Chapter 1: Background
06:19:14:10 - 06:19:34:10
Lisa: My name is Lisa Sonneborn. I'm interviewing Joe Angelo at the Doubletree Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 24th, 2013. Also present is our videographer Ginger Jolly and Joe we have your permission to begin our interview?
Joe: Yes, you do.
Lisa: Thank you very much. Joe I'm going to ask your name and occupation.
06:19:42:13 - 06:19:46:20
Joe: My name is Joe Angelo and I'm a retired mathematics professor.
06:19:47:10 - 06:19:54:25
Lisa: Thank you. And can you tell me, Joe, when and where you were born?
Joe: I was born in Pittsburgh, in 1935.
06:19:56:05 - 06:20:12:00
Lisa: And can you tell me a little bit about your family? Did you have a large or small family?
Joe: My family as a child, um, consisted of my brother and me and my parents. Uh, Aline and Sam, my brother Lou.
06:20:12:20 - 06:21:22:05
Lisa: Can you describe your parents a little for me; maybe starting with your mother?
Joe: My mother was born in but uh two years after she was born she went to Italy and then was there until she was probably about 14. So she was uh an American citizen because she was born here. She didn't know the language very well when she came back um and she came back and went to school just rural elementary school. Um, my father uh was born in Italy and came to this country when he was 13 by himself. He ran away from home um, and then lived in Pittsburgh when he got here with an adoptive uncle; a person who really wasn't his uncle but claimed to be so he could get him off of Ellis Island. Um and had several jobs before beginning to drive a bus in Pittsburgh; one of the first bus drivers in Pittsburgh. He eventually gave that up and went into contracting business and was a contractor.
06:21:24:25 - 06:21:38:25
Lisa: When you were growing up had you experienced disability firsthand either in your family or in your community at all?
Joe: No. No. I had no experience with people with disabilities.
06:21:39:15 - 06:22:43:05
Lisa: Did you have any perceptions of people with disabilities?
Joe: You know, I will take that back. I can remember when I was in high school um there was a man who I, a student, who I believe um would have been diagnosed with Fragile X now that I know a little bit about it. But he had a very difficult time in school. He was... there were no accommodations for people with disabilities in those days. Most children with uh that kind of disability just didn't go to school. He was actually punished by the teachers for giving wrong answers. He was made fun of by the students. It used to really irritate me so I became, I hope, his friend. We walked to and from school together so I got to know him better than some of the guys I was with all day, but he was a nice kid and I just felt bad for him. That was the only experience that I can recall.
06:22:45:25 - 06:24:10:10
Lisa: So as a young man what did you imagine that your life would be? Was there a particular profession you wanted to pursue?
Joe: Yes. There was. I was fortunate, one of the fortunate few that has been called to a profession when they were young, I was about 16 year old and knew then that I was going to be a teacher. There was just no doubt in my mind that that was going to be my life's work. I believe I was touched a little bit by the spirit for that because it kind of matched my personality and a lot of things that I liked to do are involved in that profession. So yes, I wanted to be a teacher all the time. Now I also made a decision when I was about 18 years old that I wanted to be married and I wanted to have children. And I felt again called to that vocation as well. Just felt the call. I got tugged that way and there were many occasions during my life when... especially with the career uh that I might have been pulled away because there were mighty fine offers to stay in the military, to stay in industry. Eventually to go into administration in education that I just had to say no thank you, I'm a teacher. So I had a forty year teaching career.
06:24:11:10 - 06:25:33:10
Lisa: You mentioned that one of the other things you had envisioned for yourself was a family. Can you tell me a little bit about your wife; her name, how you met?
