Joe Shedd

Joe Shedd

Joe Lynn Shedd was born on the family farm in Hominy, Oklahoma on December 3, 1932. He was the younger of two sons whose father supported his family by running a hardware store and a mother who worked as a homemaker.

These were difficult times for people living in the Great Plains region. The 150,000 square miles that encompassed Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle and neighboring sections of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico were devastated by drought in 1930's depression-ridden America. Nearly 60% of that region's population were driven off their farms with about 10% moving to California. Still today, those who lived through these years remember with great clarity "The Dust Bowl" or "Dirty Thirties." The Shedds' were among the 10% who headed West. In 1936, Joe's family, accompanied by his mother's two nephews Ralph and Clarence, left Oklahoma for a new life in the Golden State of California. On their way, they stopped in Carlsbad, New Mexico, liked what they saw, and decided to stay. For one thing, the climate was much better for Joe, who'd been born with congenital sinus problems, than what they'd left behind in Oklahoma. In retrospect, though, it was not as good as California's would have been. One of Joe's greatest regrets is he never lived within close proximity to moist, salt air. Conditions like this would most likely have resulted in a reprieve from a lifetime of ill health. A turning point for Joe came in May of 1942, when his mother received a telegram saying Ralph had perished in a prisoner of war camp in Manchuria. He left behind a wife. Clarence also served in the military but came home safely. These events haunted Joe for years to come.

Though there were four years between them, the Shedd boys were industrious fellows who depended on each other. They sold newspapers at the bus station, catching the men as they headed to work each day for the potash mines. The money they earned went toward their school supplies and when they weren't working, they'd spend their days playing with neighborhood kids. One spine tingling game they invented involved a wonderful cardboard fort Joe's older brother, Dale, made and placed on a vacant lot near their home. They'd spend hours shooting each other with bows and arrows. Fortunately, there weren't many serious casualties, though Joe admits it was easier on the body than the BB gun play that really hurt! Activities like this must have played their part in toughening up Joe, who dreamed of being a boxer "like Joe Lewis." He would, however, come close to meeting his goal later on as a young man.

It turns out, that during World War II, Carlsbad, N.M. was an Army Air Force Base where bombardiers were trained. The family met many soldiers and during those years they'd often take in the overflow of guests from the local hotel into their family home. One military wife and baby from Little Rock stayed with the Shedds' for an extended length of time while her husband was away serving in the military.

Joe says that his father, who was held in high regard by all who met him, was his greatest influence in life. He recalls one incident when his father, who was headed to the bank to secure a loan, ran into the owner of the house the family rented. The landlord, a wealthy cotton farmer, advised Mr. Shedd to accept a personal loan with a better interest rate than the bank would offer. A deal was struck that was satisfactory to both parties as a result of that chance meeting.

Joe completed his education in the Carlsbad School System. In 8th Grade, he held the distinction of having the highest score in math, an honor Joe attributes to his years as a newspaper salesman. After high school, because he wasn't eligible for military service for health reasons, Joe attended an electrical trade school for one year, but decided this wasn't to his liking. Instead, he worked in the potash mines in the refinery and eventually moved on to the sampling department as an Assistant Engineer in their lab. Here, he worked in quality control for the mine. He also was able to build up his legs by running up and down the stairs.

All his stair work paid off, when Joe finally realized his boyhood dream by becoming the State Champion as a 127# featherweight in 1951 and 1953 and as a lightweight in 1954. He also spent considerable time in the ring as a sparring partner for such greats as middleweight contender, Bert Lytell in the early '50's.

Times passed, and in February of 1972, Joe, his first wife, and Brad, their ten year old son, arrived in Anchorage, Alaska from Seal Beach, California. Joe had been promised a job transfer with the U.S. Postal System and with his paperwork in hand presented himself to the Supervisor in Anchorage to complete the process. It was a blow to the entire family when the individual in charge of the Anchorage facility refused to hire Joe for health reasons. With a family to feed, Joe quickly found work driving a bus between Anchorage and Fairbanks for a few months. Under all this stress, it wasn't too long until his marriage ended and his wife moved to Florida, taking their son with her. A fortuitous chain of events that included an unexpected breakdown in Fairbanks, a stay at the Polaris Motel and making the acquaintance of a local postal employee, led to an introduction to the Fairbanks Postmaster. Soon, Joe was again a government employee! He worked as a mail carrier at the Main Branch of the Fairbanks Post Office from 1972 until 1979.

After leaving Fairbanks, Joe returned to his home "Outside" and drove school buses and large trucks in Carlsbad for the next couple of years. When he left New Mexico to return to Fairbanks in 1981, his son, by then a young man, came with him.

In June of 1981, Joe began working at the Fairbanks Pioneer's Home as a janitor and eventually moved on to building maintenance where he worked for nearly 16 years. He retired from the State of Alaska in 1996 at the age of 64. Soon after he was hired to work at the Pioneer's Home, Joe met Irma Gallagher, who was the Director of Nursing. When she expressed a desire to learn to square dance, Joe agreed to be her partner. In an effort to not be pegged as a "couple," Irma insisted they travel separately and meet for lessons at Pioneer Park. This went on for several months. Their friendship grew and on November 8, 1991, in the presence of God, the Justice of the Peace, Joe's son and a young Native woman who was a stranger to them, but who was agreeable to being a witness, they were married. When family got wind of the wedding, they were not very happy because they had not been invited to this "big event." Fortunately, time heals and now everyone is pleased by this union.

These days, Joe and Irma claim three grown children, ten grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, who reside in Fairbanks, Delta and California.

Joe and Irma have carved out a comfortable life together and share a common bond as active members of New Hope Methodist-Presbyterian Church. They also participate in the events that Santa's Senior Center sponsors, weather and health permitting.

Of particular pride is the fact that even today, Joe has maintained contact with several of his Carlsbad childhood friends. Though many have passed on, his close ties with that place continues to provide him with many happy memories and stimulating phone calls.

In closing, I asked Joe to describe himself to me. He says he has always lived a clean life....perhaps more out of necessity due to health concerns than choice, but nevertheless, we can't take this away from him! He also says he is loyal, though perhaps at times his loyalty has been misplaced. Irma added that Joe is a good companion and is often quite witty. He makes her laugh. My observations would have to include "generous and friendly," too.

Although Joe has experienced some health setbacks in the past few years, his attitude remains positive and he is darned good company! As it is said, "still waters run deep." Joe Shedd is an excellent example of this!

Interview/Story by Francie Cork - Santa's Senior Photo

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