Growing up as the only girl among seven brothers, Joann Liggins had a tomboy streak in her blood, but her character is anything but brash.
In fact, Care Coordinator Elizabeth Batista says that Liggins has frequently offered to help fellow residents, in her warm and gentle way, and “is also a voice for others who won’t speak up.”
“At times, she is told off, and she still responds with kindness, a few words but to the point,” added Batista, who formerly worked at the senior complex at 132 William St. in Orange and is now based at Manor Senior in Newark.
And Liggins does it all without drawing attention to herself, according to Batista.
“I’m always helping people,” Liggins, who turned 75 on April 16, said with a small shrug and a smile.
When the commodity boxes arrive each month from the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Liggins will hand deliver boxes to her neighbors who are unable to make it downstairs for one reason or another. She also assists Tenant Association President Mabel Ankum with the distribution of donated bread each Wednesday.
“We need residents like that who are on the lookout for others,” said Sister Pauline Echebiri, care coordinator at Orange Senior.
Born in 1940 in Knightdale, N.C., Liggins grew up on a farm and recalled a childhood mixed with blissful horse rides and games of jumping off the barn roof with her brothers as well as picking cotton and tobacco for 50 cents an hour.
Liggins still prefers a quieter life, rather than the bustle of a big city, as she reflected on her North Carolina upbringing as the fourth eldest child of eight. “If I had to do it, I’d do it again,” she said. “ It was a good life—I enjoyed it.”
A month before completing high school, Liggins got married and moved to New Jersey at age 18 with her then husband, Herbert Vick. The couple had three children and later when they divorced, Liggins took a job pressing shirts at a cleaners in order to provide for her kids.
When Liggins moved to Orange Senior in 2003 when the complex first opened its doors, she didn’t have to move far. Her home was across the street.
She soon made Orange Senior her home, establishing a morning ritual of making rounds in the lobby, greeting the early risers and keeping a pulse on the needs of residents. For the last eight years, she’s served as floor captain of the second floor, knocking on doors and generally ensuring her immediate neighbors’ welfare.
Liggins is also an usher at St. Luke Church in East Orange, which she has attended since the 1970s.