Joan True

Joan True cozies up to a dolphin on a Caribbean cruise.

GUILDERLAND — Joan Marie O’Donnell True loved her family, knitting, and helping others, said her husband and daughter. She died on Sunday, July 24, 2016, in Florida, where she and her husband spent part of each year. She was 69.

Mrs. True waited a while after their marriage, Joel M. True said, before telling him she had always wanted to have six kids. “We compromised at five,” he said.

The children were all adopted — four from Korea and one, who was African-American, from the United States’ foster care system. “We made, I guess, a colorful appearance when we walked down the street,” said Mr. True.

Daughter Jane True recalled that her mother once had T-shirts made for the whole family that said on the front, proudly, “YES WE ARE.” It is was in response, Jane True said, to the many questions they got on vacation, about whether they were all a family.

Her mother taught her children not to tolerate and ignore difference, but to appreciate it, and then treat everyone the same, Jane True said.

Mrs. True was an expert knitter, Joel True said, and was partial to baby clothes. “Any time anybody had a baby, she wanted to give a sweater or a set,” he said.

While she liked to give away the things she made, she also liked to teach people to knit and transmit her enthusiasm for the craft, her daughter said.

She could often be found at the Spinning Room in Altamont, where she liked to spend time talking with friends while knitting. “She’d usually work on socks when she was there, because they didn’t require much concentration,” Joel True said. She knitted everything, he said — adult sweaters, winter hats, gloves, mittens, and was always happy to work with anyone who needed help on a knitting project.

“If I say so myself, her work was quite beautiful,” Joel True said.

Eventually she began working at the Spinning Room part-time, her daughter said. “She taught many of the store’s customers how to knit,” said Jane True.

Before beginning to adopt children, Joel True said, Mrs. True co-owned, with a friend, Jo-Nan Yarns in Westmere.

She worked for many years in administrative services, first at the University at Albany and later, after having children, in the Guilderland Central School District, her husband said. She liked being on the same schedule as their children, he said. “She was off in the summer, and they were.”

She was born on Oct. 29, 1946 to John F. and Lydia Cooper O’Donnell of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and moved with them to Westmere as a young child. She graduated from Guilderland High School in 1964.

In the school district, Joel True said, she worked mainly at the high school, where, he said, teachers and administrators loved her for her work ethic, her sense of service, and her personality.

“She was a Guilderland person most of her life,” her husband said, “and had a lot of friends from Altamont.”

The family had longstanding connections to the Altamont Fair, according to Joel True. The children, who were active in 4-H, showed sheep at the fair for five or six years.

For many years, St. Lucy’s Church ran a restaurant, with all homemade food, at the fair. Mrs. True’s volunteer task was to schedule all the volunteer workers’ shifts at the church restaurant.

She used to bake thousands of Christmas cookies every year, her daughter said. “She was noted for her rum and bourbon balls in particular.”

She brought Communion to homebound people in Altamont, Jane True said. And, when people couldn’t get to senior center events, she would drive them both ways.

A friend was struggling with cancer a few years ago, Jane True recalled, and Mrs. True drove her to chemotherapy treatments and back and also sat with her and chatted throughout the infusions.

Her daughter said she had learned from her mother how to knit everything from sweaters to hats.

Her mother also transmitted to her children the self-confidence that comes with having a good work ethic, Jane True said. “She always told us, growing up, ‘I don’t care what you do as a job. But whatever you do, make sure you work hard and do a good job.”

“So,” Jane True said, “I’ve never had expectations that I felt I had to live up to.”


Joan Marie O’Donnell True is survived by her husband of 40 years, Joel M. True, and by her four children, Jane M. True of New York City, Jill M. True of Schenectady, Jordan M. True of Altamont, and James M. True of Florida.

She is also survived by her siblings, Jane O’Donnell, Jeanne Shelhamer, and John O’Donnell, all of Florida, and by several nieces and nephews.

Her parents, John F. and Lydia Cooper O’Donnell, died before her, as did her brother James O’Donnell and her son Justin M. True.

Plans for a memorial service will be announced.

Memorial contributions may be made to Northern Rivers/Parsons Child and Family Center, 60 Academy Road, Albany, New York 12208 or to the Schenectady City Mission, Post Office Box 760, Schenectady, New York 12301.

— Elizabeth Floyd Mair


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