She’s a successful entrepreneur with a head for business and a heart for her community. She sees the neighborhood in which she lives as simply an extension of her home and family. She’s an aspiring writer who hasn’t even begun to tap into her potential. She’s a walking, talking brainstorm, firing countless thoughts and ideas in every direction, all at once, all the time.
Rebecca Jo Gacono-Harlan—”Becky,” for short—is a complex person with a number of natural talents. More than anything, Gacono tries to be a good citizen.
“I feel like I’m in a really good place right now,” said Gacono, from offices at Gacono Real Estate, 50 West Main Street in Annville. “It is a place where there are so many unknowns that my life should be more stressful. I am a firm believer in being thankful for every time I get out of bed and my feet hit the floor.”
Gacono noted that she’s becoming more appreciative as she gets older.
“I want to have fun and enjoy my life,” continued Gacono. “I am incapable of not being happy, not that I don’t have my moments. I want joy in my life. If you’re going to be around me, there’s going to be laughter.”
That perspective has come from a lifetime of service.
Gacono is active in the local service organizations Annville Community Activities Committee and Destination Annville. Those organizations support and conduct the wildly popular Annville Memorial Day Parade, the Annville Christmas Tree Lighting, Santa Claus at the Allen Theater, and a successful local chili cook-off.
Some of those events were started by Gacono’s parents, Carl and Mary Jane Gacono, decades ago. Others were not. But they’re all rooted in tradition.
“I do it because there’s a need,” said Gacono. “Lebanon County is a tight community, as far as money goes. People from Lebanon County will drive 50 miles to get something less expensive. My mom and dad were always big on buying local. My whole life I’ve been blessed.”
“I always admired my parents and had the utmost respect for what they did outside the family,” Gacono continued. “They had this open-door policy about helping people. They wanted to make their community a better place.”
Another thing that Carl and Mary Jane passed down to Becky was the family business. Becky and her sister Mary Ann have been the owners and proprietors of Gacono Realty since the mid 1990s.
Three years ago, Becky opened the community-oriented Whirling Dervish Bakery and Coffee Shop, a quaint meeting place open three mornings a week and named to recognize her always active and inspired mind. An old kitchen and break room in the real estate building were converted into a space for locals to gather and connect.
“It’s everything I want it to be,” said Gacono of Whirling Dervish Bakery and Coffee Shop. “I don’t even have a business plan. It was a dream I wanted to make come true. I love to bake and I like that it’s a gathering place where people can come in and talk to neighbors. When you come in you’re buying sugary goodies and coffee. What could be wrong with that?”
The real estate industry, on the other hand, has undergone massive changes.
“Up until about five or ten years ago, it was very much about referrals. It’s no longer like that. We are exactly where everyone else is. People used to look for family businesses. Now, young people want a house and they want to see it immediately,” Gacono said. “But that’s the whole world. It’s not loyalty, it’s who can get you the best deal, and that really worries me. Every generation is always moving forward, but we’ve never lost that disconnect with human beings before.”
If Gacono lives her life for others, she has kept her writing for herself. But even that features distinct overtones of altruism.
In 2017, Gacono wrote from the heart for a book she published, titled His Name is Jeff about her late brother’s battle with cancer.
“He was our brother and he let me document his struggle,” Gacono said. “For me to get through it, I had to start writing. My goal with writing is my own sanity. I do it when I need to say things. Stuff pops into my head. I can write things in 20 minutes. I do it when I need to say things. When stuff is important to me, my writing is my release.”
Two years after publishing her book, she chronicled her parents’ struggles with advanced age, dementia, and ultimately death in a series of eloquent Facebook posts.
“It’s not just me feeling better after I write, it’s something people want to read. I can’t force myself to write. But when it pops in my head, I can do it fast.”
Gacono has also written reviews of local businesses in Annville, and has even created an ongoing fairy tale about the adventures of imaginary gnomes which live in her bakery. As she continues on her path towards self-actualization, writing will become more and more a part of who Gacono is.
“I would love to be a writer,” said Gacono. “Right now, writing is on my list of things to do. I don’t know what that means. If I write and people respond, that would be fantastic. But it’s a tough world to get into.”
“I think I do the best I can in everything I do,” Gacono continued. “I want to be part of something bigger than myself. My life is good.”
Ultimately, Gacono is Carl and Mary Jane’s – and Annville’s – daughter. But she is also a product of her experiences and environment.
“My dad laughed a lot and saw the good in everything,” said Gacono. “My dad was very caring and understanding. My mom got things done. I loved my mom and he loved her. She was a strong woman. He was a smart guy and a business guy.”
Anybody can make a difference in their community, Gacono concluded. It doesn’t take a special type of person to help others.
“Sometimes it just takes one step to do it. I was lucky enough to have parents who showed me how easy it was. It doesn’t have to be done with fanfare. It can be done quietly,” she said. “There are so many unhappy people. It’s important to get back to simple things and appreciate the things you are doing. Make the changes in your life that make you happy.”
As it turns out, Becky Gacono isn’t really that much different than you and me.
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