CLIFFVIEW PILOT SPECIAL REPORT: Scott Raymond isn’t the type of guy who takes credit for helping people: His reward is in the doing, say those who know the popular Hillsdale landscaper. That doesn’t mean Rosemarie D’Alessandro won’t praise him and his brother, Todd, for offering to restore a memorial to her slain 7-year-old daughter, Joan.
Rosemarie D’Alessandro (CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM PHOTOS)
A familiar portrait of Joan, smiling in her school uniform, is framed inside the base of the Our Lady of Lourdes statue outside St. John’s Church in Hillsdale. Since 1975, people have come to the spot – D’Alessandro calls it “the grotto” — to pause and reflect.
When the Raymond brothers are done, visitors will also have a place to sit.
“They’re talking about benches, two of them. Can you believe it?” D’Alessandro said, a bit of giddiness overcoming her ordinarily steady, almost regal manner. “The bushes have been there a long time. They’re a bit overgrown. Maybe we can add some flowers. Joan liked tulips.
“What do you think? Should we do tulips?”
After all she has done to help others over not just years but decades, the Universe is giving back to D’Alessandro, one of New Jersey’s leading children’s safety advocates.Jerry DeMarco Publisher/Editor
Joseph McGowan, a former high school science teacher, was convicted of raping and murdering Joan Angela D’Alessandro on April 19, 1973 (Holy Thursday), before dumping her body in Harriman State Park, where it was found on Easter. McGowan lived three houses down in their Hillsdale neighborhood, and the youngster had come to his door looking to sell her last two boxes of cookies.
Her murder prompted the adoption of Joan’s Law in New Jersey in 1997 and nationally a year later. It mandates life in prison for the killing of children under 14 during a sex crime (Because it was adopted after McGowan was sentenced, the law doesn’t apply to him. But he remains in prison for his crimes, having repeatedly been denied parole).
Meanwhile, Rosemarie D’Alessandro has made helping other parents and abused children her life’s mission.
“Inside I knew great things were going to come out of Joan’s life because of the special energy she had, and has, and the fact that she was found on Easter Sunday,” she told me. Helping others, she said, “is why I was put on this earth.”
Thanks to Rosemarie, there is no longer a statute of limitations on wrongful death suits in New Jersey. McGowan had kept his parole bid alive by paying a private lawyer with an inheritance from his mother. That can’t happen now under New Jersey’s Justice for Victims Law, which allows a victim’s family to take all visible money. D’Alessandro made it happen.
She also established the non-profit Joan Angela D’Alessandro Memorial Foundation , which holds fundraisers and collects donations that it then uses to help abused, homeless and neglected children.
Next week, the foundation will donate three Macs to the St. John’s Academy library where Joan went, surpassing the group’s annual donation of books.CLICK PHOTO FOR: RaymondBrothers.com
A plaque of Joan also will be unveiled.
( NOTE: You are invited to donate a book or books the day of the dedications )
Tuesday was Rosemarie D’Alessandro’s birthday, so she went to the grotto to pray. After all, it was the one place where, less than two years after the murder, she was “able to think happily about Joan while I was healing from what happened to her.”
What should she find there this week but a bouquet of white lilies.
“I don’t know if someone knew it was my birthday,” D’Alessandro said, sheepishly. “But Our Lady of Lourdes gives a lot of blessings. They were white, in a vase with a cross on it.
“And would you believe it: Right at that moment I saw a white butterfly. I’d like to think it was a good sign.”
Things like that have a way of happening to good people.
D’Alessandro’s son, Michael, was at the grotto just a few weeks ago, tending to the area, as he and his brother often do. Whereas his mother tends to float gently, riding conversational waves wherever they lead, Michael is more focused, intent. He gives it his all.
Scott Raymond happened by, saw the strapping young man hard at work and stopped to say hello. Raymond, who is active in the church, was surprised to discover it was Michael. Things only got sweeter after that.
The Raymond brothers have built their reputation the past dozen years by being hands-on owners. So it’s no surprise that they got together with the D’Alessandros to discuss how to go about restoring the site. And athough work couldn’t possibly be completed before Joan’s Sept. 7 birthday, Rosemarie says their timing couldn’t be better.
“They are just so kind and sweet,” she said, with a sweet sincerity that could melt any heart. “Things have been overgrowing there. I like the stones (in front of the statue), but they’re getting old. They offered to replace them…. The benches were Scott’s idea. People will be able to come sit and reflect. I know I will go there. You can come, Jerry. Bring your lunch.
“I want to keep the original stones,” Rosemarie D’Alessandro said softly into the phone. “I could use them for a walk next to my house.”
TO CONTRIBUTE, MAKE CHECKS PAYABLE TO:
The Joan Angela D’Alessandro Memorial Foundation, Inc.
45 Florence St
Hillsdale, NJ 07642
MORE INFO: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.