PORT ST. LUCIE PEOPLE
THE CLASSICAL GUITARIST
BY ELLEN GILLETTE
could see the outside through a big hole where the drain plug
was supposed to be.”
Back in New York, Giorgis worked at a drapery shop, then
as a substitute teacher, for three years until their first child
was born. “My mother had been sewing my clothes, always a
little too big because she thought I’d get pregnant right away.”
Once the family grew, though, it grew rapidly — Giorgis’s
first two children are only 18 months apart. John, meanwhile,
worked for Sunoco. The company moved them to Syracuse,
then Philadelphia. Giorgis subbed and taught private lessons
while training to become a Suzuki method instructor.
Eventually, private lessons required more time and she quit
subbing. She was the leader of a music group and elected
president of the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society. Her career
was hitting the high notes. John’s, however, was ending.
In 2009, Sunoco laid off 750 white-collar employees.
And by this time, Giorgis had been diagnosed with early
onset Parkinson’s disease. A smaller, one-story house with a
lower mortgage made sense.
Giorgis attributes their move to Florida as divine leading.
They had always loved vacationing in Florida. Several
friends had moved south, as had one of Giorgis’s sisters. A
Syracuse friend had moved to Port St. Lucie. One day, while
attending a tap dancing class in Collegeville, a suburb of
Philadelphia, two visitors told her about an adult tap group
in Stuart. When Giorgis went online to look at housing prices
here, she was shocked at the affordability.
Joette Giorgis was introduced to music in the fourth grade,
learning to play trumpet, then piano. At 15, she bought
her first guitar and is proficient at guitar and ukelele.
A professional musician who plays at local events and
teaches others, she says that music has become the primary
focus in her life. “I see my guitar as a friend, and I don’t go
anywhere without it.”
Giorgis was born to Polish parents in Buffalo, New York,
the oldest of five children in a strong Catholic family. Although
she prayed about becoming a nun, she decided she
wanted to get married and “have lots of children.”
Giorgis laughs as she remembers her first Earth Day celebration
at high school. Population growth was discussed,
including the value of having no more than two children. “A
lot of my friends said they weren’t having any, so I figured I
could have more and it would all even out.”
Giorgis met her future husband, John, at a prayer meeting
their sophomore year of college. John says his father threatened
him “with death and damnation” if they married before
graduation, but soon after, they tied the knot.
Instead of settling into a honeymoon apartment in New York,
the newlyweds moved to Oregon, working for a year with
Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Giorgis taught music at an inner city
school, also serving as a school librarian. John worked with
Mike Jones’s Transit Bank program on Portland’s Skid Row.
“I took my sewing machine with me,” Giorgis remembers,
“so we had curtains but when you sat in the bathtub you
40 Port St. Lucie Magazine
ANTHONY INSWASTY PHOTOS
Joette Giorgis, who doesn’t let a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease define her, finds and teaches ways to cope through music.