By Kevin Coughlin
When Joen Luy Ferrari retired years ago from AT&T, she looked forward to a little R & R.
“I thought, I will sit around and watch TV, and sleep in,” she recounted. “That lasted two weeks!”
A second career blossomed, as the Superwoman of volunteers. No business card could list all the boards and charities that she serves. For her efforts, she has been named Woman of the Year by the Zonta Club of the Morristown Area.
“She never feels better than when she’s helping others,” said Carol McKinney, vice president of the Zonta chapter and a longtime friend of Ferrari.
Over the years, Ferrari has helped the United Way, the P.G. Chambers School, the Mental Health Association of Morris County, Dress for Success Morris County (founding president), First Night Morris, Historic Speedwell and the Friends of Historic Speedwell.
And don’t forget the Morris Museum, Morris Arts, the American Red Cross Northwestern Chapter (she was instrumental in merging several chapters), the Colonial Symphony, the Morris County Tourism Bureau, and the New Jersey chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters.
Ferrari also serves on the Morris Township zoning board and sings with the Morris Choral Society.
“This is a lady who does it all. We follow like little puppies,” said Mary Louise Smith, who knows Ferrari through volunteer work at Morristown’s Community Theatre, now known as the Mayo Performing Arts Center.
“Long before Nike coined the phrase, she Just Did It,” said another admirer, Deborah Picariello, who was among friends and family who gathered recently at the Madison Hotel to honor Ferrari as she accepted her award from the local branch of Zonta, a 30,000-member international organization founded in 1919 to improve the status of women.
Aviatrix Amelia Earhart was an early Zontian, and Ferrari shares some of her pioneering spirit.
The Johnstown, PA, native aspired to follow her father into coal mining. Instead, she settled for descending into manholes, as a planning engineer for Western Electric. Then she climbed into management. She remembered being the phone company’s first woman supervisor in North Carolina.
“Someone told me to my face I was taking a man’s job,” she said, with no hint of anger or drama. Friends described a low-key woman who motivates subtly and, occasionally, with a bit of mischief.
McKinney recalled the time she missed a meeting of one nonprofit. “Three hours later, Joen calls and says, ‘Congratulations, we elected you to the board!’ That’s the way she works. If she needs you, she ropes you in. Now, I show up to all the meetings!”
Mostly, friends said, Ferrari leads by example.
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“She can’t say no. She is spectacular,” said former Morris Township Mayor Peter Mancuso, who has worked with Ferrari on behalf of the Morris Museum. “For many years she kept the Morris Museum Friends together. She was an inspiring force. She is a cohesive person, soft and gentle…but she almost always gets her way.”
Mark Sutherland, manager of historic sites for the Morris County Park Commission, cited Ferrari’s fundraising work for Historic Speedwell’s annual “Friends of History” gala and garage sale.
“She makes the contacts. She makes friends buy spaces at the garage sale. She gets the silent auction items,” Sutherland marveled. “You can’t tell her, ‘You can’t do that.’ She says, ‘Yes we can!’ There’s never anything she can’t accomplish.”
Tom Werder, executive director of Morris Arts, called McKinney “the glue behind the scenes” at his nonprofit. She volunteers for tasks large and small, from serving refreshments and cleaning up at art openings to pitching big ideas at board meetings.
Eight years ago, Werder said, Ferrari suggested convening luminaries from the arts, business and sports for some stimulating chitchat. Great Conversations now is the largest fundraiser for Morris Arts, netting an estimated $150,000 at last month’s gala.
Ferrari did her undergraduate studies at the Pennsylvania College for Women and West Virginia Wesleyan, and earned an executive MBA at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She is a senior member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers.
Her mother opened her eyes to community service; Ferrari tagged along as her mom’s “helper” at an early age. Ferrari’s children and grandchildren have absorbed the message, too.
The Zonta award is bestowed to someone who makes a difference in the lives of at-risk women. McKinney said the annual selection usually comes after much spirited debate.
“This was one of the first years where it was a no-brainer,” McKinney said.