Joan A. Brewer

February 23, 2013|By JANET HEIM |
  • Joan Brewer, surrounded by her children, from left, Jim Acre, Debbie Ward, Carolyn Wollard, Terry Acre and Diane Steiner in about 2010.
Submitted photo

Most people knew Joan Brewer as “Grandma,” whether they were related to her or not. Family and home were her priorities.

“Her caring extended beyond her family,” son Jim Acre of Smithsburg said.

Joan was the third of six children of Michael and Lucy Arnone. She was born and raised in Eckhart, Md., near Frostburg, Md.

Her father was born in Italy and came to the United States when he was 13. He lived with an uncle in the Frostburg area and worked in the coal mines.

After her first marriage, which produced five children, ended after 15 years, Joan met and married the man of her dreams while waitressing in Hagerstown, said daughter Debbie Ward of Hagerstown.

Joan and Robert “Bob” Brewer were married for 25 years before his death in 1989. They raised their family in North Ridge Manor, near Hagerstown Regional Airport, where the Brewers lived for 22 years.

“She mourned him all 24 years. She missed him terribly,” daughter Barbara “Diane” Steiner said.

After Bob’s death, Joan moved into the Hagerstown home of Diane and son-in-law Rod Steiner, where she lived until her death.

Joan had her own TV room, filled with family photos and a plaque that read “The gathering place — where warm memories are made.”

Over the years, Joan earned a reputation in the kitchen.

“She was a wonderful cook, everything from Italian to comfort foods,” daughter Carolyn Wollard of Hagerstown said.

“She’d make trays and trays of cinnamon buns, breads, coconut cream pies, peanut butter pies,” said Jim.

When the grandchildren were growing up, the family would gather every Sunday for dinner and, in season, to watch football, followed by “coffee and conversation” in the evening.

“That was a mainstay for Mom — Sunday family dinner,” Jim said.

Summer vacations in Ocean City, Md., with the families staying in different places, evolved to include daily family breakfasts and an Italian family dinner, cooked by Joan. Although she was afraid of the water, Joan liked to go to be sure everyone was safe and well fed.

“She was a worrier. It was her nature. She was never happy until all of her children, and later grandchildren, were home safely in their beds,” Debbie said.

Joan and Bob started the tradition of hosting a family Christmas breakfast, with the family gathering early in the day, then scattering to visit their extended families after that.

Several of her nine grandchildren shared memories of Grandma, mentioning her incomparable pancakes and spaghetti dinners, along with her impact on their lives and those of their friends. 

“There was never a time when you wouldn’t drop everything to come and bring us food, take us to friend’s houses, or just take care of us,” wrote grandson Jared Acre.

Carolyn said Joan was always thinking of others. When Bob had a massive heart attack in 1989 and had to be airlifted to George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., Joan took her first Metro ride with family members, which brought her face to face with some homeless people.

“She sees homeless people and opens her pocketbook and starts shoveling out $5 and $10 bills out of her wallet to each one of them. With the weight of her husband’s condition on her heart and mind, she still thought of the less fortunate,” Jim said.

Joan was never seen without her pocketbook, which “weighed a ton,” even on the beach, Diane said.

Debbie wrote that Joan was not one to join clubs or venture far from home and described her as “strong-willed or stubborn.”

Terry Acre of Halfway said their mother’s life centered around work and family.

Joan was raised Catholic and was a member of St. Ann Catholic Church in Hagerstown, but her family considered her an ecumenical “spiritual person.”

“One thing about Mom I always admired about her — she never said anything bad about anybody,” Carolyn said.

Joan’s early working years were spent as a cutter for garment manufacturers Dorbee, L’Aiglon and Ross Garment. She became a daycare provider when the grandchildren came along, before working as a “lunch lady” at several local public elementary schools for 10 years.

Granddaughter Brooke Whitson only bought lunch when Joan was working at her school, knowing she would get a “big bear hug from my Nanny, followed by an extra scoop of my favorite part of the meal.”

Joan retired in 2005 at age 77.

Joan’s viewing and funeral drew about 200 people, including some of her daycare children, who are now grown, and their parents. The family said many people talked about how valuable Joan’s influence was on their children.

“She was there for everybody,” Diane said.

Diane said when they were growing up, if they didn’t get home on time, Joan would start calling around to find out if they were OK, which was “so embarrassing” at the time.

Even when her children became adults, Joan would call each of them daily to check in, sometimes multiple times. She also called her grandchildren regularly.

There were nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

“I’d give anything for another call,” said Jim, which Joan always ended with an “I love you.”

Her children said Joan seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to her family, a sort of mom “monitor.”

Joan had a strong work ethic and was always on the go, visiting friends and family. No matter where she went, though, she was always glad to be home.

“She was my best friend. I’m a lot like her. She was my buddy,” Diane said.

In good health for most of her life, Joan was only hospitalized several times, other than for the birth of her children. This last time, she was eager to go home, despite some respiratory issues.

She arrived home 15 hours before her death, with a big smile on her face, Carolyn said. The family gathered and celebrated her return.

“It was such a homecoming. It seemed quick, but you knew it was coming,” Diane said.

Joan died on Valentine’s Day.

“She went home to her love on Valentine’s Day,” Carolyn said.

Editor’s note:  Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Joan A. Brewer, who died Feb. 14 at the age of 85. Her obituary was published in the Feb. 15 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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