Joanne Hadlock and MaryEllen Giasi, two loving sisters now in their late 70’s who reside on the Piper Shores retirement campus, never imagined that they would live a life as wondrous as this one – let alone have the opportunity to share it together.
The sisters, along with their husbands, recently sat down with the Piper Shores community to share some of their fondest memories and life stories. The event, called Piper Personalities, is an intimate gathering of residents who come together periodically and revel in each other’s life histories. Every seat in the room was filled!
The comedic and personable Piper Shores resident, Tom Lewis, led the hour-long discussion and before starting, told the group in attendance, “You’re all in for a very interesting afternoon.” Tom then dove into a series of questions while sharing imagery on the big screen to narrate the intertwining story of both couple’s lives and spark conversation about how the four came to be life-long friends.
Connecting Through Scholastic Debate
“For every one nun, we had 103 students,” Robert – MaryEllen’s husband – recalled from his earlier days in an all-boys private school in Brooklyn, the same one Charlie – Joanne’s husband – attended. The crowd gasped in awe at the early classroom photo taken of the 5th grade class in 1953. Both the Hadlocks and the Giasis had strict, catholic school upbringings that set them on a journey of life-long learning.
The ladies recalled having 104 students in their first grade class and that a number of students had to sit on floor cushions because there were not enough chairs. “We still managed to learn a lot of good stuff,” MaryEllen assured, even remembering the day the New York Dodgers played the Brooklyn Yankees in the World Series, a time when the nuns ever-so-graciously paused the lesson so the students had a chance to tune into the game via radio.
As the kids reached high school, life revolved almost entirely around scholastic debate. It’s how they learned about the inner workings of society, culture, and the world around them, very much valuing the challenge it presented. The working-class girls were driven to succeed, eventually earning themselves the title of National Speech and Debate champions. “It was an excellent, broadening experience,” MaryEllen recalled.
Scholastic debate took place every Saturday all over the New York City area, allowing the girls to travel and meet other students – including their husbands. “I didn’t know any girls,” Charlie shared, having only attended all-boys institutions his whole life, “so the first woman I met, I had to marry her!” Charlie exclaimed, earning a laugh from the audience.
After the debate, Charlie and Joanna went on a date – a boat ride through Pittsburgh – and started corresponding. Three dates later, they decided to get married. MaryEllen and Robert had a similar story. They met through scholastic debate, and the rest was history. MaryEllen and Robert married in 1966, and Joanne and Charlie in 1967. Joanne was even required to wear MaryEllen’s wedding dress, “and she’s never forgiven me,” MaryEllen added.
The Accomplished Lifelong Learners
The slideshow continued, showcasing the early beginnings of each couple’s families. Both Joanne and MaryEllen had two children each – an eldest son, and a younger daughter. “Those were the humble beginnings,” Joanne recalled. While Robert and Charlie got their degrees, Joanne and MaryEllen stayed home with the kids. Once the men were established in their careers, the two sisters continued their learning. From undergrad, to graduate school, to masters programs, all four eventually earned PhDs.
“We didn’t have a lot of the luxuries that our kids or grandkids had/have now, but we knew we were smart and achievement oriented – and that was the only thing we knew how to achieve, was our education,” Joanne explained. “There were no diversions, and I think that’s why we channeled everything into our academic work.”
Charlie went off to become quite the accomplished academic, working and teaching at both Bentley and Tufts University. He even got into book writing, and had a lot of fun in the academic and applied mathematics world. He released two books, Mathematical Modeling in The Environment, and Six Course of Collapse. Joanne followed in his footsteps, sharing the art of frugality by releasing her own book, Yard Sale Savvy, The Ultimate Guide to Bargains, Treasures, & Fun.
Having come from very frugal roots, the sisters knew how to make a dollar last, or in the words of their mother, “could stretch a dollar so that it looked like a horse blanket.” Joanne and MaryEllen’s grandparents were immigrants, arriving in the U.S. in the early 1900’s to build a better life for themselves and their children. After amassing a decent amount of wealth, they unfortunately lost it all in the Great Depression. Their mother had to quit high school as a sophomore to help the family financially. And from there, the thoughtful art of frugality was born, “and we’re still doing it!” Joanne boasted, “it was a really rich thing that she gave to us.”
Robert went to medical school at the State University of New York in Brooklyn, the same school MaryEllen attended, and eventually went into the U.S. Navy, where he served as the North Search & Rescue Medical Officer for the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. After the Navy, he was on the faculty at UMass Memorial Medical Center where he formed a children’s heart fund, dedicated to helping children overseas with severe cardiac problems. He traveled to Haiti, South Africa, and Ecuador, and was part of the first group to perform open heart surgery in Haiti, operating entirely off a generator since they didn’t have access to electricity. In some cases, the group of doctors had to donate their own blood on the spot given the lack of local resources.
In between Robert’s travels, MaryEllen was mostly at home and doing some marriage counseling work. “I had to do something to get out of the house,” she said, “so I took my undergraduate degree in mathematics and physics and pursued a graduate degree from WPI in computer science, and became a software engineer, which I did for 20 years.”
Every summer, both couples would convene at a shared property on Silver Lake, Michigan, where they would enjoy each other’s company, work on the property, and bicker alongside each other in the kitchen. They would each bring their two kids, and eventually their kids’ kids. That summer house holds many memories, and is still a very important place for the family to this day. A memorable photo of both sisters and their husbands sporting the same matching striped button ups – all of which they got on sale – illustrated their unique story to life for the group.
“We never planned to live our lives together,” Robert explained. When one couple was in Illinois, the other followed – though it was entirely work related. When one couple moved to Boston, the other was sure to follow. And eventually, they all ended up back where they started. “Our kids all grew up together; we vacationed together; we got sick of each other. It all just happened, we never planned any of it, but it worked out great.” Robert concluded.
Where Are They Now?
Today, the two couples currently reside together at Piper Shores, where they’ve settled down to enjoy the simpler things in life. They continue to enjoy each other’s company and relish in all that Maine – and Piper Shores – has to offer. From long walks along the water, to dinners filled with laughter at the Ocean-side campus, there’s nothing these four won’t do together.
So, what are they up to now? Joanne still seeks out yard sales and consignment shops, passing on the art of frugality to her grandkids, and MaryEllen looks for any chance to venture out to the mountains to ski. At 79, she has nothing to hold back! She went to Sugarloaf this past winter and loved every minute of it, she says “it’s a gift to still be able to do the activities I love, and I’m very careful!”
Both couples have been at the lifecare retirement community since February of 2021, and have loved every moment since.