Joani Blank, Cohousing Pioneer – Stories of her Impact and Influence

Joani Blank, a cohousing pioneer, passed on August 6, 2016. Coho/US is collecting stories of her impact and influence, posted below. Please email me if you would like to add to.

Alice Alexander, Coho/US Executive Director

7/29/16 from Susan Hedgpeth

Dear Joani,

I read with great sadness your amazingly honest and open email about your diagnosis. I’m also feeling admiration for how you are approaching the end of your life, with eyes wide open and doing it your own way. I hope I’ll be able to do the same when it’s my turn.

I’m glad you are having a big life celebration tomorrow. Sorry I cannot attend. I will be there in spirit.

I knew your name long before I met you. I was a big fan of Good Vibrations way back when. It was such a wonderful woman-friendly sex-positive environment – a fabulous idea of yours. And then later you were a pioneer and advocate for cohousing. You have always been an adventurous groundbreaking taboo-shattering original! Thank you for being on this earth and adding so much love and spark. You’ll be missed.

I’ll fondly remember the time we spent together at the cohousing conference in North Carolina a few years ago.




I remember Joani well, since 2005, when I went on my first cohousing tour,
which she ably led. And I remember the 2006 Conference in Chapel Hill,
which she chaired. And many shared conversations since then.

Will there be a guestbook for Joani? I think it would be appropriate to

have a link on the website.

She was a Giant in the Cohousing movement. Dear Joani, rest in peace.

With love to all,

Marty Maskall

Future Resident & Project — a Family-Friendly Green Neighborhood
Joani lives on in almost every cohousing community . A true cohousing crone!

Mary Kaplan

Nubanusit Neighborhood & Farm

Godspeed, Joani.

Ann Zabaldo, Takoma Village Cohousing
Washington DC

She was a hero of mine.

Blessings on you Queen Joani.

Deborah Nagle-Burks

She will be so deeply missed. How can there be a coho conference without

Diane Margolis, Cambridge Cohousing

From Katie McCamant 8-8-16:

I wrote the following to share at her Celebration of Life:

Dear Joani, and assembled guests,

am so sorry that I can not join you in person for this celebration of the fabulous Joani. Instead I send this note to share, and please know my heart is with you today and always.

I have known Joani since about 1992, when she left many messages on our office phone over a weekend to find out about Doyle Street Cohousing, which she had just read about in the Bay Guardian. Later that year, she became our neighbor there, the second cohousing community in the United States. Typical of how Joani approaches all of her endeavors, she jumped into cohousing full of enthusiasm and energy. We always knew when we sat down at common dinner with her, it was going to be an interesting dinner conversation! She was our neighbor for 8 years, before moving to Swan’s Market cohousing in 2000. She also joined me as a member of the founding board of the Cohousing Association of the US.

As a cohousing enthusiast, Joani has given her cohousing neighbors, the Cohousing Association, and literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of people curious about cohousing endless hours of her time. Since the formation of the National Association in 1996, she has been the primary person to answer phone inquiries, offering information, advice, and encouragement to all who called. And she has visited more American cohousing communities than anyone else, 72 at last count.

As news of her disease made it across the cohousing world, many recounted her generosity in sharing information and encouragement. One woman shared that as a single mother with two small children, she was struggling to find the money to buy into a forming community when she called Joani. Having never met her, Joani offered to loan her $10,000 for the early stage, high risk investment. Now a resident of that community, Patti says Joani “changed her life, “ and she now passes that experience forward when she can lend others funds.

And that is what I will always remember about Joani, her generosity. She is one of the few people I always felt I could go to if I needed help, a place to stay, or money to get me thru a hard time.
It’s hard to imagine a time when Joani won’t be there to answer the phone, or offer the friendly face across the crowd at the cohousing conference. In my 24 years of knowing Joani, she never seemed to age, never seemed to lose her energy, or even slow down. But sooner or later, we must all face our own demise…..and in typical Joani fashion, she is showing us how to do that full on, in style, and on her own terms. I feel blessed to have known her these many years. She has given so much, and inspires us to live life with gusto as she so aptly showed us how to do.

Katie McCamant

And with much appreciate and love from the whole cohousing world,

And hugs and kisses from Chuck and Jessie too

Kathryn McCamant, President


7/24/16 – from Sharon Villines

I’m sorry to hear that you may not be so comfortable in your final months. I appreciate very much that you let us know. It’s very hard to lose a vital person suddenly with no notice. One of the nicest things one of our residents did when she was diagnosed with terminal metastasized cancer was to send all of us an email explaining her condition and how she wanted to be approached about it. Her family was prone to cancer so she was well aware of what she would need.

She told us about all the services she had arranged — cleaning, transportation of palliative treatment, meals, safety monitoring, etc. And what we could do for her. We have a practice of having one community member to communicate needs and convey information so she set that up as well. It was better for all of us to be informed and to know how to say goodbye.

I have wondered whether another story would be appreciated or not. I’ve wanted to share it since I received your email, Joani, and that feeling hasn’t gone away so I’m sending it.

