The family of late Damariscotta resident Jo-Ann Jacobs remembers her as a smart, determined woman who became an advocate for small business and downtown Damariscotta.
Jacobs died Feb. 24. She was 80.
Jo-Ann Waltz was born March 12, 1932 in Damariscotta, the only child of Perley Waltz and Geraldine Barstow Waltz.
She spent her early childhood in Waldoboro, where her father worked at Clark’s Pharmacy on Friendship Street, which would eventually become a Waltz Pharmacy.
Perley Waltz moved the family to Damariscotta and opened Waltz Pharmacy in 1948. A shy, 16-year-old Jo-Ann was his first employee, reporting to the pharmacy every day after school to man the soda fountain.
Son Dean Jacobs said people who know his mother might find it hard to believe she was a shy girl, because, as an adult, “she was more than willing to speak up and speak out,” he said.
Her academics did not suffer as a result of her busy schedule. She graduated from Lincoln Academy in 1950 as the salutatorian, or second-ranked student, in her class.
She married her high school sweetheart, Winton “Winty” Jacobs, the summer after graduation.
Jo-Ann Jacobs would go on to play many roles at Waltz Pharmacy, from soda jerk and telegraph operator to bookkeeper and manager.
Daughter Christie and Dean Jacobs’ childhood memories are often intertwined with the pharmacy. Christie remembers walking from the family’s Water Street home to the soda fountain, where her mother would fix her an ice cream. Dean remembers being pressed into service.
“My mother would handwrite the statements for the business and my sister and I would have to fold them and stuff them into envelopes,” he said.
Jo-Ann did everything except dispense medication, and not for lack of trying.
“She wanted to be a pharmacist,” Christie Jacobs, said.
Lincoln Academy in the late 1940s required students to choose a “business” or “general” course of education. Jo-Ann wanted to take the business track, but her father would not allow it, Christie Jacobs said.
As an adult, Jo-Ann would sometimes talk about how she wished she had persisted and attended college, although she never did because she had the business to run.
Years later, when Jo-Ann was in her fifties, she and Christie took a psychology class together through the University of Maine.
“She really enjoyed that,” Christie Jacobs said. “She was happy to know she could take a class in college and get an A.”
“I think that’s probably why she always encouraged us to pursue whatever education we wanted,” Christie Jacobs said.
Dean Jacobs is the president of the family company, while Christie, an attorney by training, is the director of the Internal Revenue Service Office of Indian Tribal Governments.
Jo-Ann Jacobs became a fixture in downtown Damariscotta during her many years there. She and Winty Jacobs would arrive every morning at 7 a.m. and Jo-Ann would follow a morning routine – a cup of coffee at the soda fountain and trips to the bank and post office.
“She was a presence every day on that street,” Dean Jacobs said, and she was proud to be a Damariscotta business owner.
She could also be seen shopping, walking her “spoiled” golden retriever, Beau, or crossing the street for a cappuccino with friends at the Maine Coast Book Shop.
Jo-Ann Jacobs worked at the business full time until illness forced her to retire in late 2011 at the age of 79. At the time, she was still very active, participating in aerobics classes at the YMCA and walking two miles every day with Beau.
The company closed the pharmacy after Winty and Jo-Ann retired. The pharmacy area became retail space for next-door neighbor Renys, but the soda fountain remains.
“It was very important to her that the soda fountain always get preserved,” Christie Jacobs said. Jo-Ann thought of the soda fountain as a place for people to gather and share information.
Her last trip outside her home was to the soda fountain to talk about plans to renovate the space. “As sick as she was, she still wanted to go there and talk about that fountain,” Christie Jacobs said.
She was also active in the community as a longtime member of Damariscotta Baptist Church and a two-term member of the Skidompha Public Library Board of Directors.
Dean Jacobs feels like the passing of his parents – Winty Jacobs died in November – represents the end of an era on Main Street.
“I think you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find anyone left of that generation that had a significant impact on downtown businesses and the downtown community,” he said.
The Twin Villages Alliance, a Damariscotta-Newcastle community development organization, mourned the loss in a message to its members the day after Jacobs’ death.
“This community would not be what it is today without Jo-Ann’s life-long commitment, efforts and love of Damariscotta,” Mary Kate Reny said in the statement. “She has always been an incredible partner in business and the myriad of other things she participated in around here.”