"You smile, laugh, grin and dance lightly through life, taking the sadness and sorrowful things and hurts that happen into your being; while balancing them with the positive, good things that life offers. Life, itself. Blue skies; dancing daffodils; whippoorwills; whiffs of fresh bread baking in the oven; a welcome hug; offering of peace and prayer...all the natural highs.”"
– from a 1992 letter by Joan White
The following was published in January 2011, the 30th anniversary of JoyGerm Limited.
Joan White germinates JOY for Three Decades
Syracuse, NY — Joan White sits at her kitchen table, in her home in the Sedgwick neighborhood, and thinks good thoughts. They come easily. Jan. 8 was the 30th anniversary of Joygerm Limited, the national movement founded by the woman of the house.
Today, she says, there are “more than 117,000 Joygerm unfurled all over the world.” Joan exudes a powerful surge of positive thinking.
“They’re my extended family. What a vast assemblage of amazing people. How blessed I am.”
The idea is simple: Smile.And pass it on.
Joygerms is pretty much of a one-woman operation, run out of her home by an organizer who never seems to run dry of puns, or poems. The house is decorated with sayings and slogans. Likewise her answering machine. I notice one written in a big bowl that sits at the center of the table: “Life is a glorious banquet, a limitless and delicious buffet.” That’s from poet Maya Angelou.
Joan is in “refirement” not “retirement” from a career in advertising and public relations. (Remember “Joan of Art?”) For 15 years, she was an associate and pal of Bud Coolican, the legendary ad man of Syracuse who invented all those catchy advertising jingles that used to dominate Syracuse radio stations (J.P. Byrne, Onondaga Savings Bank). At Bud’s death, she struck out on her own, working mostly from the home she shares with her sister, Bev. Her long-time clients included the Ice Capades show, and the Shrine Circus.
Joan is 77 and very much at ease in her skin.
When I ask her to explain how Joygerms came to be, she goes back to Jan. 8, 1981, a day that happened to be her mother Nora’s birthday. (Nora died in 1965). She says she felt the vibrations of Nora’s energy working through her as she read a newspaper story about a couple in California who were offering to “worry for you ... for a fee.”
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="380" class=" "] Peter Chen / The Post-Standard"Joygerm" Joan White dances with Toni "Tippi" DeJohn in 1996 while spreading the joygerm and entertaining the residents at Syracuse Home Assocation on Sorrell Hill, a senior citizen home in Baldwinsville.[/caption]
Joan turned the scheme inside out and invented Joygerms. She’s not exactly sure where the name came from, although the phrase “Come and spread your joygerms” did appear in a piece of copy she wrote for a client, the Sherwood Inn in Skaneateles. She says innkeeper Bill Eberhardt suggested Joan remove the mention of joygerms. She took it for her own and well, now she says, looking back, “Who would have thunk it?”
It’s a big reach, across 30 years, and a little amazing, when we consider there are followers all over the United States (“in all the states,” Joan says proudly) and several foreign countries, including Ireland and England and on the African continent.
Joan keeps in touch with Joygerms in a seasonal newsletter (“Infectionately Yours” printed on yellow paper) and lots of cards, letters and phone calls. She’s done parades (no politicians allowed), speeches to Rotary, etc., and tons of appearances at nursing homes and senior centers in the area. There is a mascot, named J.J., created by Hazel Cushman. The figure oddly resembles the Syracuse University sports mascot, Otto the Orange, that came along later.
She’s done lots of radio and TV interviews and was featured in Family Circle magazine and Chase’s calendar of events. She held up a Joygerm T-shirt when Phil Donahue broadcast his popular TV show from Syracuse. There are membership cards (designed by Arlene Michelson), Joygerm H.U.G. Bug coupons and a Joygerm jingle, by Richard Simiele, a retired music teacher. Joan has a nifty “Choose Joy” print Richard gave her. Every February, Betts branch library (South Salina Street) displays a Joygerm quilt created by Eileen Taylor of Salem, Ore. in 1987.
“It just snowballed,” Joan explains of the movement, adding quickly “without melting. I’m just the instrument.”
Books are an important part of Joan’s life, going back to her days in the book room at Assumption School.
“I’m on a continuous roll of reading,” she says, noting that she gets up most mornings and sits reading in a small room off of her bedroom. She calls the space her “Joygermitage.” It’s where “I rest my mind and tune my heart,” she explains.
Hers is what Joan calls a “contemplative house.” The noise level is low and the sun streams in through the windows. “I can look out the windows and see the sun on the snow,” she says. “It’s wonderful.”
Among her current reads are a 50-year-old book by a Redemptorist priest and Sue Monk Kidd, author of “The Secret Life of Bees” and “Traveling With Pomegranates.”
Joan is a strong believer in self-motivation and “responding creatively to the gifts you have.” As well as patience. “You can’t pull a butterfly out of a crystalis until it’s time,” she explains.
Religion takes a significant place in Joan’s life. She is a practicing Roman Catholic who “accepts the wisdom of other religions.” She visits monasteries and abbeys in Upstate
“My faith is all,” she explains. “It keeps me going.”
Words to smile by
“There’s a fun side of Joygerms, too. You smile, laugh, grin and dance lightly through life, taking the sadness and sorrowful things and hurts that happen into your being; while balancing them with the positive, good things that life offers. Life, itself. Blue skies; dancing daffodils; whippoorwills; whiffs of fresh bread baking in the oven; a welcome hug; offering of peace and prayer...all the natural highs.”
– from a 1992 letter by Joan White