The world had almost 91 years with our beautiful Mother and it is an entirely different place without her. Joan Fleming Hanifin, beloved wife of the late Donald E. Hanifin, closed her beautiful blue eyes for the last time, as her Angels came for her, peacefully at home the morning of August 31, 2021. Born on September 11, 1930 in Springfield, MA, she was the 2nd of 5 children of the late Mr. and Mrs. Edward J. II, and Kathleen Fleming.
She grew up in the Forrest Park section of Springfield MA on Marengo Park and attended Holy Name elementary school where her inherited talents of music and art began to appear. She fell in love with the Ocean at an early age and would spend the rest of her life living on or near it. Her family would spend the summers at Knollwood beach in Old Saybrook, CT. She spoke her mind at an early age insisting she would not accompany her parents on the drive down unless her father promised not to smoke in the car. She loved to tell the story of the hammerhead shark that swam up to her to say hello but “was full” while swimming with friends on Cape Cod one summer. This was one of many stories where it seemed there were benevolent forces at work guiding and protecting her through life. Like the time she went off road in Winter in Northern VT just before dark following a snowstorm and a bus of rugby players just happened by to lift her car back on the road within a few minutes. It was remarkable to watch how her constantly positive attitude seemed to create the beautiful life that unfolded for her.
She graduated form Cathedral High School where her artistic and musical talents emerged even more. Naturally gifted musically, she performed at Symphony Hall in Springfield MA in the late 40’s for the Cathedral Minstrel show and brought the house down with dueling piano duets. Simultaneously, she was winning a high school art contest sponsored by the Boston Globe where her artwork was displayed at an early age in Boston. She loved art and always found time for painting and sketching. And I never met anyone else who was ambidextrous and could write their name forwards and backwards with both hands, but she could. It was just one of so many things that made her so special and unique. Everyone she knew received a painting or drawing at some point in their lives; when there were marriages, birthdays, new children, or just a special someone that she liked who she thought could use a lift. There were so many examples of her simple acts of kindness to us kids growing up. She led by example in so many ways.
She went on to attend her mother’s alma matter, The College of New Rochelle where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Education. She went on to teach elementary school in Chicopee MA for several years and of course was a natural. She excelled at interacting with young people who were drawn to her smile, kindness, happiness, laughter, and music. Anyone who sat with her in a public space like church knew she could spot a baby a mile away and tell you all about it on the drive home, how the baby did this or that and the parents did this or that and it could have been 30 pews away. One can only guess how many early lives she touched before she met her future husband Donald E. Hanifin, and her focus shifted to helping him run his first business while simultaneously starting a family.
His first business was a flower shop in Springfield on Dickinson Street. Her natural artistic talents enabled her to create beautiful arrangements by the dozen and her ability to keep up with demand for hours on end gave the first glimpse of her work ethic. Here and throughout life she would work methodically, peacefully, in moderation and patience without ever shrinking from it through weariness or difficulty to work. And it must have been incredibly difficult at times raising 6 kids and helping her husband, in business for himself. They were perfect for each other in so many ways. Together they hosted dinner parties for years nearly every night of the week while they built the business. My older brother described them as “professional entertainers”. The dinners were simple but elegantly served with comfortable humor, taste, and class. They could immediately make guests feel comfortable and welcome. This atmosphere resulted in parties that lasted into the wee hours of the morning with all the guests jam packed around the piano in the living room laughing and singing as Joan played into the night. Together they brought joy to so many families through their bonds of friendships, created over the years. It seemed hundreds of Christmas cards poured through the door every December. Joanie was in her element at Christmas where she seemed to control the chaos with love and cheer and reverence to the true meaning of Christmas. It was easy to say she made every holiday special, but it was all the other times she took advantage of whatever opportunity there was to provide a meal to friends, family and strangers alike. Their friends and family responded with appreciation for their love and friendships with what seemed like an endless supply of parties and weddings they were invited to. It just wasn’t a party without Don and Joan.
They lived on Perkins Street in Springfield initially before moving to Wenonah Road in Longmeadow so the kids could ride their bikes to school. She was affectionately nicknamed St. Joan of Wenonah by her children as her acts of faith and kindness never seemed to end. She was a natural Mother with a beautiful voice which she often used to sing throughout the house or to put us to sleep as kids. It seemed everything she did was done with purity of intention and unselfishness. She was the short order cook or chauffer whenever we came through the door with several friends who always saw her as their second Mother. She always seemed to know how to lift someone’s spirits when they needed it most while surprising many others with random acts of kindness. She held herself with such grace even in trying times. And yet she was a model of humility. She never took herself too seriously and loved to be silly. She was the first to laugh at anything funny. She loved to take us to the movies on rainy days and introduced us to slapstick and showed us what was funny and how to laugh. There was no doubt she loved and was devoted to her children, her family and friends and would do anything for them.
