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Rehoboth icon Joan Caggiano, owner of Nicola's Pizza and Queen of First Street, bids a sweet farewell

May 14, 2017

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 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 Farmers 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; and 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 Ave., 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 Parsell Funeral Homes & Crematorium, Atkins-Lodge Chapel, Chapel, 16961 Kings Highway, Lewes.

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

Please omit flowers. Contributions are suggested to 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.

 

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