I was different from others in my age group. Though I went through the motions of being a part of school and its activities and later, my work, I felt isolated. Because I had psoriasis, an incurable skin condition, I had become a vegan and a sun worshipper, which was the only way I could keep my skin clear. Through ads in an offbeat national health publication – a monthly magazine my mother subscribed to, “The Hygienic Review” – I discovered another off-beat publication, “The American Vegetarian” through which I learned about a vegetarian commune in Florida that was looking for young people to do office work and other jobs. I was excited at the thought of being in a sunny place year round, as sun is a temporary boon for psoriasis. I quit my job as a telephone operator in Asheville, North Carolina and bought a train ticket to Sebring, Florida. The name of the place I was headed for was Lorida, a few miles south of and off the beaten path of Sebring.
A GURU and a GARDENER
I arrived at an isolated small community that was owned and operated by a strangely interesting man, Walter Seigmeister, who had a doctorate in Philosophy from New York University. His brother, Ellie Seigmeister, I learned by noticing phonograph records stashed in his office, had been the conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
We were half a dozen workers. Our job was helping Dr. Seigmeister ,who we called Siggie, run his mail order business, which was selling subscriptions to his newsletter touting what he called the New Age Philosophy. He called it Biosophy. We lived in rustic cabins, bathed in nearby Lake Istapoga and ate the produce from the large organic garden and the carefully cultivated papaya and orange trees. One of the inhabitants was a suntanned, bearded, well muscled young man, an artist, whose name was Louis Jacaruso. He expounded for hours on philosophy with other members of the group and ate a dozen oranges for breakfast every morning.
“Wow!” I thought. “A man who eats like I do!”
A few months later we were married.
Ten years and three children later I realized that it takes more than eating oranges together for breakfast to make a marriage work.
Toward the end of my marriage to Louis while we were living in St. Louis, Missouri, “The American Vegetarian” – a national independent monthly paper, ran a front page story with photographs of me and my vegetarian family. It included our three children, Louie, David and Betsy. I began getting mail from all over the country, including members of the local St. Louis, Missouri branch of an organization called The American Natural Hygiene Society. (Today it is The National Health Association headquartered in Tampa, Florida). I became active in the group. In 1955 I attended my first national convention which was held in Washington, D.C. at the Shoreham Hotel. I was elected as the national secretary-treasurer.
SOLID GOLD CADILLAC GIRL
Back home, I set up an office in my five year old daughter Betsy’s bedroom which was handily adjacent to the kitchen. I spent hours and days revising lists, organizing and sending out communications to members and those who’d let their memberships lapse. I took over publication of the theretofore erratically published official newsletter, which evolved into a sophisticated little bi-monthly magazine. The membership grew. I became known as the Solid Gold Cadillac Girl of the movement. Among new members were C.E. Doolin, founder of the Frito-Lay Company in San Antonio, Texas, and U. Thant, the first Secretary General of the United Nations, who commended me for my work.
The summer of 1958 the annual ANHS Convention was held in St. Louis. I and a fellow member were convention chairpeople. Among the three hundred attendees was one black man, an actor, from New York. His name was Robert Earl Jones. Management told us he wouldn’t be allowed to stay in the hotel. We told management that if Robert Earl went we would all go – all 300 of us. Robert Earl stayed. A few years later he introduced me to his son, James Earl Jones. Robert Earl and I remained friends throughout his life.
A year after my divorce from Louis, two days after Christmas of 1958, I got married to Dr. Robert Gross, a physiologist from New York, who was active in the group and was planning a new career: a Health Retreat. I had been divorced for over a year. Bob knew that I was a perfect asset for his new plan.
A HEALTH RETREAT
In the spring of 1959 we pooled our resources: two used cars, my three children and his one, a few thousand dollars between us, and headed for Hyde Park, New York where we leased with an option to buy, an historic Georgian mansion sitting atop a hill overlooking the majestic Hudson River. With our children we moved into the third floor which had been servants’ quarters in bygone years. We renamed the mansion, dubbing it Pawling Health Manor from its original Pawling Manor. Our first ads were placed in the classified section of the New York Times. On Memorial Day 1959 we opened the doors of Pawling Health Manor, filled to capacity from the first day. Minimum stay was one full week. Since I was occupied not only with caring for the children, managing the help, painting walls, hanging curtains, shopping and running the kitchen, I was forced to relinquish my role as secretary treasurer of the ANHS. Many of my and Bob’s followers became our paying guests at the Manor.
