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Joan Spivack, administrative assistant who was devoted to her family, dies at 81

Mrs. Spivack spent most of her adult life working for the National Adoption Center in Philadelphia. She sought to bring public attention to the children who were available for adoption.

Joan Spivack
Joan SpivackRead moreCourtesy of the Spivack Family

Joan Spivack, 81, an administrative assistant for the National Adoption Center in Philadelphia, died Thursday, Oct. 29, of cancer at her home in Plymouth Meeting.

For much of her adult life, Mrs. Spivack worked at the adoption center on behalf of children whose birth parents couldn’t raise them. She was a liaison with the news media and participated in special events to bring public attention to the children in need of families.

Born in Philadelphia to Sadie and Milton Weinstein, she was reared in Strawberry Mansion and then Oxford Circle. Mrs. Spivack graduated from Lincoln High School in Northeast Philadelphia.

She and her husband, Gerald, known as “Jerry,” married when both were 19. They lived in Philadelphia while he completed law school at Temple University. Later, he founded the Philadelphia law firm of Spivack & Spivack.

A strong component of Mrs. Spivack’s life was dedication to family. “My mom’s most distinguishing characteristic was her fierce loyalty and devotion to her family,” said son Milton. “We always knew we were her highest priority.”

The model for that closeness came from her grandparents Ethel and Sam Ochman, who owned a bakery at Orianna and Poplar Streets in what is now Northern Liberties. Sam baked the breads and cupcakes while Ethel ran the business. “Family is everything, and we have to stick together,” Ethel liked to say, according to the Spivack family.

When Mrs. Spivack’s cousin Gloria Hochman had a sick husband, Mrs. Spivack cut short a winter vacation on St. Thomas to help. “For the next nine weeks, while Stan was in intensive care, Joni spent every afternoon in the hospital with me," Hochman said.

When her granddaughter Erika Spivack, of Tucson, Ariz., needed help planning her bat mitzvah, Mrs. Spivack pitched in from Plymouth Meeting. She chose the invitations, food, and even a dress suitable for the Jewish coming-of-age ritual for girls. “It is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life,” Erika said.

Three generations of Spivacks were in quarantine together earlier this year, due to the coronavirus. Much to their surprise, the family members found it uplifting. They got the chance to nurture Mrs. Spivack, whose health was failing, as she had once nurtured them.

It turned out to be a learning experience in “what 62 years of marriage looks like,” said her son Kenneth. “I watched as my dad cooked her meals, made sure that she took her medications, transported her to endless medical appointments, and most important, told her how much he loved her."

Mrs. Spivack was known for keeping a meticulous house decorated with old-fashioned perfume bottles, stick pins — a piece of jewelry — and ladies’ compacts they once used to powder their noses. The objects came from the antique shops, flea markets, and garage sales that she frequented with her sister, Deby Goldberg.

She always dressed fashionably and was impeccably groomed. “We always said that the day Joni would miss a hairdresser appointment, we’d have to worry about her,” said Hochman.

In addition to family, Mrs. Spivack had many friends, some dating back to elementary school and others from her synagogue, Congregation Beth Sholom, and through playing her weekly mah-jongg games.

Besides her husband, sister, and sons Milton and Kenneth, she is survived by another son, Stuart; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Funeral services were Nov. 1, with interment in Har Nebo Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia.

Memorial donations may be made to Beth Sholom Congregation, 8231 Old York Rd., Elkins Park, Pa. 19027, or the American Cancer Society, 1818 Market St., Suite 2820, Philadelphia, Pa. 19103.