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What's Up Magazine

JoAnn DeCesaris

May 15, 2013 07:56PM ● By Anonymous

In April of that year, they lost their patriarch, Geaton DeCesaris, Jr., who succumbed to lung cancer. It would be faith in each other and community support that would aid them through this most difficult time…and enable them to give back to those who face similarly grave cataclysms in life.

“My biggest inspiration was my husband,” JoAnn says, “for his faith, perseverance, brilliance, sense of business, and his dealing with people. He adored his family and genuinely cared about everyone.”

If Geaton was the family’s foundation, JoAnn is its structure. Together, the Davidsonville couple demonstrated how empathy through philanthropy can bring together family and community for common causes. They laid groundwork for their daughters to build upon, having established the DeCesaris Family Foundation. Prior to Geaton’s passing, the couple—who married in 1974—was deeply involved with a number of organizations, having donated significant financial resources and support. Causes included (and remain to this today): Holy Family Catholic Church, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Summit School, Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, Operation Smile, Missionaries of Charity, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Sarah’s House, among many others.

But the largest beneficiary of the DeCesaris’ generosity has been, perhaps, Anne Arundel Medical Center, to which the family donated $3 million in 2003 to help establish a state-of-the-art cancer treatment facility, now named the Geaton and JoAnn DeCesaris Cancer Institute. It was the largest private gift in AAMC’s 106-year-old history. Ironically, about three years later, Geaton—then president of Hovnanian Land Investment Group—would need the very services and treatment that he and JoAnn had kick-started. In the years since Geaton’s passing, the DeCesaris Family Foundation has continued supporting AAMC, and in 2009 made another amazing contribution, $2 million, which helped fund construction of the newly opened Pediatric Emergency Department and Inpatient Unit.

Today, JoAnn continues to serve as president of the DeCesaris Family Foundation and adamantly advocates awareness of cancer, screening, and treatment.

“I want to bring more awareness to cancer symptoms, particularly lung cancer,” she says. “There is a stigma associated with lung cancer whereby people feel that the patient brought it on themselves by smoking. My husband died of lung cancer even though he didn’t smoke. I want people to be aware that they can have lung cancer even if they have never smoked, and to watch for signs before it’s too late.”

If JoAnn’s experiences have taught her anything, it’s that one should not sit idle when facing adversity, but rather to embrace challenge and create opportunity. “Enjoy every day to the fullest,” she says, “You never know where life will take you.”