Those who attended Joann Tumelavich’s funeral Wednesday morning were decked out in Philadelphia Eagles gear. According to her family, Joann wouldn’t have had it any other way -- which is why they buried her in her favorite player's jersey.
“She was an Eagles fan through and through,” said Joann’s daughter Trisha Whichard. “She bled green. Her passion was unbelievable.”
Joann, of Bridgeton, New Jersey, died Saturday at Inspira Healthcare in Vineland at the age of 63. A lifetime Bridgeton resident, she graduated from Bridgeton High School and studied law enforcement at Cumberland County College. She then worked as the unit secretary of the outpatient mental health ward at Inspira Healthcare-Bridgeton. Yet more than anything else, it was her love for the Eagles that most of her family and friends will remember.
“She wore her Eagles clothes every day,” Trisha said. “That was her wardrobe.”
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Her passion for the Birds began at a young age.
“She grew up an Eagles fan,” Trisha said. “Her parents had two girls and didn’t have boys so my grandfather taught my mom football. Then my mom had three daughters and she passed on her love for the Eagles to us.”
According to Trisha, Joann’s favorite Eagle was Reggie White.
“She had a real passion for Reggie White,” Trisha said. “We met him when I was about 14 or 15. He was in a charity basketball game and she just thought he was wonderful. She enjoyed watching him play because he was so good at what he did. We're going to bury her in his jersey."
Joann certainly wasn’t all smiles when watching her beloved Birds play however.
“She was raised a good Catholic girl but Sundays, when football came on, we always knew all bets were off,” Trisha said while laughing. “Let’s just say she had a sharp tongue when things didn’t work out. She was yelling and screaming right along with them. She would tell them when they were wrong and yell at the referees.”
Yet despite her passion, Joann remained mindful of others.
“You couldn’t take her anywhere where people minded cursing,” Trisha said. “She didn’t want to go out anywhere where anybody would be offended because she cussed when she watched the games.”
Those areas included, ironically enough, Lincoln Financial Field.
“My one regret is that she never went to a game,” Trisha said. “She said she didn’t want to go because she thought she couldn’t cuss or see the instant replays in the stadium. I think she would’ve been alright but, that was mom.”
For Joann, watching the Eagles wasn’t just for her own personal enjoyment. It was also a way for her to bond with her family.
“Every year we would get the team’s schedule and create meals based on the opposing team’s home town,” Trisha said. “She loved it. But it didn’t matter what was on the menu even if it was a late game. It was just about being together. It was just something she always enjoyed and it always brought her family together.”
Trisha remembers the last Eagles meal she had with her mother. It was for this year’s season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“We had seafood,” Trisha said.
Joann made sure her grandchildren also shared her love for the hometown team.
“She taught my children the Eagles fight song and every touchdown they still say it,” Trisha said. “My youngest son is five. He can sing a lot of songs but that’s the one he knows by heart and he sings it every time they score.”
Joann’s funeral took place at the Freitag Funeral Home on 137 W. Commerce Street in Bridgeton. It was a ceremony that Joann certainly would’ve approved of.
“We asked everyone to come in wearing Eagles gear,” Trisha said. “And her flower arrangement at the front has an Eagles head.”