After 27 years, a loyal volunteer steps down

by Len Lear
Posted 1/26/23

Joanne Dhody, a third-generation resident of Chestnut Hill and a beloved volunteer who never met a worthy cause she would not help, is stepping down as a library volunteer after 27 years.

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After 27 years, a loyal volunteer steps down


Joanne Dhody, a third-generation resident of Chestnut Hill (“My grandmom came here in the 1920s”) and a beloved volunteer who never met a worthy cause she would not help, is stepping down after 27 years as a volunteer with Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library.

According to Laura Lucas, former president of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, her service as a board member has been invaluable. 

"I have enjoyed her quick wit, her creativity as a graphic designer and love of this community,” Lucas said. “That's been reflected in Joanne's years of service on the board and as its president, as well as in her willingness to help at fundraising and member events, book sales of the past at the library and our current big truck book sales at Hilltop Books. Joanne is passionate about books and the joy of reading. Her 27 years of volunteerism to support the library and Friends group is to be commended." 

Dhody was born  in Chestnut Hill Hospital while her family was living on Willow Grove Avenue. She attended Jenks Elementary School, the now-defunct Ravenhill Academy in Germantown and then Moore College of Art in Center City, where she earned a Senatorial scholarship to attend what was then a women’s college. “I was socially backward,” she said. 

Dhody graduated from Moore in 1964 and was on its alumni board for many years. “There were nine of us in the advertising design department,” she said, “and only two of us went to work in that field. It was hard to get a job, and there was also discrimination against women, which made it even harder.”

After graduating from art school, Dhody worked for a series of ad agencies over several years, doing graphic and design work. Her most memorable task, she said, was creating a catalog for a company that made toilet seats. 

“One of their products was a Donald Duck toilet seat,” she said. The ad agency owner had a wicked sense of humor.”

In the 1970s, Dhody opened her own studio, Design Unlimited, creating graphic products for numerous nonprofit clients, including the Please Touch Museum, the University of Pennsylvania Nursing School, and Hahnemann Hospital and Medical School. As computers became more sophisticated, however, Dhody lost clients who could now create their own graphic products.

Undaunted, Dhody began developing her own line of products – greeting cards, notepads, T-shirts – for clients such as the Mutter Museum gift shop, Moore College of Art alumnae gift shop and Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Dhody has a long family lineage in Chestnut Hill. Her maternal grandfather, Frederich Immanuel Swope, lived in the Crefeld House, which is now the Crefeld School. The owner of a factory in Germantown, he developed a tracer bullet, which is a kind of ammunition that burns brightly when fired, which was used in World War I. But Swope lost everything in the Great Depression. 

Her mother, Josephine Swope Santaria, went to Springside School and was the Atlantic Coast clay courts champion tennis player as a teenager. Dhody's aunt, Maquita, who lived to be 101, ran the Hilltop Shop with her sister, Elena, who never married.

She has an ancestry that includes people from Haiti to Wilmington, Del., as well as Cuba, where they ran a sugar plantation.

In 1972, Dhody married Dinesh Dhody, an immigrant from India who worked at the University of Pennsylvania, overseeing their real estate holdings. He died in 1999. Joanne's father, Ernesto Santamaria, lived to be 98. 

In addition to art, Dhody has always loved taking care of children. “I made money babysitting until I could make some money from my art,” she said. “I was not cut out for numbers or waitressing.”

Dhody started volunteering at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in 2005 and still does, once a week, where she reads to sick children. For years, she took her pet therapy Jack Russell Terrier, Stella, along with her. 

“When Stella died,” she said, “they gave me a book, 'Doggie Heaven,' that was signed by 75 people – doctors, nurses, patients, etc., with many long comments. That was wonderful.”

In addition to her volunteer work at the hospital and the Chestnut Hill Library, Dhody served on the CHCA board for four years, and served as the head of the aesthetics committee. 

“The library always needs money,” she said. ”It is a constant struggle, but they don't need me anymore. They have a great board now.”

Dhody has a daughter, Allia, who went to Springside and Germantown Academy, and is now a gemologist in Wyndmoor, and another daughter, Anna, who went to Springside, lives in Oreland and is now co-director of the Mutter Museum.