Joseph ZALESKI

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ZALESKI, Joseph John
("Black Magic" Joe)
In the early morning of September 10, 2016, we lost our beloved Dad and "Pappa". Suffering the ravages of multi-organ cancer and progressive dementia, we were grateful he passed away peacefully, holding the hands of family, at St. Joseph's Palliative Hospice in Edmonton.
Joe was born March 19, 1927, in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. The only son of John and Mary Zaleski, he was welcomed by four sisters, at the beginning of The Depression. Within very few years the family was faced with losses and hardships, as were so many during that era. They moved to Ohio where employment at Wheeling/Pittsburgh Steel Mill allowed his Dad to feed and shelter them, but with "being poor" and always, always frugal, now the norm. Joe never forgot his humble beginning and the lessons it taught. In Tiltonsville, Ohio, he attended Grade school and then Warren Consolidated High, where he shone athletically overall, but found his passion and started as the Quarterback for the local 'Buckeyes'. This was a town, common still today, that fervently supported their football team and filled the stadium at every game. But at this time, now during WWII, the competition with established rivals and defense of standings and ultimately pride, helped distract many from the ongoing grief seen in myriad small towns, as families buried many returning loved ones. Immediately after graduating, Joe enlisted in the U.S. Marines and was stationed at Camp Pendleton. After training there, his Unit sailed to the South Pacific. As they arrived, a ceasefire was declared and Joe's Unit spent their time in Okinawa establishing P.O.W. Camps. His tour ended with an honourable discharge and return, to Dayton, Ohio, to accept a waiting 'Full Scholarship'. He started with the University 'Flyers' Football Team as their Q.B., in his freshman year, and by his 1951 graduation with a BSc in Education, had set college records and won many awards. Joe was then signed to the NFL, Los Angeles Rams and played part season before being traded to Philadelphia Eagles.
In 1952, George Trafton of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers arrived and recruited him to the CFL team, as Quarterback sharing duties with the legendary Jack Jacobs of Bombers' fame. Joe married Louise Savanyo (R.N.) in June 1952. She had been the Head Majorette during High School. She remained his biggest fan and support for 61 years and accepted all the places and experiences, Good and Bad, that the unpredictable life of professional football offered. Joe remained as a Bomber Quarterback for 4 ½ years. It was here he garnered the name, Black Magic. It originated from his amazing prowess with a special 'bootleg' pass that seemed to magically change direction upon his execution, diverted totally from the opposition's assumed receiver. Joe spent his off-seasons teaching, coaching the varsity Crusaders and coordinating Athletics at St. Paul's College in Winnipeg. During this time, he and Louise welcomed daughters Nancy and Susan. He was traded to the Montreal Alouettes in 1957. Taking his first steps toward coaching, Joe signed with the Sarnia Golden Bears of the then O.R.F.U. as 'Playing Head Coach'. Daughter Patti was born in Sarnia in 1958. In 1959 Joe brought his family back to Winnipeg. He signed as Backfield/Offensive Coach under new Head Coach Bud Grant, his previous Bomber teammate and O.R.F.U. coaching colleague, (London Lords, just past.) Joe remained partnered as an assistant with Bud Grant until 1967. During this time the family welcomed youngest daughter Judy (1960) and in 1966, their first son, Slater. From 1958 – 1967, the Bombers had many epic and exciting games. These competitive years introduced myriad 'now legendary' players to the CFL. The Bombers recorded many wins and had Multiple and Successful Grey Cup appearances. In 1967 many veteran players retired and it was evident the next requirements would include major recruitment and rebuilding efforts. Opportunity led Grant and John Michaels, (Defensive Coach), back to the U.S. and Minnesota Vikings. Joe deliberated long and hard and decided to stay in Canada and take the opportunity offered, as Head Coach. He always attempted to face the huge challenges 'Head-On'; the next 3 years being formidable and seeming relentless in demand, as further retirements, injuries and the ever-evolving search for a strong and experienced Quarterback were always on the agenda. Developing a cohesive, reliable and consistent Offense and Defence to follow in the footsteps of the Great Players of the just past years, seemed like a daily confrontation with an 'Ever-Growing Giant'. In 1970 Joe was let go as Head Coach of the Winnipeg team. However, almost immediately, he was offered an Assistant position in Edmonton, where his former Winnipeg Teammate, Neil Armstrong, had just faced the same end he had. Joe became the offensive coach under his long-time friend and player Ray Jauch. The next several seasons were like re-living a bad situation all over. At the end of year two, Jauch saw a coaching change as his best option. Joe left the Eskimos and more, his 20 Plus years of life in Football, in 1972. Joe and Louise remained in Edmonton, as did their family. Their children all were educated here and started careers after Post-Secondary education. Slater, their son, had athletic talent of his own. He ended up playing football with the Edmonton Huskies, the U of A Golden Bears and the Eskimos. He was traded from Edmonton to Toronto, and then joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders for 2 years, winning the 1989 Grey Cup as part of the team. A source of now "FAN" enjoyment for Joe and family.
