ROCKFORD – Joseph A. “Joe” Morrissey, fourth of 13 children of William R. and Aileen (Brady) Morrissey, passed away peacefully, Monday, April 2, 2018, surrounded by family, with Irish music playing softly in the background.
Earthly life began for Joe on Aug. 16, 1929 on a family farm near Amboy. Joe and his siblings were all born at home except for the youngest, born at the former Amboy Hospital. Joe grew up a resilient and entrepreneurial young man during the Great Depression. Although the family had little, they were rich in faith and love. Joe learned early on the discipline of milking cows at 5 a.m. every day, bailing hay, feeding pigs and chickens, living a farm boy’s life. He scrapped metal and sold eggs to make side money during World War II. He served in the military during the Korean War. Studying to become a lawyer didn’t look too bad after all that.
Joe attended St. Anne Elementary, graduating from Amboy High School in 1947 and St. Ambrose University in 1951. Following college, Joe served four years in the U.S. Air Force. After service, Joe studied law at the University of Illinois, obtaining his Juris Doctorate in 1958. Upon graduation, Joe worked in the State Farm Claims Department until 1964, after which Joe began a private law practice in Rockford concentrating in personal injury claims for over 50 years.
Joe helped many people through his law practice. Yet, the part of Joe’s life that helped him survive and allowed Joe to keep helping others began Dec. 13, 1978 when Joe celebrated his other birthday, his last drink of alcohol and his first step into Alcoholics Anonymous. Joe attended AA meetings nearly every day thereafter, helping people from all walks of life and being helped, as well. The empathy and sympathy Joe shared reflected onto his family, including his youngest son, former Rockford Mayor, Larry, as well as his daughter, Eileen and oldest son, Bill, who were each blessed to be close to their Mom and Dad. Joe’s beloved wife, Josephine, stayed true to Joe through thick and thin; including 18 years of Joe’s active alcoholism which blossomed into 39 years of blessed sobriety. Thankfully, Josephine gave Joe a second chance after their first meeting at the Saddle and Cycle when she learned that he had a brother who was a priest and a sister a nun. Joe was also enamored by Nana Matranga’s cooking and Papa Matranga’s garden.
Empathy for the community lead Joe to listen to his son, Larry, which moved Joe to spend countless hours and nearly all of Joe’s life savings to help redevelop downtown Rockford and other impoverished parts of the City. Joe started with the former Rockford Morning Star building on Wyman Street, turning a largely vacant and unused building into 4 beautiful loft apartments, wood paneled offices, modern video and engineering spaces and calming views for social workers. Marble touches and an Egyptian style ceiling in the bank space could have been lost if Joe had not invested; years before the Rockford Public Library had talked about razing the building for surface parking.
Joe’s next endeavor was Garrison School, originally built in 1887. The neighborhood had its issues. Turning classrooms into exquisite loft apartments was a rewarding but expensive feat. Joe didn’t just invest his life’s savings, he walked the neighborhood, picked up trash, engaged the neighbors and worked with the authorities to improve the area. As a result of his vision and work, the area saw many new professionals including lawyers, doctors, medical students and professional hockey players lease apartments, bringing hope to an area that had not seen a lot of investment in years.
Joe adopted Rockford as his second hometown and his vision and civic commitment encouraged others to follow, including his children, each of whom are blessed to share his servant’s heart. A pastor was also inspired to move from the far east side of Rockford to just south of Garrison School; motivated to fix up his home because Joe fixed up Garrison. Others, who lived in Joe’s Wyman Street apartments, bought the building across the street and turned the upper floors into awesome lofts where they have lived for years. Those same people organized the group which helped advocate for turning the former Ziock building into the first new hotel for downtown Rockford in 85 years. Although the Great Recession challenged Joe financially, Joe truly became the “rich man who fit through the eye of the needle;” because Joe diminished his wealth for the good of others.
Joe entered Heaven’s Door at the age of 88. Along with his wife, Josephine and kids, Bill (Melissa) Morrissey, Eileen (Joe) and Larry (Stacy) Morrissey, Joe is survived by grandchildren Larissa, Joseph, Josh, Matt, Andrew, Grace, Seanna, Sophia, Dillon and AJ. Also surviving, Joe’s sisters: Rita, Lois, Frances, Monica, Barb and Colleen; sisters-in-law Corrine and Linda and brother, Larry.
Joe did many things very well. From milking cows and gardening, to practicing law and campaigning for his son, Larry, he was a fierce competitor but also a kind gentleman, loyal friend, and faithful Catholic. In fact, many neighbors will recall the time he had a giant load of manure dropped into his large garden lot just before an unseasonably warm May. He had a gregarious and warm personality, a great sense of humor, and was a thoughtful observer of life in the tradition of great Irish poets. He enjoyed morning coffee with his buddies and, as a former waiter, appreciated the kindness from many servers over the years, especially his friends downtown at Octane. In his last days, he enjoyed the beautiful views from his bed, incredible care from Agrace Hospice and caregivers Al, Kojo and Deborah, and letting us know how appreciative he was for his life and how prepared he was for the journey ahead.
Predeceased by parents, William and Aileen; grandson, Michael Joseph Morrissey; brothers, Robert, John “Tiny” and Reverend William Morrissey; sisters Rosie and Bette; brothers-in-law: Leroy Goy, Doug Koch, George Hawks, Louis Wilhelm, Alvin Glenn, Gene Carroll, Lloyd Considine, Jack Scorby and Joe (Marge) Matranga; brother and sister-in-law Cosmo and Antonette Matranga; three infant Matranga brothers-in-law; nephew and godson, Tim Considine, and nephews, Jay Hawks and Brian Goy.
Mass of the Lord’s Resurrection was celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 7, 2018 in Holy Family Catholic Church, 4401 Highcrest Rd. Visitation was held from 6-8 p.m. Friday in Holy Family Church and from 9 a.m. until time of the Mass on Saturday. Burial in Greenwood Cemetery. Memorials may be made to the family to be divided up among several interests that were very important to Joe. Arrangements were completed by Fitzgerald Funeral Home & Crematory, Mulford Chapel. Express condolences and share memories at www.fitzgeraldfh.com.