Joe: Okay. Her name is Shirley, and Shirley Ann I should say because she loves her middle name although she hardly ever uses it now, because it's not what people do. And I think her mother only called her that when she was angry with her, but Shirley is a wonderful lady, just a wonderful lady - a very good person. I can remember when I first started dating her my father said to me one day "You're going to marry her one day aren't you?" And I said, "No, I don't know for sure". We haven't even talked about anything like that but I tell you what, I'm going to marry somebody just like her. Her values and her ideals just matched mine. We both wanted children. We both believed in helping other people and just you know living in a good life and, so, yeah. I still love her to this day. In fact Friday is our 55th wedding anniversary. Her partnership with me as my interest in people with disabilities evolved was terrific. I could not have done anything I did without her.
06:25:44:05 - 06:27:27:05
Lisa: Did you and Shirley start the family that you had envisioned?
Joe: Oh yeah, you asked me how we met.
Lisa: Oh, I did!
Joe: Yeah and I have to tell you that because that's an interesting story. I got out of college and when I came home my best friend was having an engagement party. He was getting engaged to my best female friend. Not a romantic friend, but just a really good friend that I kind of grew up with and he wanted me to come to his engagement party and he said "bring a date". I said well I've been away for four years and I don't really know anybody anymore. I said... and so he and another friend took me out to a jazz club. We sat around and listened to some really good jazz music and eyed up the young ladies as they came in the door and sure enough this very nice looking girl came in with a crowd of girls and they sat at the table right next to me and I looked at her and I thought she'll be the one. I'm going to see if she'll go to this party with me. So it wasn't love at first sight, but I just thought she'd make a good date and so we had a dance or two. I think we probably danced to two songs and she returned to her table and then they all got up and left and all I had was her name. No phone number or anything like that but I was pretty sure I wanted to take her to that engagement party so that next day I, the next evening I tried to call her and about the second phone call I got by using her name her father answered and I got to talk to her and we had our first date that way. The romance in the relationship didn't come for many, many months after that but still, that's how it started.
06:27:27:25 - 06:29:16:20
Lisa: And when did you finally realize she was the one?
Joe: Well, I wasn't a teacher at the time. I was working as an engineer with US steel but I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I just took the job with US Steel because I didn't want to start and not be able to finish. I had already enlisted in the military, the Army, so I went away for the Army. That was in January and in May I finished my basic training, and was ready to ship overseas actually, and I got 25 days leave. Prior to that we probably had been out together maybe a dozen times. That's about it, maybe a little bit more but not much and we were very good friends but no conversation at all about a future together but being away from her that long I think began to really feel some feelings that I wanted to spend my life with her but even during that 25 day leave I had we were together maybe four, five days of the week we didn't really talk much about being married and all. But that's when the bond came and when I went to the military I actually called her long distance from Hawaii; trans-oceanic line cable and asked her to marry me because I didn't want her to get away then. I knew she was the one.
Lisa: And so you...
Joe: My brother had to put the ring on her finger because I was 5,000 miles away, and he kissed her too! And I've never really forgiven him for that, but she said "yes".
Lisa: Definitely to you right? Not your brother.
Joe: Nope, definitely to me.
06:29:17:10 - 06:29:55:10
Lisa: Can you tell me about the family you and Shirley had?
Joe: Before we were married during the, about a week before, we had some conversations. We talked about family. We both wanted children but when we talked with the priest he asked us how many children we thought we should have and being Catholic you're supposed to say as many as God gives you but we wanted to put a number on it. So I said oh maybe four. Coming from a family of two I thought four would be a nice number and Shirley said six so we compromised and we had seven. Um, that's how we came to that. We both wanted children and so we had a bunch of them.
06:29:55:15 - 06:30:13:10
Lisa: And what are their names?
Joe: Oh, I can do that I think. I'll do it in chronological order oldest to the youngest; Joe, Tom, Mary, Jimmy, Susan, David, and John.
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About Joe Angelo
Born: 1935, Pittsburgh, PA
Prof. Emeritus, Mathematics at Indiana University of Pennsylvania & Advocate for People with Developmental Disabilities. Former Titles/Affiliations: The Arc Board of Directors, President, The ARC of Pennsylvania, President, The Arc of Indiana County
ARC, Down syndrome, Education/Right to Education, Employment, Faith, Families, Institutions, Nursing Homes, Parents