Joe Vagueiro passed away on March 31, 2015 at the age of
77. He was born on June 10, 1937. He grew up in Down Neck New Jersey, also
known as the Ironbound district of Newark.
Joe never showed much interest in academics, telling the story of
picking his subjects in middle school by counting which classes had the
In 1955, at the age of 17, Joe joined the United States Air
Force and served as an air traffic controller for eight years. As a young airman, often working twelve
hours on and twelve hours off, one of his responsibilities was to raise the
flag in the morning. As he told the
story, one morning, coming on duty tired and hung over, he accidentally sent
the flag up, upside down. Because the
base was displaying an international distress signal, the base fighter jets
were automatically scrambled. Since he would
never really finish that story, we will never know how much trouble he actually
Joe was ultimately stationed at Truax Field in Madison,
Wisconsin where he met and married Monica Mary Haag (Heartsy) on February 13,
1960. They were married for twenty years,
and he asked about her for the rest of his life. Joe and Heartsy had two children Kim Marie
Vagueiro on January 14, 1961 and Joe Vagueiro Jr on December 3, 1964. Joe showed amazing forbearance with his
children and their multiple friends who were always at the house. He good naturedly tolerated loud music, late
nights, crowded bathrooms, and wild parties as the peccadilloes of youth. In
1978, after Kim and three of her best friends spent hours getting ready for prom
in a bathroom the size of a phone booth, Joe dryly commented that they looked
exactly the same as when they went in there.
As each of his kids turned 16 and went for the road test to get their
driver’s licenses, they found a hand written note in the glove box. The note read, “If you ever crash the car,
remember it is you I love and not the car.”
After being honorably discharged from service, Joe lived in
Wisconsin for the rest of his life. He was always good with his hands and
worked as a carpenter for many years. He
eventually wound up teaching a shop class at Kettle Moraine Prison for 15
years. He was proud that his student-inmates
renovated old mobile homes which were then donated to those needing
housing. He also taught inmates to make
beautiful wood rocking horses which were donated to local hospitals.
Joe was an avid collector and was always passionate about
the hunt. He was so enthusiastic that he once accidentally added two zeros onto
an internet bid. He didn’t know how to retract the bid, and watched helplessly,
hoping that another passionate collector wasn’t also bidding. He lucked out. Joe also loved the music of his youth,
especially the old crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Anytime he heard them singing on the radio,
Joe would comment as to how much he loved that music.
Joe loved good food.
A nurse deemed him a “non-compliant diabetic.” Truthfully, he was a
gleeful, unrepentant non-compliant diabetic. After several educational classes
with a registered nutritionist, he not only did not know how to count carbs, he
did not even know what a carb was. His
take away from the classes was that, “Anything that tastes good you are not
supposed to eat.” And really that was
that. He reveled in the food of his
youth. He loved Italian sausages and
eggs with peppers and onions. But
desserts were his favorite, anything from chocolate to Oreo fluff. He would pick out his weekly pie with the
consideration that brokers give to selecting stocks. His absolute favorite treat, though, was the
chocolate cheesecake made by his son-in-law, Rob.
He was a man of interesting contrasts. He was once
unreasonably angry for weeks because a sign was posted too close to the edge of
his lawn. He liked his routine and his predictability. His family fondly called
him, “Mr. Pump 11” because he would wait patiently at his favorite
gas station for pump 11, no matter how many other pumps were open. But then
there were incidents like the summer in 2011, a few short months after his
granddaughter, Mari Fletcher, received her driver’s license. Mari’s best friend, Megan, was also visiting
Fond du Lac. Megan wanted Mari to meet
her at the festival in the park. There
was a huge tangle of people and most of the available parking would likely be
on the street. As the logistics of
getting Mari to the park were being debated, Grandpa Joe blithely handed her
the keys to his adored Jaguar. So he
was asked, “Dad, are you sure? You love that car!” He responded
immediately, “Yeah, but I love her more.”
Joe’s sense of budgeting was also a bit of a mystery. He was consistently outraged at the price of
jumbo eggs and all beef hotdogs, insisting that the 99 cent dogs tasted just as
good. Yet he time and again gave generously to his favorite charities: Wounded Warriors and St. Jude’s Children’s
Hospital. He also loved getting a deal.
A number of years ago he paid six dollars for a tube of miracle whiting
toothpaste. He briefly worried that he had paid too much for the toothpaste.
After thinking about it for awhile, though, he brightened considerably. He determined that six dollars was not too
much to pay for a miracle.
At the end of his life he loved two women fiercely. He loved his sister, Marie Cursi, of Newark,
New Jersey, with whom he shared a sibling bond that transcended both time and
distance. In the declining months of his
life, she called him daily. Although he
was not a “church man” he happily described Marie’s congregation of
hundreds praying for his health and lighting candles in name. After all, he philosophized; there is nothing
wrong with “hedging your bet.”
He also loved his partner of 16 years, Rita Gross-Hahn. Rita, like the hot air balloons she loves,
brought light and color to his life. She
also brought laughter and a touch of feminism to his stodgy old self.
Throughout Joe’s life, he often spoke of wishing that he
could remember his father, Joseph Santos Vagueiro, Sr., who died when Joe was
only three years old. It is the fervent wish
of his children that their dad is now sitting at a table with his dad over a
good glass of Merlot, finally hearing all the stories he so longed to
know. Uncle Nicky, Uncle Tony and Uncle
Frankie, his favorite uncles, will join them for last call.
Joe was an old street fighter to the end. He lived hard, he loved hard and he died
exactly the way he lived, completely on his terms.
The family wishes to thank the caretakers at Above and
Beyond home health care, All About Life Rehab Center and the nurses from
Generations Hospice Care. You literally lifted him with compassion and humor,
and walked him to the doorstep.
Services will be held at Zacherl Funeral Home, 875 East
Division Street in Fond du Lac, WI on Thursday, April 9th, 2015. Visitation will be from 10am until 11:45am. There will be a short service at Noon at the
funeral home with full military honors. We
would be honored if you joined us in celebrating his life.
Zacherl Funeral Home & Crematory is serving the