Joan and Joe Gros are living large in New Orleans. They may not be unpacked yet, but they have made the big move to "Fat City" after living in Mount Vernon for more than 25 years. They'll be closer to Joan's sisters who live there, and will travel to keep up with their four children and 11 grandchildren, who reside in Atlanta, Maryland and Virginia.
Prior to their move, Joan and Joe spent the last few weeks saying good-byes to friends, family, members of the Mount Vernon/Lee Chamber of Commerce, members of Good Shepherd Catholic Church, members of the Collingwood Garden Club and Old Town Women's Club, Navy acquaintances and co-workers at Long & Foster Realtors.
Last Thursday, the Mount Vernon/Lee Chamber of Commerce's Business Networking Mixer, hosted by Sunrise Assisted Living at Lorton Station, was a special "Mardi Gras" farewell for the Gros, who served as both president and chair of the chamber.
Dan Rinzel said, "Joan's done a great job as president. It was a wonderful 50th anniversary celebration and it was the most successful golf tournament ever. We are moving towards Joan's goal of 500 members."
Rinzel then presented Joan with the Ann Hand's "Commander-in-Chief" pin from Mount Vernon on behalf of the chamber.
Gros thanked the chamber and said that "it was a wonderful experience being involved with the chamber. It does a great deal of work and the 50th anniversary celebration was great. You are so blessed with Holly [Dougherty], take care of her."
And then, reflecting on all the change that's been going on in the Route 1 corridor, she said, "When we come back, we hope we can ride down Route 1."
KAHAN DHILLON, JR., who is currently serving as treasurer of the chamber, presented Joan with a gift of his own — a fish sculpture. He later reflected on his relationship with Joan, saying, "From my first day on the board of the chamber to her last, our working relationship only continued to blossom. Since joining the chamber my memories of Joan yield that of an individual who vested her time and effort in the pursuit of furthering the chamber's advancement, goals and initiatives. Joan's mission statement and goal as the chairman of the chamber in this our 50th year in existence was for chamber to focus on "service" with regard to both our members and community.
"As a chamber this year we have experienced tremendous growth and progression from all cylinders, it is due to the commitment and dedication of each and every member of the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber in our pursuit of goals such as those set out by the departing chairman."
Barbara Sullivan, Director of Business Development, Retirement Unlimited, Inc., served on the chamber board with Gros. She said, "She [Joan] has definitely been a powerhouse for the chamber. She is the one who got me involved. Joan contributed not only to the growth of the chamber with membership, but has been an instrumental chairperson in legislative information to our members, interactive with the fast growing Route 1 corridor and its potential, and a successful leader. She will be missed."
Holly Dougherty, executive director of the chamber, said that Joan had served as a member of the Board of Directors, the Secretary, Vice President, President and Chairman.
"Joan has focused the chamber on serving the business community. She has emphasized the importance of local businesses doing business with each other and in this way strengthening our local economy," Dougherty said.
JOAN GAVE THE same dedication to the Collingwood Garden Club that she gave to the chamber. Fellow garden club member and friend, Chris Cannon, said, "She was always very active in the garden club, not to mention all the other things she did. She's one of those people who can always think of the right thing to say. She has great ideas and always knows what's going on."
Religion was important to both Joan and Joe and at a picnic held last Sunday, members of Good Shepherd Catholic Church presented the Gros with a plaque that read, "There will always be a chair for you at Good Shepherd."
"Working with Joe and Joan Gros was just absolute joy," said Elizabeth Schwenk, a long-time church member who worked actively with the Gros on the International Festival and other church events. She and her husband, Bob Schwenk, were also good friends with the couple.
"Their extension, not only into the Good Shepherd community, but overall into the Mount Vernon community as well, was priceless. We are going to miss them unbelievably. You don't cross paths too often with people like the Gros. They are fantastic people who enjoy a wonderful relationship," Schwenk said.
And while she is sad to see them go, she is glad to see that Joan and Joe's daughter and husband, Leslie and Craig Maniglia, will take over the running of the raffle for the International Festival. This is a huge job, which brings in more than $40,000 for the church annually.
"It's like putting a young Joe and Joan in charge," Schwenk said.
Leslie will miss having her parents nearby, and said, "I think the community is losing a tremendous volunteer."
It sounds like they won't be too far away; Leslie said that her parents are already planning to return at the end of July to help stuff envelopes for Good Shepherd's raffle.