Your Neighbor: Meet Joanie Fleishman

Published 12:05 am Thursday, July 27, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Mandy Haggerson

For the Clemmons Courier

CLEMMONS — Joanie Fleishman was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and exhibited a strong work ethic from an early age. 

“I started working at 14 years old in a variety store,” Fleishman said. “They sold things like newspapers, soda and cigarettes. In my free time I would participate in activities with the Girl Scouts or the 4-H program.” 

Fleishman was also a part of the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls, a youth club that taught leadership, confidence and citizenship. As the Worthy Advisor, Fleishman enjoyed empowering others to see their value. 

“My childhood wasn’t idyllic regarding my relationship with my parents,” Fleishman said. “I had always wanted them to like me and impress them, and I never felt like I could. I found out years later why I believe our relationship was fragmented, which had always been painful to me. These clubs and art helped me escape those times.”

Fleishman gravitated toward art throughout high school. 

“I was very lucky that my high school allowed me to major in art,” Fleishman said. “That was very rare back then. I had 12 periods of art a week which was incredible. I remember one teacher told us to go outside and paint a tree. The instruction he provided was that we couldn’t paint what looked like a tree, but we had to really focus on the details of it. It was very eye-opening to me to paint what you really see and not what you think you see.” 

After graduating from high school, Fleishman wanted to attend college.

“My parents did not want to pay for me to go, and I had no money, so I began to work,” Fleishman said. “I knew I wanted to do something in art, and when I was offered a position as a draftsman at Bell Telephone Company, I took it.

“After two years of working at Bell, a friend of mine had told me about a program with Temple University and the United States Air Force that offered an engineering program geared towards map making. It was during the Vietnam War, and there was no degree at that time in that subject matter. I began the newly minted program for five days a week for eight hours, (which) took two years to complete. That fast-tracked the completion of the degree that would ordinarily take four years.”

Fleishman didn’t have a tough time finding a job after graduating. She immediately began working for Aerospace. 

“Once you got in the design and engineer field, you make friends and keep each other abreast of opportunities when they become available,” Fleishman said. 

After working there for a while and then for a company doing air conditioning controls and design, Fleishman returned to school to learn the piping process. 

“When you learn how to design pipes that are three inches and above as a process piping designer, you typically work on nuclear power plants and wastewater treatment pipes,” Fleishman said. “Your focus is to move large amounts of liquids. I then worked for Synergo and fell in love with it until they went out of business. After the 3 Mile Island accident, companies that dealt with process piping design, usually having nuclear power as their focus, were sidelined.” 

Although professionally, Fleishman had to adapt, she did know she enjoyed creating and designing. She had also reconnected with someone from her high school through mutual connections. 

“I met my husband, Stanton, through my roommate when I was living in the outskirts of Philadelphia,” Fleishman said. “She was friends with Stanton’s sister. He is a wonderful man, and we had fun realizing all of the connections we shared, even though we didn’t really know each other back in high school.”

With things personally taking off, Fleishman decided to go to school for interior design. 

“I didn’t realize that I would wind up doing commercial at the time,” Fleishman said. “However, it seemed to make the most sense because I was most familiar with that space. I also had an extensive background in engineering and design. 

“When I finished my school, I began working at SunarHauserman, Inc. as their director of the Mid-Atlantic region. At that time, cubicles were popular instead of having individual offices. I oversaw the design, installation and customer service part of these high-end products. It was my most favorite job of my life. I still keep in touch with my former boss, Tom Hauserman. When Steelcase came up with the cheaper steel options, the company’s products were pushed out of business, with the exception of the movable wall. I chose not to stay on because I would have had a two-hour commute to Eddison, New Jersey, each way.”

At a professional crossroads, Fleischman decided to start her own design company, Malerisch Design Associates. 

“I did large residential design projects at this point,” Fleishman said. “I had brought several people over to my company that I had worked with at SunarHauserman. I enjoyed our projects for several years. However, after about four years, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It took a while to diagnose because my doctors thought that I was pregnant. 

“The type of cancer that I had caused a tickling in my stomach, almost like feathers, because it was Epithelial, and the tumor had a thousand hairs on it. Finally, after convincing my family doctor to have the specialists perform the necessary tests to diagnose the results, they confirmed what my instincts told me. When I was given the diagnosis, I had one of the biggest projects on my plate. With over 100 temps working on it, all but family and friends quit because it was so grueling. Two weeks later, I had my ovarian surgery. I realized then that I wanted and needed to retire. I was ready to focus on my painting and enjoy life.”

 After recovering from ovarian cancer, Fleishman learned that friends had different ideas for her. 

“A good friend of mine who was a neuroscientist for Merck Research labs asked me to help him temporarily,” Fleishman said. “His scientific assistant had left who had arranged his clinical studies that his group was doing. I told him I didn’t want to do it because, in those days, being an assistant, even though this position was not administrative, required typing requirements. I didn’t want to take that test, but he finally convinced me to do it, and I passed the test. 

“I ended up staying on longer than I had anticipated because the other hire did not work out. We worked on passing a migraine drug under him that had been under clinical research. I knew when my friend retired, I would then leave too. However, one of the executive vice presidents asked if I would consider staying on to help Maurice Hilleman temporarily. Maurice was a fascinating man and one of the most renowned virologists. I also helped with editing a book written by the top surgeons in the field of heart disease. It was called “Stroke,” and I found it so interesting.”

After completing her work at Merck, Fleishman decided to officially retire and focus solely on her art. 

“Stanton had also retired too, and we knew that we wanted to live somewhere with low crime and reasonable cost of living,” Fleishman said. “I had started researching South Carolina, Virginia and Texas. I had never considered North Carolina. However, after taking a number of car trips, we realized after driving through North Carolina how much we loved the big trees. We decided to make a couple of trips down to North Carolina to look at homes and realized on the second one that Clemmons would be it. I remember thinking how nice people were here right away. Everyone would say hello, and people were not in a hurry and looked away. We even appreciated that people tell us to have a blessed day in restaurants. We moved down here in 2006 and have been very happy with our decision ever since.” 

Fleishman has been grateful for the welcoming art community too. 

“It’s a really close and supportive group,” Fleishman said. “I initially started showing my work at the Red Dog Gallery when they first opened. What I respect about them is that they will bring in a range of pieces from $4,000 to a talented kid that is selling the piece for $40. That opportunity is what could get that budding artist on track to continue their talents and passion for the rest of their life.”

Fleishman’s work can be found at local galleries around town. She also takes requests from friends and community members. 

“I used to have most of my work displayed in galleries, but now I’m really focusing on doing it more for my friends and family,” Fleishman said. “Stanton and I don’t have children, so it’s nice thinking that one day when I’m gone, a piece of my work will be appreciated in their home and space. I am hopeful that brings them joy.”