Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Hometown Heroes

Cancer couldn't slow woman dedicated to others

By Janet C. Wetzel
Enquirer contributor

JoAnn Neumann is so attuned to the needs of others that when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, she worried more that she might not finish a charitable project than about her own life.

But despite the cancer and the treatments, she was able to help hundreds of children.

Neumann, 59, of West Chester, has been a regular volunteer for nine years for Reach Out Lakota, a food pantry serving Liberty Townshipthat also provides clothing and emergency financial aid. Initially, while still working in a managed care firm, Neumann served on the board of trustees, was in charge of the newsletter and helped with the annual Christmas project. Her husband, Fred, soon joined her volunteer effort.

After retiring in 1994, she stepped up her volunteer work at the pantry, and in 1997 she founded Women of West Chester (WOW) to be its fund-raising arm.

"I just invited about 10 of my friends whom I know care about people to come to my house for lunch, to brainstorm and see what we could do financially to help those in need," Neumann said.

WOW, an ecumenical organization supported by local churches, has 34 members. The group has two annual fund-raisers to benefit Reach Out Lakota and provides workers for the pantry's Back to School program.

Neumann, also a weekly volunteer at Mason Christian Village retirement community, considers her volunteer work a priority. Upon learning in November 2002 that the lump on her neck was cancerous, she worried about finishing the pantry's Christmas project on time. She had run most of the 10-week program nearly alone.

"It's very labor intensive, and takes many, many hours," Neumann said. "I just panicked when they told me about the cancer. I didn't know if I would have the stamina to do this by myself. The program would be in a really intense stage two weeks after my scheduled surgery. I prayed really hard. God sent me two angels, two bonuses."

WOW members Nancy Mullen and Nancy Felini offered their help and brought their husbands.

Thanks to food donations from St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. John's parishes, the program provided food and gifts for 475 children.

Neumann said she recovered quickly from her cancer surgery thanks to many prayers.

To volunteer or donate nonperishable food or money to Reach Out Lakota, call 779-7515. To join WOW, call 777-8995.

Do you know a Hometown Hero - someone in your community dedicated to making it a better place to live and helping others? E-mail Janet Wetzel at jjwetzel@siscom.net, or fax to 513-755-4150.

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