Joan Cooper, a Legacy of Kindness


On January 7, 2017, Zanesville, Ohio lost a community member whose legacy softly spans the nation. She was a beacon of light to those who knew her. Yet, she preferred to humbly remain a hidden figure to many of whom were silently impacted by her life’s work.

Joan Patrice Cooper left a legacy of collective kindnesses in Zanesville, Ohio

Joan Patrice Cooper left a legacy of collective kindnesses in Zanesville, Ohio

Joan Patrice Cooper (Kirkbride), retired from Genesis, passed recently at age 83. She was the daughter of the late Ruth Sites and Gilbert Kirkbride. She was one of 5 children. Born in an era when financial challenges swept the country, she ate lightly, wore only hand-me-downs and handmade clothing until she was old enough to go to work.

Her life was a journey that started with nothing and turned into something. It was a struggle that instilled a strong work ethic and an accurate moral compass. In later years, she came to live by the mantra Do what you can, when you can.

Her life’s work was a collection of kindnesses that range from large to small in size. At home, Joan cared for her mother, a bed patient, for 13 years. In the community, Joan raised money for a variety of altruistic organizations including the American Cancer Society. She regularly volunteered as a “reading teacher” in Mrs. Welch’s first grade classroom at the former McKinley Elementary School. Once, a senior citizen, she joined a country line-dancing group, for seniors that toured the region to perform at events, senior centers and even the Ohio State Fair.

(Left to right) Homer, Gloria, Joan, Gilbert and Kenneth Kirkbride. Photo taken in outside the home in 1933.

(Left to right) Homer, Gloria, Joan, Gilbert and Kenneth Kirkbride. Photo taken in outside the home in 1933.

Over the years, Joan continued to find new ways to regularly give back to the community. She even got her husband into giving by convincing him to increase production in their home garden so they could make annual produce donations to Salvation Army and Christ’s Table. Additionally, she would give their homegrown tomato plants to those who couldn’t afford the already discounted price. She also made countless wreathes to place on the graves of loved ones and friends of the family – every holiday.

At a young age, Joan became a mother of three. Her family had the Family Market Grocery Store and a Doughnut shop downtown. Her children Dr. Ruth Orr (Shook), Cynthia Lloyd (Gristak), Richard Gristak, all graduated from Zanesville High School. They each went on to graduate from college and continue their education with additional degrees.

Joan’s daughter, Cynthia Lloyd recalls “She taught me love and compassion can be given to others in countless ways.” And, how “She was always there to brighten everyday.”

Joan’s daughter, Dr. Ruth Orr says “My mom was a strong woman. She overcame many obstacles in her life. She taught me to be strong and independent.”

Joan was known by all who knew her to have played a significant role in raising her eldest grandchild, Amber Adler (Gristak). Amber openly notes how Joan gave her the strength and courage to pursue her dreams. With Joan’s support, in 2016, Amber was considered by NYC District Leaders to run for the Congressional seat in NY’s District 11.

Amber Adler says, “My grandmother was my best friend. She believed in me. She would tell me how capable I am. She would say “all you have to do is put your mind to it,” and so I did and I will continue to, in her memory.”