My grandmother had had severals strokes and had been unable to walk or talk for a few years. She had been a very active talker all her life and I have a lot of memories of waking up with her midstream in a long story about what we needed to do that day and who had said what when on the phone already that day. With her lifelong skill of non-stop talking, she figured out how to communicate very well, at least with my Uncle.

She spent her last months planning her funeral with him, making him swear on the bible to carry out her instructions precisely. She made a list that she revised regularly of people who would not be allowed to speak at her memorial service. My Uncle was given many of the reasons: In 1939 this person did this. In 1942 this person ran away with someone’s husband. In 1920, this person never congratulated her on her marriage. The reasons went on and on. She remembered every slight. She was died in 1983 at the age of 83.

She had a list of people who would be invited to speak, and one who would be allowed to sing. The regular organist would be allowed to play the organ because she was a “poor soul” and always had been. She needed something to do even if she wasn’t very good.

People who attended the service would be told to also go to the burial. If they could sit and listen in a clean quiet place, they could pretty well get to the cemetery even if it was raining. The final demand was that the dinner following the burial service would be held in my Uncle’s home, not the church basement. Since funerals were announced in the church bulletin and the newspaper, people who didn’t even know the person being buried had begun attending the dinners.

She said, “If you don’t know them, don’t let them in. I won’t have any freeloaders at my funeral.”

I hope that makes you laugh and gives you some ideas for controlling the next few months.


Sharon Villines, Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

7/22/16 – from Fred Olson

I’ve been thinking about you and pondering this reply [to Joani’s announcement of her terminal illness].
I’m surprised how my command of English cannot seem to come up with
words to respond adequately without resorting to vernacular. So…

That sucks.

Thank you for sharing your sad news with us in this timely fashion.
We are also Unitarians (“UU”s). You’ve noted over the years how UU’s
seem to be particularly attracted to cohousing. We don’t believe in an
afterlife or a god for that matter but I do believe that people do
live on in a sense in the memories of people who knew them or what
they did while they were here. Joani you and your good efforts will
be long remembered.

Tho we live half a continent away and have long shared the interest in
cohousing, I think we actually “met” before cohousing came to the US
(ie before 1988 when ‘the book’ was published). It was actually my
wife, Becca Brackett, who met you (we think in the 1980’s) when she
attended a medical conference in San Francisco. She could choose
where to stay and stayed at the B & B that you had at the time and
advertised in a UU directory. Tho I was not with her, she shared her
impressions of you with me. So a number of years later (1995) when
you joined Cohousing-L and introduced yourself, I recognized you.

Fred and Becca


And I’ll add my admiration for Joani! When Nubanusit Neighborhood & Farm
in NH was struggling as we all do to set up our common meals, Joani was so
generously supportive sharing her knowledge, her tools and most of all her
positive attitude because we were trying to do the right thing. This was
at a Boston based meeting. I hadn’t seen her in action again until
recently at Salt Lake and again she was there with her insight on aging in
community with her proactive, reflective and exciting thinking, reflection
and ideas about how cohousing can do aging better than most. Her humor
always prevails as does her contagious positive attitude And I was shocked
to find out how many years old she is!!!! She is certainly a role model
for me and inspires me to keep working on making cohousing work!

Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate your wonderful life and all that you give
us in presence and in spirit.

Many thanks for you,

Mary Vallier-Kaplan, Nubanusit Neighborhood & Farm


I hate that this is happening to you Joani – freakin sucks.

I’ve only met you once but I’ve talked about you many times. Back in 1999
when I was just figuring out my way as one of the ‘burning souls’ of JP
Cohousing in Boston, someone told me to call you and ask for money. I
needed money, and I wasn’t shy, so I called. My God you gave me $10,000
over the phone just because I asked. That was the first money into the
project, the highest risk money possible, and truthfully – you kind of
changed my life. Sounds dramatic but just imagine! You didn’t even know me
– haha. I was dead broke with two little kids at the time. Since then –
I’m never shy asking for money, in all areas of my life. And -wonderfully-

I now find myself being able to lend money too sometimes. So please send me
the links to your favorite organizations – I will lovingly make a donation
in your name Joani.

Thank you on behalf of Jamaica Plain Cohousing – for your generosity and
you’re willingness to truly give us what we desperately needed at the time;
cold hard cash and a ton of faith and hope.

From Boston with love,

Patti, Jamaica Plain Cohousing

6/25/16 on coho-l

Wow, I’m so grateful you shared this so beautifully with us. Thank you for
being so … you!

And, Yes, I’m so sorry and sad. And also joyous in my heart for your life
and all the gifts you have so generously shared! I’m so glad to have
gotten known you recently.

I will be at your B-day celebration and Life Celebration in Spirit!!!


Mira Brisk

6/25/16 from Alice Alexander

I had just started as Executive Dir of Coho/US, and of course didn’t quite know what I was doing, and reached out to founders and stakeholders, looking for advice. Joani was one of my first calls. Joani’s first question to me: how old are you? When I said 55, worried she might think me too old for this position, she said “perfect.” That one word response gave me such confidence. Thank you, Joani.

Alice Alexander







Category: History

Tags: Stories

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