For years, Joan Groff worked two jobs as a single mother to provide for her child.
"She was a great mom," recalled her daughter, Joan Culbertson. "Honestly, she was the kind of mom who would put cardboard in her shoes so she could buy me cute little shoes for Easter."
On Friday, March 31, Ms. Groff, 88, of Colonial Park Apartments in Woodbury, died hours after her daughter's visit with her at ManorCare Health Services in Voorhees. Her health had been deteriorating as she struggled with rheumatoid arthritis and Lewy body dementia, a neurological disorder, her daughter said.
Ms. Groff loved her family so much that her only request for holidays and birthdays was: "I just want to be with my family. I don't need anything else."
Her only child has two daughters, and there are four great-grandchildren, all of whom she "adored," Culbertson said. As she grew more ill, Ms. Groff wrote a poem that concluded: "I cherish all of you. You brought all the happiness to my life."
Despite the rheumatoid arthritis that was diagnosed in her 40s, Ms. Groff led an active life. During a trip to Tangier, Morocco, with her sister, a photo was taken of Ms. Groff with a snake draped around her neck. She also enjoyed extensive travel through Europe that included France, Italy, Germany, and Amsterdam, and trips in the United States, such as visiting the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, and Las Vegas.
One of four siblings, Ms. Groff was close to her sister. They took tropical cruises and visited a brother in Hawaii.
Earlier in life, she worked more than 25 years for the manufacturer Struthers-Dunn, making electrical relays. To earn more money, she worked waitressing shifts, made lamp shades, and took babysitting jobs.
"As a child, I was always dressed to the nines," her daughter said. "She always made sure I got what I wanted and what I needed."
Their special day, Culbertson said, was Sunday, when they would dress nicely and go on an adventure. Their favorites were the beach, national parks, or scenic drives.
For herself, Ms Groff was a frugal woman, said her friend Marlene Reid, who met her decades ago after the local newspaper published an article about a support group Ms. Groff was starting in Gloucester County for those who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis.
Reid, who also has rheumatoid arthritis, called Ms. Groff, and the two became close friends. The group met monthly to share experiences about medications, talk about their frustrations, meet with medical speakers, and plan social activities.
"She was wonderful. She was a great listener," Reid said. "She never really complained. We were the type of people who played with the cards we were dealt."
It took nine months to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis in Ms. Groff. She noticed a pain in her left arm one day at work. When she woke the next morning, the arm was paralyzed, her daughter said.
When she started the support group, Ms. Groff told the reporter: "It's a very depressive disease. When I do get depressed, it helps there are other people just like me and they really understand."
Culbertson said her mother had surgeries, including of her toes, but she still had discomfort. Ms. Groff was embarrassed as her hands were deformed from arthritis. There were also flares in different parts of her body.
In the end, Ms. Groff's memory began to fail from Lewy body disease. It seemed that she was no longer in pain, her daughter said. Her mother lost her ability to speak. The last thing she said to her daughter was, "Thank you, dear."
In addition to her siblings, Ms. Groff was preceded in death by her former husband.