Whenever Alan Margolius visited his sister, Joan Margolius Cherner, in the days before she died in June from lung cancer at the age of 74, she told him, “You need to take care of your hip.”
That just who she was, said Alan Margolius, who did get his hip replaced. Margolius and others who knew his sister agreed that she put other people first. To keep that spirit of giving alive, her family started the Joan Margolius Cherner Mother’s Day Fund at Jewish Women International in August.
“She was really an incredible person, even though she and I frequently argued as brother and sister do,” Alan Margolius said. “But she was so giving of herself. That’s what she did.”
The fund will go toward JWI’s flower project, which sends flowers and gift baskets on Mother’s Day to mothers in 200 domestic violence shelters across the country.
“I think the generosity of the Margolius family and friends will allow us to do so much more,” said JWI CEO Lori Weinstein. “We’re thrilled to be leading Joan’s fund. Clearly, Joanie Cherner was the light and life of her family and friends. So, I feel her spirit is beautifully suited to this project.”
With the fund, Weinstein added, JWI can add a card and gift program, where children can make small projects and cards to give their mothers. It will also help provide financial literacy materials for the women who need help getting back on their feet.
The organization gets letters every year from women saying they are grateful that someone was thinking of them on Mother’s Day, Weinstein said, adding that for abused women, flowers often come as an apology for violence, not simply as a sign of affection.
It was Cherner’s niece, Jennifer Margolius Fisher, who came up with the idea to fund the flower project. Cherner relished her role as mother and grandmother and loved Mother’s Day, said family members.
After Fisher’s mother died in 2014, Cherner took on the roles of her niece’s confidante, her rock and grandmother to her two young kids, Fisher said.
“[After her death], all I could think was, ‘I lost my mom again,’” Fisher said.
For Fisher, the fund was a way of grieving the loss of her aunt while ensuring Cherner’s giving legacy would live on.
“She is someone who felt very deeply and she did everything wholeheartedly,” Fisher said. “Anything she did, she did with her whole heart, from loving her kids and grandkids to playing cards.”
By all accounts, Cherner, a Washington native, was kind, generous with her time and “the glue keeping the family together,” as her brother, Philip Margolius, put it.
She hosted every holiday, he said, and was instrumental in getting their father to talk to his brother after a four-decades-long estrangement. Following that initial contact, the brothers became best friends and talked every day until they died.
“She had 100 best friends because everyone thought they were her best friend,” Philip Margolius said. “Because that’s how she treated everyone.”
For more information, go to jwi.org/joanie-fund.