A Special Kind of Joe

It is difficult to ignore. The rhythmic thumping sound of basketballs slapping the playground asphalt pulls Joe Key from his North Wheeling home. Living almost directly across from the playground, Joe knows the annual basketball camp and men’s tournament is under way.

He makes his way across the street to the playground and reacquaints himself with coaches, players and neighbors on hand to participate in this growing neighborhood event. They greet him with gusto. Joe was born and raised in North Wheeling.

He remembers when Wheeling Hospital and Sacred Heart Church and Washington Elementary were his neighbors. He grew up with families like his own, where neighbors looked out for one another and knew everyone’s kids by name.

Joe went off to serve in the military – the only time he was really away from his hometown. When he returned, he carried the mail for his neighborhood for 30 years. He saw the people come and go, businesses close up and buildings torn down.

But Joe has hung in there like some of his longtime neighbors. His love of the game of hoops led him to coaching – girls at Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy, then on to Wheeling Jesuit University.

On this particular evening, Joe is taking time to offer his expertise to the kids – more than 70 this year – who have shown up for the basketball camp.

Joe praises the young men who run the camp – Joe Touvell and Cory Doty- and others who have been on board for the past six years. He tells me how this simple event is great for the community, his community that he obviously loves.

He points out some of the aspiring basketball stars scrambling around the hot pavement, some still in elementary school, who so look forward to the yearly camp. Joe said they make friends there and the younger kids look up to the high school and college players who offer some pointers.

While other areas of the city are screaming for more police patrols, Joe remarks how, despite the changes in North Wheeling, life is pretty good there. He said crime is not a major issue and the addition of the Hope Six public housing units has brought a diverse population to the already established blend of heritages.

“For the most part people get along here,” Joe said. “This is how it’s supposed to be. People respect each other.”

He nodded up the street to the Bethlehem Apostolic Temple and remarked what a positive influence that the church and its pastor, the Rev. Darrell Cummings, have had on the neighborhood. Joe seems to always have something nice to say, a breath of fresh air to this journalist’s ears.

Too often we hear the negative about someone or someplace. We complain about things because they aren’t what they used to be, but not Joe.

We need more guys like Joe. Someone who looks at a playground bustling with kids and wonders how he can get the city to build a bigger playground. And someone who is proud to call Wheeling his hometown.

Heather Ziegler can be reached at ziegler@theintelligencer.net.