Like her childhood, the summers with her family were spent at the beach in Milford, CT. She loved Milford and took every opportunity to get her kids involved with anything and everything to give them life experience. She encouraged us to develop our talents by constantly enrolling us in new things. “You’ll never know unless you try” she would say. The Connecticut shoreline offered her so much peace. She would love to sit and watch the boats come in and out of the Milford harbor with ice cream and the kids on hot summer nights or park her car at the town beach and walk into Church in the center of town. An avid reader, she knew everyone at Milford library by first name. As expected, developed lifelong friendships within the small community of Bayview Beach. Milford was home to her for many years after leaving Longmeadow as the year was divided between Milford and Naples, FL.
The circle of friends grew wider when they finally retired to Naples Florida where they enjoyed 10 beautiful golden years before Donald passed. They initiated, coordinated, and hosted the St Patrick’s day Party at St. Maarten in Pelican Bay every year. Donald would continue to hit the beach early and ask when Joan was coming down. “Soon” she would say as she multi tasked on letters, laundry, art projects, errands, shopping all being done continuously with love of duty. In fact, she couldn’t resist treating total strangers like family as she volunteered for habitat for humanity cooking and delivering turkeys every Thanksgiving and Christmas for those less fortunate. She loved to work. She would typically arrive at the beach later in the day, just in time to be told she was hosting a dinner party that night and 6 couples were coming for cocktails in an hour. She could roll with it and make it happen with grace.
She had 10 years in Naples after Donald passed where she continued to walk to church at St. Williams every day and stay for her rosary group. A devout Catholic her faith was paramount to understanding what made her tick. She always impressed upon us to make the most of our gifts. Even though she was late for almost everything which drove our Father crazy because he was the exact opposite, you could always find her after mass talking to people, saying the rosary with others or sometimes just alone in prayer. These things were always more important than the clock to her.
She hated to cause a fuss and proved it by driving herself back and forth to Florida from CT every year despite our efforts to convince her otherwise. She loved to drive almost as much as learning the latest news on what was going on with who and where. She followed the lives of her children and grandchildren with Olympic pedigree. There was no detail to small or insignificant to learn about. She’d spend hours and hours on the phone with both sides of the family from all over the country. She knew everything about everyone and helped us all understand the nuances of life and the beauty in simple things while striving to be always elegant.
She was fighter to the very end. So fit and beautiful everyone thought she’d hit the century mark, but the Angels had other plans for her. She was always so happy even during her illness. If she had a bad day, you’d never know it. She never complained, a lesson to us all. However, it was time to “put her feet up” again. A term she would occasionally use whenever she needed to recharge. She received her wish to be at home looking out over the water of Long Island Sound when the loving arms of Jesus brought her beautiful soul back to Heaven.
There is so much we will all miss about our Mother. She is one of the last of her generation. She meant so much to so many. I picture that somewhere behind Heaven’s Gate there is a beach where the tide is just right. There is a circle of chairs filled with her beloved family and friends and an open one right next to Donald who says, “You finally made it down to the beach Joan”.
We love you Mom. And we are grateful for all you have done and tried to do for us.
Joan leaves behind her children, Marijo Hunihan, Donald and Sheila Hanifin, Jr., David Hanifin, Laura Hanifin, Casey Hanifin, and Kerry and Becky Hanifin; grandchildren, Alicia Hanifin, John Hanifin, Michael and Jordan Wolfe-Hunihan, Conner and Sarah Hunihan, Grady and Josey Hunihan, Trevor Hanifin, James Hanifin, Carly Hanifin, and Shea Hanifin; great grandchildren, Jude Hanifin-Brassard, Wilder Wolfe-Hunihan, Iona Wolfe-Hunihan, Ada Hunihan, and Burklee Hunihan; siblings, Edward J. Fleming III, and David Fleming; and many extended family. She was predeceased by her sisters Patricia Shannon and Kathleen Fleming.
Family and friends may gather on Saturday, September 4, 2021 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Cody-White Funeral Home 107 Broad Street, Milford, CT 06460. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 12:30 p.m. that day at Saint Mary Church, 70 Gulf St., Milford. The family is asking those who are not vaccinated to join us through the livestream which can be accessed by visiting www.nextlevellivestream.com the day of the service and clicking on the tab: Livestream Service: Joan F. Hanifin. Burial will be private.
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