A hundred years, two children, eight grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, seven great-great-grandchildren. That's more than most people can say for themselves, but Maurice F. Joseph, who passed away Sunday at age 100, claimed that and a whole lot more.|
Joseph, born Sept. 29, 1905, was well-known for his contributions to the community, including his work as St. Clair County sheriff and chief deputy, and two terms as St. Clair County treasurer. However, maybe one of his most impressive accomplishments was his 72-year marriage to Viola M. Sterling of New Athens, who preceeded him in death on Jan. 5, 1998.
Joseph was raised on a farm in New Athens and worked in Democratic politics for more than 50 years, meeting and befriending such influential men as Presidents Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon and U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello.
Even though Joseph became successful, he graduated from high school and immediately began his first job as a truck driver, said his sister Ruth Shaller, 90, of New Athens. This, however, led Joseph to open his own trucking company in New Athens, beginning a long line of successful ventures, including eight years as an Illinois State Police officer.
"He had great respect for humans," said Patricia Russell, 66, of Belleville, who served as Joseph's full-time caregiver along with her husband, Jack. "One of the best things about him was that he never saw the color of peoples' skin."
Joseph put himself in grave danger to support equality. As treasurer, he hired the first black clerk in the St. Clair County Courthouse. His decision was met with opposition, including threats of being run out of town or hanged.
Joseph read the Belleville News-Democrat from front to back every day for the last 32 years of his life, said Russell. He kept up on current events and educated those around him with "a mind like a computer."
His sister, Ruth Shaller, discussed the news with him every evening over the phone. In the past few weeks, Shaller noticed Joseph's voice becoming weaker with each evening phone call.
"A few weeks ago he said to me, 'Don't grieve for me, I've had a good, long life,'" said Schaller. "I'm really going to miss that phone call every night."
The Russells have already begun to feel the weight of Joseph's absence as well.
"We argued all the time. He was a Democrat, I'm Republican. He was a Cardinals fan, I'm a Cubs fan. He loved arguing and I was a good one to do it with," Russell said.
A public memorial service will be held later at Kurrus Funeral Home in Belleville.
Published in Belleville News-Democrat on June 27, 2006