Joe spent the next years in Sales and Marketing in the Oil patch. He retired in the late '80s from Sandy's Light Oilfield Business. He and Louise spent "New-Found" summer holidays camping, fishing and exploring most of Alberta and B.C. Joe also developed a love for Trap-Shooting and the friends he made. He learned to ski with his 2 year old Grandson, when he was 60 years old. 10 Grandchildren arrived to unconditional Grandparent love and support. This included attending every School and extra-curricular event, activity, recital, auction and team sport. Assistance with shared driving, baby-sitting, hosting overnights, Birthday Parties, and buying all the chocolate almonds or other items necessary to assist funding in minor leagues and other activities. Spoiling all 10, was the new norm. He and Louise unabashedly admitted to indulgences with absolutely no remorse. The Grandkids, in turn, cherished their "Pappa" and "Mumma." They reciprocally shared almost every special moment with each other, from 1984 to the present. Joe traveled with Louise and family, and loved visiting Grandsons in Ontario and in the Maritimes. Both dearly loved spending time at the Gregg second home in Invermere, B.C., often with the Greggs and then alone, extending their summer visits into fall, when everyone headed back to school and work. They fished the mountain streams, and enjoyed and explored all the Rockies, Purcells and Kootenays had to offer. They made many special new friends in the Invermere Valley. Joe still golfed, tried float-boating to augment his stream fly-fishing, tied his own (and many others') flies, and loaded shells for trap-shooting. In the last 7 years he began facing progressive health issues, but fully enjoyed all activities, celebrations, and trips with friends and family until that point. Right until days before he passed, he still had that amazing twinkle in those Blue eyes, reiterated his "classic Joe phrases" (okay, maybe more than once), entertained the nurses, and remembered all our names. His specialized Care Team told us, based on what the scans and x-rays showed, including significant old damage to many bones, joints, and muscles, on top of cancers having spread so extensively to multiple organs, he should have experienced deep, constant, and increasing pain. But NEVER ONCE could anyone - family, friends, doctors, nurses, and support staff that saw him daily - recall an incident where he complained of pain or felt he could not tolerate it.
Joe was predeceased by his Son, Slater in 1993; his Daughter, Judy in 2014; and his Wife, Louise, in 2013. His Mother and Dad, his 4 sisters and their spouses, in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina, also predeceased him, as did Louise's parents, her 2 infant brothers, and her 2 sisters and spouses. He leaves to cherish his memory and tell his story, daughter Nancy (Ron) Gregg and grandsons Kevin (Kate), Cameron, Sean and Daniel Gregg; Daughter Susan and Grandkids Kirstin, Steven, and Michael Fritze; Daughter Patti Thibert and Granddaughter Jennifer Thibert; and Judy's children, grandkids, Jonathan and Jessica Mucha.
Reverend Father Michael McCaffery will celebrate a Mass of Christian Burial at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 20, 2016, with Father Paul Kavanagh, at St. John the Evangelist Parish, 9830 – 148 Street in Edmonton.
To send condolences, please visit: www.connelly-mckinley.com


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Connelly-McKinley Funeral Home
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Edmonton, AB T5K 1R5
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Published in The Edmonton Journal from Sept. 17 to Sept. 19, 2016
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