Joseph G. Yasenko, 95, of Nebo, Illinois, died during Sept. 2019 in Springfield, Illinois, of injuries sustained in a car accident. Joe is survived by his beloved wife, Margaret and their six children, Rosemary, Joann, John II, Debbie and husband Ed, Steve and Dan. Joe was blessed with six grandchildren, Joe, Sonya, John III, Jared, Jessica, Ashley (step) and Nick; and two great-grandchildren, Alex and Hanna.
Born in a coal mining community in southern Illinois in Aug. 1924, Joe was the third and youngest child of Rose and John Yasenko. Rose and John had immigrated from Yugoslavia. Together with his two older sisters, Mary and Ruth Ann, they cherished and protected Joe, the sole heir of the family name. Their strong sense of family forged deep bonds and a dogged loyalty towards one another that never faltered.
As a child in rural Illinois, Joe was the most mischievous of the three siblings. His colorful antics were shared affectionately by his (now deceased) sisters, Mary and Ruth Ann. Joe’s parents taught him that hard work was necessary for success. During the Great Depression, he delivered ice, carried buckets of coal and held odd jobs in order to purchase a Rollfast bicycle that he kept to this day. Joe’s father, John, had a technical aptitude and was a highly resourceful and creative problem-solver. Joe shared his father’s passion for all things mechanical and knew from an early age he wanted to be a mechanic.
Leaving a position as a machinist, Joe enlisted in April 1943. He served in the US Army Corps of Engineers in the Pacific Theater where he operated, maintained, and repaired all forms of heavy equipment used to build infrastructure during the war. Joe was stationed in the jungles of New Guinea and the Philippines and routinely shared stories of camaraderie as well as the extreme conditions and suffering he witnessed during the war. After an attack in the Pacific Ocean, he watched shipmates drown and nearly suffered the same fate before being rescued. Discharged in June, 1945, Joe was honored with a bronze heart. Joe was deeply patriotic and held a great love of country throughout his life; he was recently awarded a Valor Quilt from the Pike County All Wars Museum.
Joe met his future wife, Margaret, at a dance in Centerville, Illinois when Joe’s sister, Mary, informed Margaret that her brother wanted an introduction. Joe married Margaret on Aug. 7, 1948; a union that lasted 72 years and produced six children, one of whom was stillborn. Joe lovingly referred to Margaret as, “My Doll.” He relied on her quiet patience and commitment to family to create joyful and memorable holidays and birthdays. Joe’s earnings and Margaret’s financial planning abilities ensured their family of six children would never to do without.
Joe and Margaret were very proud of their children and devoted their lives to them. Joe referred to his children by birth order and would proudly introduce them as his “#1 daughter,” or “#1 son,” etc. Joe prepared his children for life’s challenges by providing security, direction and emphasizing family, faith and country. He encouraged the unique qualities and talents of each child and supported them as they pursued their goals. Regardless of their chosen path, he stressed the importance of taking pride in their endeavors. He taught his children to think independently, to believe in themselves and to follow their vision, regardless of convention. Joe remained an integral part of their lives, phoning his children regularly to learn if they needed his help, to inform them of an upcoming auction, or sometimes just to talk about nothing in particular.
Joe worked as a civil servant for most of his life, starting at the Granite City Army Depot. He accepted a position as a painter, and was transferred to the inventory department before being offered a position as a mechanic, his childhood goal. Joe loved working in the shop and was promoted to supervisor before being transferred in 1972 to Tooele, Utah, to the position of Production Superintendent following the closure of the Granite City depot. A man of principle, Joe hated waste of all kinds and did his best to eliminate wasteful practices at both locations. Joe enjoyed the outdoor life in his adopted state of Utah and involved his family accordingly. Joe retired in 1977 and returned to Illinois to be near family. Joe made it a priority to remain in contact with his friends and co-workers from both Granite City and Tooele.
Joe constructed the last of his four family homes in Nebo, Illinois, in 1978 on family property purchased by his father in 1964 following the family’s loss of Joe’s mother, Rose; nephew, “Mikey”; and brother-in-law, Ted. Joe was very proud that each house was constructed primarily by himself and through the help of family. Joe developed close relationships with his grandchildren during this time. Each grandchild received the same help and guidance that he reserved for his own children, sometimes delivered at the same volume. Each grandchild was precious to him and he did his best to remain involved in their lives.
Retirement allowed Joe to freely indulge his passion for all things mechanical, including tractors, earth movers and vehicles of all types. He regularly attended area auctions to find new acquisitions and to make new friends. He loved people and routinely engaged strangers on the merits of various brands of oil, tires, gasoline, cars, trucks or whatever happened to be on his mind. Joe loved to laugh and make others laugh; he was always ready with a quick one-liner or colorful joke. He also knew how to work a buffet like few others!
Joe had a deep respect for nature and objected openly when he witnessed natural resources being squandered. The guardian and loyal companion of family pets, he cared deeply for them and meticulously provided for their needs. With a full heart, he mourned the passing of each with a suitable grave and headstone.
As Joe’s mobility failed, he enjoyed reading the history of WWII, stories of the Great Depression and the biographies of US presidents and political leaders. He donated to multiple charities to fight hunger, as a result of the starvation he witnessed during the war. He shared stories of his “hot-rodding youth” and races he ran against the fastest Chevrolets, Oldsmobiles and Chryslers of the day with his 1940 Ford and prized 1949 Mercury.
Joe called his children regularly to learn if they were happy and feeling well, to learn that their cars were okay and to remind them of how proud he was of them. He cherished the time he shared at family gatherings with his wife, Margaret, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Joe was a character like few others and will be deeply missed by family and friends. He was truly one in a million.
Services will be held at Niebur Funeral Home in Pittsfield, Illinois, on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. A private viewing for family will be held from 4 to 5 p.m., and a public viewing will follow from 5 to 6 p.m. Graveside services will be held at Mt. Carmel Catholic Cemetery in Belleville, Illinois, at noon on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at the Praise Chapel. These services are open to the public. Online condolences are welcome and may be made at www.nieburfh.com. Donations may be made to the Pike County Illinois Animal Shelter. Niebur Funeral Home in Pittsfield is handling the arrangements.