Joan Helen Arnold
Tomorrow — Friday, August 16 2013, we will memorialize and bury my aunt Joan Arnold, who died last week (August 8, 2013) in a New York hospice at the age of 92.
The day before she died she told us that she wanted to get strong enough to return to work: “You know, I’m a workaholic,” she said. A pretty amazing force of nature, Joan had one job – and still had it the day she died – for at least 70 years, all of which were spent at Barnes & Noble Booksellers. Which means she started working for that company – which was only a local bookstore back then – during World War II. She once joked to me that they had to keep her on, at least to shelve the books, because she was the only one there who knew the alphabet, a not so subtle dig at how educational standards have fallen.
A single straight woman who never married and had no children, Joan was always a role model for me as she was so totally comfortable in pursuing her single life in the big city, always fiercely independent, even last year refusing to be walked up to her apartment door by a middle-aged relative. “I do this by myself every day,” she said, adamantly.
She led an enormously busy life as well. A season ticket holder to the Metropolitan Opera, I think she also saved every single Playbill for every play she ever attended – and she went to the theater constantly. Not odd, as she was a former actress and stage manager, having appeared in many Off and Off Off Broadway plays in the 1940s and 50s.
“Rehearsal–Robert Carson, director of the Tophatters, gives final instruction to his leading ladies before curtain goes up … on the off-Broadway group’s presentation of ‘The Wallflower’ at the Central Y. M. C. A., Hanson Place. At left is Joan Arnold. Beverly Zatt, center, plays the title role.” (1952)
One of the things I always admired about Joan was her volunteerism – within the last couple of years, she was still helping out at her church, where she made sandwiches for the homeless, as well as at the Natural History Museum (close by in her Upper West Side neighborhood) where she was working on a project cataloguing local island birds.
In the past, she was honored by former mayor Ed Koch for her work with the blind.
Next week we’ll leave her apartment forever to the NYC rental wars. This is bittersweet. This is the first place I ever stayed in NYC, as an impressionable child attending the 1964 New York World’s Fair, as well as the launching pad for my first solo European trip in 1974. When I visit New York in the future, I won’t have a living relative here, which seems very odd.
Yet Joan leaves an enormous legacy of spirit. I’m always searching for appropriate models to guide me on that future path. She’s always been near the top of that list, and will continue to be. Farewell, Joan. I’m honored to have walked you home.
A little bit more on Joan’s life, from my dad:
Joan was born in Akron, Ohio. The family moved to the New York city area in the 1920s and eventually settled In the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn. Joan graduated from Our Lady of Angels grade school and Bay Ridge high school, and completed her education at Alfred University in upstate New York.
She graduated magna cum laude, majored in English and drama and won her class literary prize. Joan liked to travel. Besides seeing most of the USA, she also made trips to Russia, China and Egypt as well as western Europe.
(Services were Friday, August 16 2013 at the Crestwood Funeral Home in New York; burial was at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, NY.)