JoAnn Herman (left) with District Judge Anna Marie Scharding at one of the 29th Ward Block Watch’s annual awards dinners.
JoAnn Herman, the sassy southern belle who founded the 29th Ward Block Watch more than 25 years ago died on Thursday, April 9. She was 74.
Mrs. Herman started the 29th Ward block watch after 15 houses on the street where she lived were robbed in daylight on New Year’s Day in 1983.
"They could have taken over the whole neighborhood," Mrs. Herman said in an interview after announcing her retirement from the block watch in 2008. At the time she formed the 29th Ward Block she had been operating a block watch in the Linnview area for several years.
Retired District Judge Anna Marie Scharding said Mrs. Herman was one of her "South Hills All Stars" along with Dorothy Douglas, Lucy Frankwitt, Mary Ann Bennett and Elaine Caparelli, all block watch leaders on the Hilltop.
"A long time ago we tried to unite the Hilltop," Ms. Scharding said. The effort failed when they weren’t able to get other neighborhoods to work together, "but at least the (All Stars) got along,"
She said the block watch founded by Mrs. Herman was the second oldest in the city, second only to the 30th Ward Knoxville Block Watch. The block watch often held celebrations for its members and neighborhood children.
In addition to the annual adult Christmas Party, the group would hold a "Welcome to the Holidays" celebration for children. For many years under Mrs. Herman’s leadership the block watch would hold a large National Night Out celebration and earned 15 awards for those celebrations.
A regular visitor to the block watch’s monthly meetings and the annual Night Out celebrations when he was a city councilman and later as a district judge was Gene Ricciardi.
"I always enjoyed her accent, her Pittsburghese" Mr. Ricciardi said of Mrs. Herman’s slight southern drawl. He remembered her willingness to work in those in the community and her doggedness in getting what she wanted from public officials.
In recent years, Mrs. Herman would lament about the unwillingness of the younger generation to get involved in the community and the decline in volunteers and participation in the block watch according to Tom Smith, editor of The South Pittsburgh Reporter.
"We would talk about local politics, what was happening in the neighborhood and fishing. She loved to talk about being able to take some time off when she retired from the block watch and was looking forward to going up to her and her husband, Joe’s, camp near Seven Springs.
She would often say she was just a "country girl" and showed it when she brought a national tractor pull competition for children to the block watch’s National Night Out celebration several years ago, he said.
In addition to founding the 29th Ward Block Watch, Mrs. Herman also served as a Democratic committeewoman since 1983. She was a past-president of VFW Post #6137 St. Louis, MO, founder of the first Junior Girls Unit in the VFW in St. Louis and a Girl Scout Leader for 17 years.
She was involved with the Carrick Community Council and an officer in the Concerned Citizens Taxpayers of Carrick.
Mrs. Herman was married to Joe, for 33 years, and was mother to Pam Arthur, Ginny DeVine and Kelly Klem and the late Barbara Whitesell and Donna Staley. She had 11 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and and 2 great-great grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are at Readshaw Funeral Home, 1503 Brownsville Road, on Tuesday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Funeral Service is on Wednesday, April 15, 10 a.m. at the Spence United Methodist Church.
June 18, 1934 - April 9, 2009
Friday, April 17, 2009
By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jo Ann Herman was a transplant to Pittsburgh, but few lifers bang the drum as loudly for their neighborhoods as she did for Carrick.
Founder of the 29th Ward Carrick Block Watch, Mrs. Herman died April 9 at UPMC Mercy. She was 74. Her husband, Joe, said she had suffered for two years with progressive emphysema.
"There's no one in Carrick who doesn't know Jo Ann," said her friend Phyllis Cardello. "I met her about 20 years ago when she worked part time at the Carrick laundromat. There was no one who loved Carrick and the people here like she did. Whatever she had to do for this community she would do. Carrick is going to miss her."
In an interview three years ago, Mrs. Herman, a native of Mooresville, N.C., said she fell in love with her husband's hometown after falling in love with him.
Joe Herman said he had met his future wife "when she was married to her first husband when I was in the service in Norfolk, Va." Twenty-five years later, he met her again in Chicago at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention.
They married about a year later, "then I brought her back here," he said.
Asked about her legacy in the neighborhood, he paused and said, "She did a lot."
Besides the block watch, Mrs. Herman was active on the Carrick Community Council and with the VFW. When she was raising children, she became a volunteer with the Girl Scouts and the Carrick High School band.
She said three years ago that Carrick was getting a trickle of new residents, most of them young, and that many children of the neighborhood find reasons to stay. Two of her daughters bought houses nearby and still live there.
"I love Carrick," she said in the interview, noting that her husband was born in the house they lived in. "We decided we should keep this house in the family."
The couple were avid police-scanner listeners, and Mrs. Herman was always up on the latest crime statistics. She started the block watch in 1983 after her street was rocked with a series of robberies. "I had heard about the 30th Ward Block Watch in Knoxville," she said.
The group visited the elderly who were unable to get out much, sold raffle tickets and baked goods to raise money and agitated city hall for more and better services. They brought in fire and police crews for home safety and health fairs, held bicycle rodeos to teach children bicycle safety and met to plan block-improvement strategies.
"Jo Ann retired [from the block watch] last year," Mrs. Cardello said. "We're going to try to reorganize it. That was her most prized thing. That was her baby. She would do so much of the work and put her own money in and then never take any credit. She said, 'It's not me, it's my people.'
"One thing she was known for was her awards dinners. It became a running joke that if anyone did anything for her, they got an award."
Under Mrs. Herman's leadership, the block watch won two awards from National Town Watch for the reach, scale and organization of its National Night Out activities, which have included a parade and square dances.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Herman is survived by her children, Kelly Klem and Pamala Arthur, both of Carrick, and Ginny DeVine of St. Louis.
Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626.
First published on April 17, 2009 at 12:08 am