Two Tragedies Tie Rockland and Bergen Together

BY EVAN WECHMAN

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The tragic loss of a child would have devastated many parents and left them in permanent misery. However, Hillsdale, N.J. resident Rosemarie D’Alessandro is a fighter who wants to spread the positive message of her organization. The Joan Angela D’Allessandro Memorial Foundation, also known as Joan’s Joy, is “really going with a positive message that people need to stand up for the child,” said the founder.

It’s been over 40 years since she has seen her late child, Joan, but as she details, the “spirit of Joan” causes her to fight on. Joan D’Alessandro was only 7 years old on April 19, 1973 when Tappan Zee High School chemistry teacher, Joseph McGowan, sexually molested and murdered the helpless child. Joan was delivering Girl Scout cookies on her seemingly safe neighborhood street when she encountered McGowan. He lived only three doors down when the heinous act was committed and the body was found three days later on Easter Sunday at Harriman State Park.

Rosemarie D’Alessandro will be the first to admit that she misses her daughter, but she is not depressed. She states that thinking about her lovely daughter “doesn’t hurt me because she has a lot of positive energy and her message is doing a lot of good in the world.” D’Alessandro’s mission now is to end the cycle of abuse in families and reach out to the children who are suffering in silence. She has implemented several educational programs throughout Bergen County to help identify children who might be facing abuse in their life.

“You have to spot it,” and report the abusers, say’s D’Alessandro. “If a child is very withdrawn and doesn’t seem well taken care of, that’s a red flag.” She also adds that it is vital to stand up for the child “even if people don’t like you.”

She gets her inspiration from her late daughter, Joan who she describes as a beautiful and lovely girl, and like her mother “would stand up for herself and others.”

“Joanie,” whom her mom sometimes affectionately still refers to her, was a strong leader in the classroom, in the dance studio, and even on the school playgrounds during recess when some children were not included in various activities. Rosemarie proudly retold the time a former classmate attended one of her events and confided in her that Joan would display immense courage to other children at school by including all the children in the activities.

D’Alessandro now wants to spread the message of hope and safety to the schools in Rockland County as well. Though her daughter’s perpetrator was an employed teacher in the county, she bears no ill-will towards its citizens. Rather, she states that county residents have always been active philanthropists for her and wants to return the favor by helping schools identify abused students through her programs.

At the Joan’s Joy events, such as the one last Sunday night at Montvale Lanes, in which approximately 55 bowlers raised money for under-privileged kids, D’Alessandro is now circulating a petition on behalf of the late Pearl River honor student, Paula Bohevsky. Paula was a 16-year-old student who was murdered on Oct. 28, 1980, just blocks from her home. She was on her way back to her house from her after-school job at the Pearl River Library when she was beaten and stabbed to death by Richard LaBarbera and Robert McCain. Though the two were found guilty and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, because of holes in N.Y. State laws, they have both been eligible for parole since 2005. Since that year, each of them has come up for parole approximately every two years and are scheduled to come before the parole board again later this year.

The petition, which D’Alessandro active supports, calls for the two perpetrators to not ever be released from prison as they are not safe and can’t be “trusted” around children. The Hillsdale resident, a religious woman, who believes she is doing God’s work under the guidance of her late daughter, does not want to see any other parents face such tragedies that have touched her family.