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The Dash Between: Joan Park, a determined woman who loved family, church, fun and friends

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Joan Park surprised fellow real estate agents around 10 years ago when she began her push to bring Walmart to Lorain.

"She didn't appear to be openly aggressive or to be real outgoing (before that)," said former colleague Candy Adams. "When we had meetings, she was a good listener" but gave no sign of the determined soul that resided within.

The Lorain resident, who died Dec. 20 at age 78, attended many meetings with city officials and worked hard to put a deal together to sell a chunk of Lorain land to the retail giant.

The Dash Between: About this feature

The dates of birth and death that appear like bookends on a tombstone do not matter as much as the dash between those dates. Award-winning writer Alana Baranick has made her living writing about the dash between. She’s focusing on Lorain and Medina counties and those who have made our area the unique and interesting place it is. Look for her stories on alternating Sundays and visit

www.chroniclet.com to find additional photographs.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear twice a month in The Chronicle-Telegram. To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com or (440) 731-8340.

Today, Alana Baranick examines The Dash Between Nov. 21, 1932, when Joan Park was born Joan Agnes Gambis in South Amherst, and Dec. 20, 2010, when the retired real estate agent and mother of seven died at age 78.

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"Joan pushed the envelope by trying to get Walmart there," Adams said. "Here was somebody, who seemed to be quiet and unsuspecting, working so hard and so diligently."

From her teens until she went into real estate in 1985, Joan held a variety of jobs. She worked as a secretary for General Motors in Elyria, as a switchboard operator for the Oberlin Telephone Co. in the days when party lines were common and as a PBX operator at Lorain Community Hospital.

She started her real estate career with Century 21 and later was with Lehman Johnson Realty and Howard Hanna-Smythe Cramer. She retired in 2006.

"Although Walmart ended up not choosing that property, I believe it was her initial effort that was instrumental in their coming here in the first place," Adams said. "She fought hard when she really believed in something."

Joan believed in family, in her Roman Catholic faith and in spending good times with friends - often at bowling alleys.

Joan Agnes Gambis, the daughter of Polish immigrants who met in Ohio, was born Nov. 21, 1932, in South Amherst. She was the youngest of five siblings, two of whom she never met.

The second-youngest, Josephine Speckhart, who lives in Lorain, is 10 years Joan's senior. Their eldest sister, who was much older, along with a third sister who died in infancy and a brother who died in an ice skating accident at age 12, were their mother's children from a previous marriage.

Joan's father had worked at a steel mill in Cleveland before moving to South Amherst, where he took a job in the quarries. Her parents also operated a farm.

"When my mom was a child, her father absolutely wanted her to be American and asked her to speak English only," her daughter Denise Nail said. "Mom did not pick up as much of the Polish language as her sisters and often regretted him being so strict about the language."

When Joan was 12, the family moved to a part of Lorain that was in the Amherst school district. She lived in that house until she died.

She graduated from Amherst High School in 1950, when Marion L. Steele was the principal. Joan belonged to the Student Secretaries, French Club and Girls Athletic Club. She served as a typist for "The Record," the school yearbook. She was honored for scholastic achievement.

"She was very bright, very particular about her friends," Denise said.

Joan met James Park when he frequented Mischka's Restaurant in downtown Amherst, where she worked, according to her other daughter, Janine Myers.

"She said she knew right away he was the one she'd marry," Janine said. "They corresponded all throughout the time he was in the Korean War. And when he returned, they married."

The wedding was postponed, however, because Joan's mother suffered a fatal stroke. They waited until Sept. 5, 1953 - after her mom's funeral - to hold a small ceremony in the rectory St. Joseph Catholic Church in Amherst, a common practice for interfaith marriages.

"My father was Baptist," said their son, Jim. "He never converted. He promised to bring up the kids Catholic."

Joan's husband, a B.F. Goodrich lab technician who died Sept. 15, 2000, served as a deacon and treasurer for First Baptist Church of Lorain. Meanwhile, Joan followed the basic principles of Catholicism in her everyday life as a living example of the faith for their seven children: James, Michael, Ronald, Gregory, Jeffrey, Denise and Janine.

"She was a pretty down-to-earth person, a religious person, but she was fun to be around, too," her son Jim said.

Joan loved to polka, to shop for trinkets, to laugh appreciatively at funny stories and to shout encouragement from the bleachers at her kids' and grandkids' baseball and basketball games.

She especially liked to golf with the Ladies of the Links Golf League and bowl with Rebman's Seniors Couples, Happy Bunch and other bowling leagues.

"She was the sweetest lady you'd ever want to meet," said Janice McGillivray of Rebman's Recreation Center. "She was always a lady who was so well put together, just immaculate. She was an excellent bowler - about a 155 average. She loved bowling and being around people."

Last year, Joan bowled her all-time high game and was inducted into the Lorain Women's Bowling Association Hall of Fame.

She never forced the sport on her kids.

"Mom did not teach us to bowl," daughter Denise said. "She taught us independence. If we wanted to try something, we could."

They knew she would strongly support them in whatever sports, careers or life paths they chose.

Contact Alana Baranick at (440) 731-8340 or abaranick@chroniclet.com.

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