South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

JoAnn Herman, founded block watch after series of New Year's Day break-ins


JoAnn Herman (left) with District Judge Anna Marie Scharding at one of the 29th Ward Block Watch's annual awards dinners.

JoAnn Herman, the sassy southern belle who founded the 29th Ward Block Watch more than 25 years ago died on Thursday, April 9. She was 74.

Mrs. Herman started the 29th Ward block watch after 15 houses on the street where she lived were robbed in daylight on New Year's Day in 1983.

"They could have taken over the whole neighborhood," Mrs. Herman said in an interview after announcing her retirement from the block watch in 2008. At the time she formed the 29th Ward Block she had been operating a block watch in the Linnview area for several years.

Retired District Judge Anna Marie Scharding said Mrs. Herman was one of her "South Hills All Stars" along with Dorothy Douglas, Lucy Frankwitt, Mary Ann Bennett and Elaine Caparelli, all block watch leaders on the Hilltop.

"A long time ago we tried to unite the Hilltop," Ms. Scharding said. The effort failed when they weren't able to get other neighborhoods to work together, "but at least the (All Stars) got along,"

She said the block watch founded by Mrs. Herman was the second oldest in the city, second only to the 30th Ward Knoxville Block Watch. The block watch often held celebrations for its members and neighborhood children.

In addition to the annual adult Christmas Party, the group would hold a "Welcome to the Holidays" celebration for children. For many years under Mrs. Herman's leadership the block watch would hold a large National Night Out celebration and earned 15 awards for those celebrations.

A regular visitor to the block watch's monthly meetings and the annual Night Out celebrations when he was a city councilman and later as a district judge was Gene Ricciardi.

"I always enjoyed her accent, her Pittsburghese" Mr. Ricciardi said of Mrs. Herman's slight southern drawl. He remembered her willingness to work in those in the community and her doggedness in getting what she wanted from public officials.

In recent years, Mrs. Herman would lament about the unwillingness of the younger generation to get involved in the community and the decline in volunteers and participation in the block watch according to Tom Smith, editor of The South Pittsburgh Reporter.

"We would talk about local politics, what was happening in the neighborhood and fishing. She loved to talk about being able to take some time off when she retired from the block watch and was looking forward to going up to her and her husband, Joe's, camp near Seven Springs.

She would often say she was just a "country girl" and showed it when she brought a national tractor pull competition for children to the block watch's National Night Out celebration several years ago, he said.

In addition to founding the 29th Ward Block Watch, Mrs. Herman also served as a Democratic committeewoman since 1983. She was a past-president of VFW Post #6137 St. Louis, MO, founder of the first Junior Girls Unit in the VFW in St. Louis and a Girl Scout Leader for 17 years.

She was involved with the Carrick Community Council and an officer in the Concerned Citizens Taxpayers of Carrick.

Mrs. Herman was married to Joe, for 33 years, and was mother to Pam Arthur, Ginny DeVine and Kelly Klem and the late Barbara Whitesell and Donna Staley. She had 11 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and and 2 great-great grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are at Readshaw Funeral Home, 1503 Brownsville Road, on Tuesday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Funeral Service is on Wednesday, April 15, 10 a.m. at the Spence United Methodist Church.


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