On Jan. 20, Lisa Giovino had a birthday party on her mind. It was an 18th birthday party, filled with excitement over such a milestone and anticipation of a graduation from high school in May.
She thought of balloons and cake, of a room filled with friends, family and gifts for the birthday boy.
But it was a birthday party that never got to happen, because her son, Joseph, passed away on Jan. 27, 1997, in an accidental drowning at Lisa’s home near Hatton, just seven days after his second birthday.
This year, to commemorate what would have been Joseph’s graduation year, Giovino is awarding a scholarship to a senior — or maybe two — at Hatton High.
Giovino, a 1984 Hatton graduate, now lives in Athens with her husband Charlie. She said she has thought for years about a memorial scholarship to honor her late son. But this year was “his year,” she said.
“Within a few months after Joseph drowned, I began watching the newspaper obituaries for people who had lost children, and I began trying to figure out ways to help other people who were suffering this kind of deep pain,” Lisa said. “I would send cards and write my name and phone number in the card and tell them, ‘If you need me, just call.’ Sometimes the most valuable thing to a person in pain is to have someone to listen. All these years in my mind I have thought about a scholarship, and this year I knew that it was time. This year was his year — his graduation year.”
At first, Lisa said she planned to give one $1,000 scholarship from her family, but friends suggested opening the fund up for donations, and now she hopes to give two, through the Joseph Hendershot Memorial Scholarship Fund. Lisa set the fund up in Aug. 2012.
Lisa, formerly Lisa Randolph, has deep roots in the Hatton community. She lived most of her life in Wolf Springs, and attended Hatton Elementary and Hatton High. Her parents are the late Bobby and Edithel Randolph.
She had Joseph, and two other sons, during a previous marriage to Augie Hendershot.
Joe, as he was called, is remembered for his love of singing, particularly “Amazing Grace,” which he sung when his family went to church at Mt. Zion No. 1 Missionary Baptist Church in Wolf Springs.
“Joseph lived for fun and the love of his family,” Lisa remembers. “He was a little boy who loved everyone. He had an infectious smile and he loved to share his love and laughter with the world. He spent his days playing with his brother (Nicklas). They were always side by side. Nicklas and Joseph had a dog named Nakita — a white German Shepherd — they played with and loved. His favorite toys were Winnie the Pooh and Barney, which he pronounced ‘Bar-me.’ He was quite a delightful young man. He was an inspiration to be a better person.”
On the fateful day of the accident, Lisa said Joseph and his brother Nick were watching cartoons and she was in the next room cleaning. After a few minutes, Nick came in the room where his mother was, but Joseph wasn’t with him. Lisa said she immediately went to check on Joseph, but she couldn’t find him. She discovered he had unlocked the outside door and wasn’t in the house. She called for help, and the family and neighbors began to look for him.
“I was sure he was just somewhere playing,” Lisa wrote in a 1997 article for a publication called Bereaved Parents Share. “Then I saw Nick and the neighbors running toward a fish pond we had in the back field. My heart stopped and I felt numb.”
A front-page story in The Advertiser in January 1997 stated that officials believed Joseph wandered out on to a pier and fell in the pond.
“I couldn’t believe this was happening to me,” Lisa wrote. “Why God? Why my baby? Why not me?
“Losing a child is like losing a part of your heart,” she said. “You are never whole again, and it hurts to the very core of your inner soul. It is a raw ache that never goes away, and it is very hard to describe.”
The family made the decision to donate Joseph’s organs, and she has information now about some of the people who received them.
“He would’ve wanted to give life,” she said.
Through the years, Lisa said the family does a balloon release annually on Joseph’s birthday and add one balloon for the age he would’ve been. They include notes in the balloons asking people to write them and let them know how far the balloons go. They have received many letters through the years, Lisa said.
And now she hopes the scholarship fund will honor her son’s memory.
“We have no idea what Joe would have become had he lived and graduated high school,” Lisa said. “But we are sure he would want everyone he would have attended school with to strive to reach further. My hope is this memorial scholarship will give assistance to a child who will excel. I’m sure he would have been awesome if he had gotten to his graduation; however, this memorial is to allow another student to go forward and further their education. I believe Joe would be happy with this and would be very pleased with this scholarship in his memory.”
The award recipient must demonstrate a commitment to academic excellence, participation in an extracurricular activity, and an active pursuit of future ambitions and a desire to make a positive difference in this world.
Hatton seniors can get applications for the scholarship through the school counselor. The deadline to apply is March 15.
Donations to the fund can be made at Family Security Credit Union, with donations directly deposited into the Joseph Hendershot Memorial Scholarship Fund. Alternatively, checks can be mailed to 1000 Levert Ave., Athens, AL 35611.