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Full obituary now published

Joan Caggiano, Nicola Pizza co-founder, dies at 75

Popular matriarch touched many hearts
Nicola Pizza founder Joan Caggiano died May 12 at the age of 74 after a five-year battle with kidney and liver disease. Caggiano, the matriarch behind one of Rehoboth Beach’s most iconic businesses, could usually be found greeting and chatting with customers. FILE PHOTO
May 14, 2017

Joan Caggiano, a co-founder and the heart of Nicola Pizza in Rehoboth Beach, died May 12 of kidney and liver disease. She was 75 years old.

Caggiano’s son, Nick Caggiano Jr., said she passed away peacefully under hospice care at 2 a.m. He said she had been ill for the past five years but her condition worsened over the last week.

“She was the best,” Nick Jr. said of his mother. “She was a special mother and a special person. She touched a lot of hearts in our area.”

Nick Jr. said at least 300 people visited her in hospice care.

“She’s an angel. She’ll look after all of us,” Nick Jr. said.

Joan and husband Nick Caggiano Sr. founded Nicola Pizza on First Street in 1971. The restaurant quickly became popular thanks to its signature dish, the Nic-o-Boli. In 2010, Nicola opened a second restaurant on Rehoboth Avenue.

Joan was an active and welcoming presence at the restaurant, greeting and chatting with customers. Carol Everhart, CEO and president of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, said, “It’s a huge loss for our community. She was this community’s mom. She always sat down and she always gave you a good thought.”

Mayor Sam Cooper said he recalls going to Tuesday night pasta nights with his wife, Diane, where Joan would be holding court. “She knew everybody there,” he said.

Joan and Nicola participated in innumerable fundraisers and charity events, raising money for Special Olympics and Rylie’s Smile, which raises money for children with life-threatening illnesses among many others. The Caggianos were also early supporters of the Rehoboth Beach Museum and its construction, said the museum’s executive director Nancy Alexander. She said the Caggianos were supporters of the annual Beach Ball, which raises money for the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society.

“Joan was the best. Always smiling, always asking about the museum,” Alexander said. “A lovely, lovely person.”

Bill Klemkowski, owner of Jake’s Seafood at 29 Baltimore Ave., across the street from Nicola’s said Joan had been a supporter since he opened in 1988. He said she would even come over once in a while to order crab cakes to go. Klemkowski said the Caggianos did a great deal to support the community but generally chose to stay under the radar.

“Joan and Nick couldn’t have been more gracious,” Klemkowski said. “We’ve lost a legend in the community. Joan was always a great friend to Jake’s and to me and my family.”

Nick Jr. noted that recent times have seen the deaths of a number of popular Rehoboth figures – Cheryl Blackman, Jay Stein and now, his mother - have passed on.

“We’ve lost a lot of icons,” Nick Jr. said.

Former Rehoboth Beach Main Street executive director Fay Jacobs said Joan was a major supporter of the organization, and typically donated the food for the organization’s Community Unity dinners. She said Joan could usually be found chatting everyone up. One year, Jacobs remembered, the Caggianos were being honored for their community service, and their meal was to be complimentary.

“She had a fight with us because she wouldn’t go in for free,” Jacobs said. “She wanted to pay her $8.”

“What a lovely woman. It’s feels like we’ve lost Rehoboth’s mom,” she said.

Joan Caggiano, queen of First Street, bids a sweet farewell

Joan Gleason Caggiano, one of the most well-known and well-loved restaurateurs in Rehoboth Beach, died peacefully, surrounded by close family at her home Friday, May 12,  2017, of complications from diabetes.

"Mama Nicola" as she came to be known by many, was a Rehoboth icon for her 45 years presiding over the main dining room of Nicola Pizza on First Street. Joan loved people and had the extraordinarily innate ability to remember faces and names together. This superb combination could have won her fame and fortune had she chosen to carve out a career on Capitol Hill, but in Rehoboth it made her beloved by generations of loyal Nicola customers both from the beach area as well as summer visitors from Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.

