A special memento returns to Manchester family
Joe Fitzgerald was a man of many passions.
“He loved his family, his community, and his church,” said his widow, Pat.
His family consisted of his wife of 66 years, Pat; his three children, Tom, Laurie, and Lisa; and grandchildren, Katie, Austin, Brent, and Austin. He was proud to have made Manchester “home” for most of his life, and lived in the house he and Pat built together for 61 years. He was a dedicated member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Manchester, where he and Pat sat together in the same pew for nearly 70 years, until he passed away on May 17.
He was also very proud of his military service in the Air Force from 1950-54, where he served as a radar man in a Corvair B36, the largest aircraft the military ever had. A framed illustration of that plane remains on his family room wall.
So, some 40 years ago, he was disappointed to learn that his daughter had lost his dog tags while riding her bike to Brooklyn.
“The kids used to wear them; it was a thing they did,” Pat explains. “She didn’t admit that she’d lost it for quite a while.”
Recently, William McMurray, adjutant for Wilber-Bartlett American Legion Post #315 in Brooklyn, received a thank you note from a Brooklyn-area reader. McMurray often writes a column of military stories for the Brooklyn Exponent, and the reader appreciated a recent article he had written about the meaning of Poppy Day. With the note, was enclosed a dog tag. The name on the tag: Joseph F. Fitzgerald.
McMurray then took pen in hand again and wrote in a subsequent column about the tag being found. Exponent reader Joyce Merriman, a classmate of Joe’s, recognized the name and at the St. Mary Ice Cream Social, asked Pat what Joe’s middle initial was. Pat then got in touch with McMurray, and as she says,”the rest is history!”
At a ceremony last month at the Wilber-Bartlett Post, Pat received Joe’s re-located dog tag and a special recognition of his service. The timing of the return was especially meaningful to her as it seemed to be almost like a message from Joe, reminding her that he’s still nearby.
And it’s not surprising that he would stay close to her–and to Manchester, the community he had adopted as his own. When World War II broke out, his widowed mother could no longer take care of Joe and his brother. They came here in 1942 at the ages of 10 and 9, and lived with the Kidd family under the sponsorship of St. Vincent de Paul. From that time on, Manchester was “home” to Joe. He gave back in many ways over the years–as a member of the Jaycees, as President of the Athletic Boosters, a Community Chest (later United Way) volunteer, and as a Village Council trustee. After returning from service, he worked with Allen Schaffer for his entire career, ending up as Union Construction’s vice president until he retired. The Schaffer companies gave jobs to many local men, and when business was slow, Schaffer would have his crew build spec homes in the Riverbend subdivision, which he developed.
“Joe was a tough boss, but he cared about his crew and they were always around to help us if we needed something,” Pat recalls. “He always said, ‘no one ever works for you; they work with you.’ He was generous and always willing to lend a hand to others. He was just a good guy.”
Although he missed Manchester’s first Chicken Broil in 1954, while still in the service, he soon became active in that effort through his involvement with the Jaycees, and for more than 50 years was in charge of the pit crews. As president of the Athletic Boosters for many years, he was instrumental in building the track at the athletic complex, and single-handedly solicited several huge donations for its completion.
He played softball with “Lefty” Ross, a Hall of Fame pitcher; he also was a huge University of Michigan fan and often entertained the likes of Bo Schembechler and other famous Wolverines, as evidenced by several autographed photos.
Although his health had been failing for a couple of years, Pat says Joe never complained and always was happy. While she believes he would have been incredibly pleased to have the long-lost dog tag returned during his lifetime, she chooses to look at this memorable event as a gift–more proof that he’s still looking out for her after all their years together.