Through my 30 years of hard work and often pain at Pawling Manor, I was privileged to share my experiences and growing knowledge with the thousands of guests who came to spend time with us. While Bob and I ultimately didn’t make it in our marriage, we were crucial to each other in many ways. I learned infinitely more about the basic principles of physiology from him. Our two daughters, Debbie – for years now a news anchor at WCBS news radio in New York – and Wendy, a former psychotherapist, presently Senior Managing Director of the prestigious
Town Residential Real Estate in New York City and chosen a few years ago by the New York Post as one of New York City’s 50 Most Powerful Women — have apparently absorbed some of the better qualities of us both. Daughter
Betsy Jacaruso is now a well known artist.
Through the years I’ve stayed with my way of eating and living. Though not perfect, I’ve adhered to a plant based diet and the basic principles of the Hygienic way. In the early eighties I wrote “The 30 Day Way to a Born Again Body” – a major hardcover publication, which then went into mass market paperback followed by quality paperback as “Thin Again – Improved Fitness in 30 Days”. “The Vegetarian Child” was published a couple of years later, re-released under the title “Feeding Your Family Naturally”. I did major cross country publicity tours which brought many more guests to Pawling Health Manor.
FROM PAWLING MANOR TO BROADWAY
Our guests were from all walks of life; all were ecstatic with their results. Among first guests were Grace Bumbry, Veronica Lake, Cicely Tyson, George Steinbrenner, Jerry Stiller, Kate Mostel and Virginia Guilford, and later on Lois Gould, Elaine Kaufman, Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, Judith Rossner, Shelly Winters, Rita Jenrette, Jessica Tandy and Alvin Ailey. Mary Alice Bayh, an actress, discovered us while acting at the Hyde Park Playhouse. Her brother Birch (Buddy to her) Bayh later became governor of Indiana. She spent so much time with us she was like one of the family. While there she became friends with another of our guests, Patty Sauer whose father played the lead in the T V series Rin Tin Tin. Patty was an accomplished actress/singer whose weight was preventing her from getting roles she wanted. After five weeks her father came to visit her. When he saw her, looking so much thinner, he wept. Later she landed a stint as back-up as Dolly in Hello Dolly on Broadway. Once when I drove her to New York to pick up some things, I went in to her apartment with her. “This is my roommates’ dressing table” she explained. “She’s always fighting with her mother. She’s going to be successful – she’s very talented.” That roommate was Barbara Streisand.
Veronica Lake came with her friend Nat Perlow, editor of the Police Gazatte, who was there to interview Dr. Gross. Vickie, as Nat called her, was a smoker. No smoking was permitted. So, every evening the two of them hightailed it in to the quaint nearby village of Rhinebeck and ate at the bar at Foster’s Coach House Tavern. Though she was on crutches due to a leg injury and her hair was pulled back snugly into a ponytail, she was recognized as she lit up and downed her vodkas.
Glynis Johns, who played the first “Peter Pan” on stage in London, came for what she’d planned might be a few days’ stay. She was overweight, loaded with various medications, was grumpy and hard to please. I spent lots of one on one time with her, encouraging her and listening to the many stories of her earlier life. This was what she wrote in the note she handed me as she climbed into the limosine that would take her- 40 pounds lighter than when she arrived – to JFK and her flight back to Los Angeles:
“Dearest Joy . . . . My heartfelt thanks and deep appreciation for your loving care – way beyond the course of duty. You can be sure I’ll return. With love, Glyn”
Comments like this were the norm from departing guests.
LEMONS INTO LEMONADE
Looking back to those early years that were painful because of my psoriasis, and the desperation that led me into the new and different way of eating and being, I am grateful that I was able to turn most of my lemons into lemonade.
Many people eat and live in a way that ages them faster and sends them to their graves sooner than is necessary. Through our work and my books, Bob and I were able to share gems of health wisdom that enabled thousands of people to take charge of their weight and health. We were privileged to share important information about cells and what they need to survive and thrive; and to help our guests to understand more about the PH of the bloodstream and how vital that is to health and longevity.
I’ve shared many of my recipes and meal plans in my book:
JOY’S RECIPES FOR LIVING YOUNGER LONGER
(available from Amazon).