31, 1943 in Glen Ridge to John and Josephine Spillane. Her family moved to Houston when she was 9 and she began swimming competitively at the Dad’s Club. Under the tutelage of coaches E.A. Snapp and Pat Patterson, Joan developed into a world-class freestyle swimmer and in her early teens began winning local and regional AAU meets. Her younger brother, Jim, also became a champion swimmer and later earned a scholarship from the University of Texas, where he earned multiple All-America honors.
Joan continued her success on the national stage, setting U.S. records at distances of 100, 200 and 440 yards, and earning a spot of the U.S. team for the 1959 Pan American Games in Chicago. There she took home silver in the 100 meters and gold as part of the 4 x 100 relay squad.
In the summer of 1960, Joan entered the Olympic Trials in Detroit. She placed third in the freestyle finals and made the team that traveled to Rome that August. Joan swam in the 4 x 100 freestyle and medley relays for Team USA. She swam in the qualifying heats of the medley event—which was new to the Olympics that year—but was not apart of the final medley foursome, as Chris von Saltza swam the freestyle leg in a gold-medal win.
Joan swam the opening leg in the finals of the freestyle relay. The favorite in this event was the Australian team, which had set a new world record of 4:16.2 earlier that month. Joan held her own over the first 100 meters against Dawn Fraser, the fastest sprinter in the world as both swimmer put their teams on a record-shattering pace. The Americans built a two-second lead in the third leg and von Saltza brought home the gold medal with a jaw-dropping time of4:08.9—more than seven seconds better than the standing world mark.
Joan returned to the U.S. and enrolled at the University of Houston, where she graduated with a degree in elementary education in 1964. She married Peter Postma in 1962. Joan went to work for the Spring Branch of the city’s Independent School District and moved to the nearby Cypress-Fairbanks district in the late 1970s, where she taught 7th and 8th graders. At Cy-Fair, Joan focused on building up the district’s technology curriculum. After her retirement in 2002, the Postma Elementary School was named in her honor.