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Life Story / Obituary
Joe Vorachek was a kind and generous man who lived a life rich in family and service to others. Intelligent, hardworking, and persevering, Joe insisted on using his gifts for good and inspired others to do so as well. Joe believed in the power of self-determination. He met life’s challenges with quiet confidence and celebrated life’s joys with humility and gratitude. Joe embraced everyone he met as a friend and cherished his family above all else. Revered by many, Joe will long be remembered and ever so missed.
Despite the obvious gloom of the Great Depression, 1935 gave birth to many celebrated firsts. While reeling in the heartache of Black Sunday, our nation’s 20.1% unemployment rate and the gathering war clouds as Germany passed the Nuremberg laws, Americans found much hope in Amelia Earhart’s’ first solo Pacific flight, the inventions of parking meters, fluorescent tubes for light, and the game of Monopoly, as well as the first Orange Bowl, first Pacific Airmail delivery, and the first Technicolor film; Mickey Mouse. In Menominee, Joseph and Agnes (Lianna) Vorachek held much hope for the future as they celebrated the birth of their son, Joseph Robert, on December 16.
Growing up in Menominee, at the southernmost point of the Upper Peninsula, Joe’s childhood was firmly rooted in a strong work ethic and a love for the outdoors. The oldest of the Vorachek children, Joe took on his role with pride and determination. He worked at his father’s side, tending the large family garden and tending the Christmas trees they would grow and sell each year. His father worked Lloyd Manufacturing Company, which produced chairs and tables, while his mother tended the house and children.
Joe enjoyed spending long winters sledding and skiing behind the family home, while the warmer months were filled with baseball, cross country, and track and field. During his high school years, Joe had the good fortune of getting to know his classmate, Jean Ewald. Recognizing their good fortune, the pair began dating their senior year and soon set their eyes on a future together.
A year after graduating from High School with the class of 1953, Joe and Jean celebrated their marriage ceremony on July 10, 1954, in the local Catholic Church. It was the greatest day of Joe’s life.
Shortly after they married, the young couple moved to Kalamazoo, where Joe worked as a switchman for the B.O. Railroad. For 43 years, the job required long days and nights, which Joe welcomed as it also provided a living and a home for the family.
In 1975, Joe and Jean purchased a 112-acre fruit farm in Mattawan. Tending the grapes, peaches, pears, sweet cherries, and raspberries proved a labor of love for Joe. He truly loved the land and devoted his energies to its good care. The farm also set the stage for Joe to share his love of the land with his five daughters. Determined to instill a good work ethic in each of them, Joe didn’t want them to sleep their weekends away. To raise them up in the early morning hours for chores, he would yell up the stairs, “People die in bed. Get up!” When that didn’t do the trick, he would blast a record of Joan Sutherland to get them moving.
Never one to sit idle, Joe was always on the go. Whether working on the railroad, he did so with precision and excellence. Though a hard worker, Joe also always made time for his family. He was always up for a game of softball with the girls or ice skating on the rink that he would build in the winter. The family would take vacations each year back home to Menominee to visit family or exploring destinations like Yellowstone National Park in their pop up camper. Joe also enjoyed yearly hunting trips every November when he made the journey to his family cabin in the Upper Peninsula. The vacations gave Joe a much-needed rest from the grind of work, but more importantly, it gave him extra time to bond with the family.
Joe was a lifelong learner whose interests included reading the Wall Street Journal, watching Stuart Varney on CNN, and reading the Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper. With these tools in hand, he honed his business savvy. He believed that nothing is for free and valued, figuring things out for himself. With a solid plan, willingness to work hard, and the right information, Joe believed you could do anything if you put your mind to it. Over the years, he learned to successfully choose worthy investments without the aid of a broker. Joe also enjoyed watching sports. He liked watching baseball, hockey, and cheering on his favorite football team, the Green Bay Packers. Joe also enjoyed a good game of cards; Bridge, Pinochle, and Euchre were his favorites.
A wonderful example of a marriage rooted in equanimity and love, Joe and Jean truly relished in one another’s good company. Fabulous dance partners, they loved to polka. Many wonderful memories were made dancing at various venues in the greater Kalamazoo area and at the Dank in Benton Harbor. Though he thrilled in teaching his daughters and granddaughters to polka, Joe particularly enjoyed taking to the dance floor with his beloved and dancing to his favorite song, The Clarinet Polka. Joe and Jean were also able to take many travel adventures together. Over the years, they enjoyed tours and cruises to faraway places including, the Caribbean, Alaska, Germany, Austria, and Czechia.
While Joe was in many ways a typical man of his generation, who didn’t show much outward affection and whose love was more often shown in his labors, later in life, he softened and would give an occasional hug. Never one to hold a grudge, Joe forgave others with compassion and empathy. His kindness was evident in his generosity. Whether sharing splendors and bounty of his land with his neighbors or lending his wisdom and support other’s earnest efforts, Joe did so with gentle grace, dignity, and kindness that proved a powerful inspiration for all who were blessed to know him.
The last few years proved daunting for Joe. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, Joe was frustrated by his inability to formulate the words he wished to speak. Despite the challenges he faced, he welcomed each day as a gift, and every moment he spent with his family as a treasure. He continued to carefully cultivate his relationships with his grandchildren, especially Jacob, who lived nearby and helped out around the farm, and he maintained his gentle nature and dignity.
It is difficult to imagine life in the absence of Joe’s steadfast presence. May we find peace and comfort in the privilege of carrying his incredible legacy forward. With each springtime blossom we marvel, harvest we gather, day we greet as a friend, abundance we share, and turn on the dance floor we take with our beloved, we celebrate the many ways Joe gifted each of us. In so doing, we keep his spirit alive and inspiring others as he so inspired us.
On the afternoon of Saturday, August 1, 2020, Joe died peacefully at his home, on his beloved farm that was so dear to his heart.
Members of his family include his wife Jean, his 5 daughters: Kathleen (Ken) Kurdziel, Darlene (Clif) Shapiro, Victoria Vorachek, Laura (Mike) Johnson and Janet Vorachek (Dave Smith), his 10 Grandchildren: Timothy, Keith, Josh, Alicia, Jacob, Dominique, Melissa, Jacquelyn, Rebecca, Jonathon, 4 Great Grandchildren- Michael, Raymond, Claire, Owen and his brothers and sisters: Francis Vorachek, William Vorachek, Mary Vorachek, Michael Vorachek.
A private Life Story gathering will take place, and a Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at St. John Bosco Parish. Burial will be in the Maple Grove Cemetery. Please visit Joe’s personal web page at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com, where you can read his life story, archive a favorite memory or photo, and sign his online guestbook before coming to the funeral home. Memorial contributions may be made to Alzheimer's Association Arrangements by the Betzler & Thompson Life Story Funeral Home, 60900 M-40 Hwy; Paw Paw (269) 657-3870