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JoAnn Marx: The passing of a Manteca friend with a golden heart

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POSTED January 11, 2009 11:35 p.m.
This column is about a wonderful I’ve known for many years.
But before I can even begin qualifying the general term, wonderful, which simply gives the broad brush and none of the details, I have to start by telling a short story. Because that backdrop will emphasize even more what a great and kindhearted person she was.
It was the early to mid 1980s. I was a new immigrant in America.
More importantly, I was this new immigrant “kid,” as some people called me then, in Manteca.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in English, and with the help of the late Patrick O’Leary, I landed a job - a lifelong dream — as general-assignment reporter and photographer at the now-defunct twice-weekly Manteca News. My first Christmas with the newspaper, the late Mr. Antone Raymus and his wife Marie who owned the paper threw a party for all the staff at the El Rancho Clubhouse. Bring a guest, the invitation stated. I invited my friend, Chisato, an accomplished artist in her own right who was of Japanese descent. I met her through my cousin, Ray Albano, at the University of the Pacific where he was a Fulbright Scholar art professor at the time.

Manteca’s demographics have changed over the years
We rode to the party in Chisato’s shiny Mercedes. The party was great. Everybody was nice. I enjoyed myself. After we left the party and were chatting in her car, Chisato laughed and commented, “I felt like I was in the middle of a Ku Klux Klan party there!”
Her plain statement painted a realistic picture of the demographical state of Manteca at that time. Manteca was just a town of 18,000 then sans the broad cultural and ethnic diversity it has now. For one thing, I didn’t know of any other Filipinos in town then except at least two families whom I knew only by face while attending Sunday Masses at St. Anthony’s Church where I decided to join one of the choirs. Then, as now, there were the Folk Choir which sang at 8:45 a.m., the Spanish Choir which ministered at the 7 p.m. service at the time, and what was then dubbed as the Adult Choir led the music at the 10:45 a.m. At that time, the 5:30 p.m. Saturday vigil Mass, along with the 7 a.m. and 12:30 Masses, were “silent” which means there was no music at all for lack of a cantor. After I joined the Adult Choir, I was recruited to cantor the “silent” Masses as well working with then music minister and organist Jon Townsend, a graduate of UOP who did graduate studies in England.
Becoming active in the music ministry at St. Anthony’s was one of the best things, if not the best thing, I’ve done when I moved to Manteca. And that’s mainly because of the people like my friend who welcomed me with open arms and even warmer hearts. They were extremely helpful too and genuinely eager to make me feel really at home in Manteca. Being a single person living alone at that time with my parents and siblings living in the Bay Area, I embraced the choir as my adoptive family. And that goes from our music director and organist Jon Townsend, to the dedicated singers like Charlie Giles of Valley Mountain Express, Jim Aartman of Jim Aartman Trucking in Ripon, Jo Coleman who later had to bear the most unimaginable tragedy of losing both her husband and son within minutes of each other, Ruth Coldren whose son John later became a Manteca Unified School Board Trustee, and JoAnn Marx.

You have to live here 20 years to become a Mantecan
One of the pearls of wisdom passed on to me by one choir member is something that stayed with me for a long time. “You are not considered a Mantecan until you’ve lived here for 20 years,” she said.
I think, in a way, she was speaking tongue in cheek. But I also think she was speaking sincerely from experience, and without malice, I might add. For she, too, was once a transplant a long, long time ago and well past the two-decade mark when she made that remark.
But I didn’t even have to reach that benchmark to feel that I truly was a Mantecan. JoAnn made sure of that. She immediately made me feel at home. My first Thanksgiving in Manteca, she invited the newest member and “stranger” in the choir to share her home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner at her home. My family in the Bay Area did not have any Thanksgiving get-together planned that day and it was just going to be me, myself, and me that Thanksgiving evening. My sisters were all working the swing or graveyard shifts at the hospitals where they were all working as nurses. I was too shy and embarrassed to accept an invitation from a family that hardly knew me and vice versa. But something prompted me to say yes. And that evening, I had my first taste of brussel sprouts and a scrumptious turkey with all the trimmings compliments of JoAnn’s culinary expertise. But most of all, my first taste of true Manteca hospitality and generosity.
That was just the first of what would turn out to be a host of genuine kindness and generosity that JoAnn extended not just to me but to a countless number of people, plus to a great number of church and community programs and projects. And that’s not even mentioning the plethora of involvements she gave to St. Anthony’s School and Manteca High School where her children attended. She was one of the small but hardworking and dedicated parents at St. Anthony’s who laid the foundation for the many programs that are still benefiting the school to this day. She and her group of parents, mostly moms, worked hard to launch the still very popular Annual Christmas Luncheon (the crafts fair part was a later addition) and the now-defunct weekly bingo fund-raiser for the school. In fact, she was a former president of the PTG (Parent-Teacher Group), and that was just one of the many challenges she took on for the church, school and the community.
I was also privileged to be a witness to her unstinting devotion to her family, especially to the apple of her eye, her only daughter Lavonne who is an accomplished musician. Lavonne’s older siblings have already flown the coop when I met JoAnn but she talked about her sons all the time with such glowing pride.
But above all, I witnessed in JoAnn a soul that embraced her faith as the center of her life. It was truly an inspiration to behold.
And it’s that inspiration that I hold near and dear to my heart as I now bid her a final goodbye. After a long and brave battle with cancer, JoAnn went to meet her Maker at 2 a.m. on Jan. 7, the day after the feast of the Epiphany when the Three Wise Men who followed the star of Bethlehem and found the holy lowly manger and presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the child Jesus. 

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