Joan knew and remembered everyone. The remarkable thing was her ability to remember the names of little kids summer after summer, even as the kids changed and grew up and brought their own kids in to see "Mama Joan." She especially loved holding court and holding babies!

Known for her exceptional community spirit and service as well as her twinkling blue eyes and warm smile, Joan treated everyone alike - from Vice President Joe Biden to Joe the plumber. Joan was the face of Nicola's and for generations of locals and visitors Joan made Nicola's feel it was as if it were our own "Cheers." A look at the variety of photographs of notables and non on the walls of Nicola's covering 45 years gives an insight into the range of Joan's breadth and depth.

So popular was "Mama Nicola" that there was even a "Joan doll" created in her likeness featuring her signature short blonde hair and then-uniform red striped shirt. Ask around town and you can find many folks still have a Joan doll proudly displayed on a bookcase or tucked among family treasures.

Born in Philadelphia, Pa., March 24, 1942, Joan was an identical "mirror twin" with her sister Janet, a twinness that would delight and confound family, friends and even medical staff all their lives. The family moved to Penns Grove, N.J., when the twins were 10. Joan graduated from Penns Grove High School in 1960. In 1964 she married Nick Caggiano, a union that would produce two children, the familiar Joan and Nick logo and multitudes of happy customers thanks to their world-famous Nic-o-boli.

Prior to starting Nicola's Pizza June 11, 1971, Joan worked at Farmer's Bank and in a local restaurant. But it was at Nicola's where she reigned as Rehoboth's Perle Mesta, taking on the qualities of that legendary hostess by treating all her customers as special guests, welcoming customers as if into her own home. Indeed, Joan was the hostess with the mostess

Joan loved Rehoboth Beach as much as the town loved her. Her community spirit and support were legendary, a major part of her legacy. She gave of her time, talent and treasure whenever and wherever needed. Special Olympics of Delaware, where she was a volunteer and strong contributor, was most near and dear to her heart. She was founder of the Rehoboth Beach Co-op Nursery School, chairperson of the Rehoboth Beach Easter Parade for over 20 years and prior to moving to Rehoboth Beach was a Girl Scout troop leader.

She was a contributor to Rehoboth Art League, to the Village Improvement Association, the Children's Beach House, Beebe Hospital and many others. Additionally, Joan was a member of Saint Edmond Catholic Church, the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority and was Queen Mother of the Rehoboth Beach Broads Chapter of the Red Hat Society, an elected position she enjoyed until close to the time of her death. Over her many years, Joan won numerous awards for her notable charitable work.

Joan was predeceased by her parents, John and Emma Howard Gleason; and a brother-in-law William Munyan.

She is survived by her husband of 53 years Nicholas Caggiano; her son Nicholas Caggiano Jr. and his wife Andrea and their two children Vincent and Julia Caggiano, all of Ocean View; her daughter Camille Caggiano of Rehoboth Beach; her twin sister Janet Munyan of Rehoboth Beach, a niece Kelly Munyan of Lewes; as well as many devoted friends as the ocean has waves. "Joan Caggiano leaves behind a big hole in the heart of Rehoboth Beach."

Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Thursday, May 18, at 11 a.m., at St. Edmond Catholic Church, 409 King Charles Avenue , Rehoboth Beach, where a viewing will begin at 9:30 a.m.

A Viewing will also be held Wednesday, May 17, from 6 until 9 p.m., at the Parsell Funeral Homes & Crematorium, Atkins-Lodge Chapel, Chapel, 16961 Kings Highway, Lewes.

Burial will follow the services at the All Saints’ Cemetery , 20274 Beaver Dam Road at Route 23, Harbeson.

Please omit flowers. Contributions are suggested to the Delaware Special Olympics, 546 S. Bedford St.. Georgetown, DE 19947

Please visit Mrs. Caggiano's Life Memorial Webpage and sign the online guest book at www.parsellfuneralhomes.com<http://www.parsellfuneralhomes.com>