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Hospice patient gets red-carpet treatment at private screening

By Mary Beth
Breckenridge 
Beacon Journal 

Jackson Twp.: Joan Tovissi has spent a lifetime admiring the performers on the movie screen.

Monday, she got to be the star.

Tovissi, who will turn 86 on Saturday, was the guest of honor at a private screening of Singin’ in the Rain at Cinemark Movies 10thanks to Crossroads Hospice’s Gift of a Day program. It’s a little like Make-a-Wish, but for patients of the hospice service.

Cinemark employees and hospice workers literally rolled out the red carpet for Tovissi, who was joined by a cadre of family members and friends. The hosts served popcorn along with Coke and Sno-Caps, Tovissi’s favorites. They provided a birthday cake, and Cinemark employee Colleen Geabler crafted decorations to fit the movie’s theme. Singer Jason Copen donned a yellow slicker and serenaded the guest of honor with the movie’s theme song as she was wheeled into the theater.

Lorayne Scheetz, a registered nurse who until recently was Tovissi’s case manager, leaned in close to her friend as the group waited for the movie to begin.

“Were you surprised, or what?” Scheetz asked.

“Or what,” Tovissi replied brightly.

Tovissi has dementia and lives at Allay Senior Care in Canton, so she can’t get out much anymore. But movies and particularly musicals were always a favorite pastime, said her son, the Rev. Craig Tovissi.

So when a hospice representative asked how she’d like to celebrate her Gift of a Day, she replied that she’d like to go to a show — or ride in a hot air balloon.

“I told the lady at hospice, you can take her on a hot air balloon, but I’m not going,” Craig Tovissi said.

So a show it was.

Tovissi looked pleased and a little puzzled as a dozen or so relatives, a couple of friends from her card club and a handful of hospice employees greeted her with applause as her wheelchair was rolled up a red carpet into the Cinemark lobby.

Little Josie Dibell waited eagerly at the door, a green gift bag hidden behind her back. “I have a surprise for you,” she announced as her great-grandmother approached.

Josie stayed close to Tovissi as the crowd clustered around. The two exchanged quiet words, and at one point Tovissi reached out to gently tuck a strand of blond hair behind the child’s ear.

The affection among the family members was apparent. Granddaughter Cara Tovissi passed up a comfortable theater seat to settle herself on a step next to her grandmother’s wheelchair, where the two shared a bag of popcorn.

Craig Tovissi said creating a strong family life was a priority for his mother, who didn’t have that growing up. The child of alcoholics, her parents divorced when she was young, and her mother married a man who also drank.

“She made choices that she wasn’t going to live that lifestyle,” Craig Tovissi said.

Joan Tovissi and her late husband, Joe, lived in Magnolia, where they raised three boys — Craig, Scott and Mark, who died in a crane accident three years ago at the Timken Co.’s Faircrest Steel Plant. She didn’t get her driver’s license until she was in her 40s, because she was intimidated by the parallel parking that was required at the time, Craig Tovissi said.

“She was a great mom,” he said. “We had everything we needed but not everything we wanted.”

Monday, it was his mother’s turn to get something she wanted.

Everyone in the theater needed that.