Camden Courier-Post - January 13, 2005

A bit of Camden's spirit died with `Miss JoAnn'

Northgate Park is more than a precious bit of green space in North Camden - although it is that.

For 14 years, this handsome oasis at North 6th and Elm streets has offered a haven for kids in one of the city's toughest neighborhoods. With its 24/7 security and educational, recreational and cultural programs, the park is a safe, even happy place.

But not today.

Because "Miss JoAnn" isn't there.

On Wednesday, JoAnn Garcia - a longtime park staffer and advocate for Camden's children - was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery. The 55-year-old Collingswood resident, mother of two and grandmother of eight, took ill unexpectedly before the holidays and died last Friday.

JoAnn wasn't someone whose name got in the papers; she wasn't one of the frequently featured faces in the media's coverage of Camden. But she was one of the folks who help hold the city together - by quietly working on the front lines.

"There wouldn't be a Northgate Park without JoAnn," says park director Robert Hammond. "She lifted this park up on her shoulders. She became synonymous with it. She was a support system to the after-school program . . . the kids knew that if their parents weren't home, they could go see Miss JoAnn."

Fair Share Housing Development Inc. director Peter O'Connor, whose private, nonprofit organization built and operates the park, put it this way:

"JoAnn was Northgate Park," he says. "She was there day and night for 14 years. She was the most compassionate person I ever met. She was always on the side of the little person."

JoAnn is the reason why Kate Maich, a 22-year-old member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps from Indiana, decided to work in South Jersey. JoAnn interviewed prospective Fair Share volunteers last spring, and "she really made me want to be a part of this," says Maich, who works at the Ethel Lawrence affordable housing development in Mount Laurel.

"She was kind of like a mentor to me," adds the Notre Dame graduate. "She was so great to be around. I felt so privileged to have spent this time with her."

Debbie Del Grande knew JoAnn for 40 years. They grew up together in South Camden and worked for city government; Del Grande's brother is married to JoAnn's sister Angela.

"I just define her as an angel," Debbie, a property manager at Ethel Lawrence, says. "She did everything for everybody.

"She kept everything together in North Camden. Especially for the kids. She was like a mother to those kids."

The park was swaddled in a chilly mist Wednesday afternoon. It was pristine, but deserted. Inside the office, where a photocopy of JoAnn's obituary was tacked to a bulletin board, employee Brian Chatman said JoAnn had gone "beyond the call of duty." One afternoon last summer, he recalled, she had brought a barbecue and food to the park and started cooking hot dogs. "Any kid who came to the park got to eat," he said.

According to O'Connor, plans are afoot to merge the park with the adjacent playground at Molina School in order to create a "seamless" expanse of recreational space in the neighborhood.

And he hopes the expanded facility will be renamed in JoAnn's honor.

Camden Courier-Post - January 8, 2005

On January 6, 2005, JoAnn (nee Gambardello), age 55 of Collingswood.
Devoted Mother of Daniella Garcia (John Denoto) & Daniel Garcia (Stephanie Santana) and their father Osvaldo Garcia. Daughter of Doris (nee Stough) and the late Louis Gambardello. Sister of Louis J. Gambardello (Regina), Angela Del Grande (Eric), and Michele D'Ambra (Thomas). Grandmother of Samantha, Alexis, John Jr., Daniel Jr., Justin, Jaden, Lorenzo, & Makala. Beloved friend of Deborah Del Grande. Also survived by numerous nieces and nephews.
Relatives and friends are invited to attend the viewing Tuesday Eve 6:30 to 9pm at the BLAKE-DOYLE FUNERAL HOME. Funeral Wednesday 8:30am to 9:30am at the Funeral Home. Mass 10am St. Vincent Pallotti Church, 901 Hopkins Road, Haddon Twp, NJ 08033. Entombment Calvary Mausoleum, Cherry Hill. The family requests memorial contributions to St. Vincent Pallotti Building Fund.