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HBI.org Building Careers for Veterans

"Crazy Joe" Crazy For VO

During World War II, Joe Lavinger had the nerve-wracking job of working on mine sweepers in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters and says he’s “lucky to be here.”

“It was very terrifying at times. You never knew what was going to happen when you were going over those mines and you hoped they were deep enough so we wouldn’t hit them,” recalled Joe who turns 86 on July 18th. “We came close to several of them, but we lucked out.”

John Ely, Veterans’ Outreach’s president feels pretty lucky to have Joe working for the VO. “He’s one of my favorite people,” said Ely, “I respect Joe more than anyone else on the planet. He is full of life and compassion like no one else.”
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 Joe is an “Outreach” worker who is noted for coaxing large donations from perfect strangers. “I’ve been doing this for seven years, now,” said Joe. “I’ve had 32 donations of $100 and one check for $500.” And what’s his secret? “I use humor and it works.”

He says he “reads” people as they approach his table to assess what kind of shtick he’ll use. “I’ll say to them, ‘I’ve been waiting for you all day. Would you like to make a $5 donation? That would sure make my day. Deal or no deal.’  I may decide to ask for $100. If I can make them laugh in the process, that usually means they’ll give a donation of some kind.”

Joe works in the Columbus, Ohio area where he lives with his wife, Mary.
“He really puts his heart and soul into it, that’s for sure,” said Mary. “He really enjoys what he’s doing because it’s all for the vets.”

It’s not surprising that Joe is an entertainer who’s had a dance band for 55 years in the Columbus area. “I think it’s the longest running band in Columbus.” He’s also been a talent agent, booking shows for such luminaries as the Glen Miller Band and Tommy Dorsey Band as well as comedians such as Jackie Gleason and others.

His four-piece band – Tune Timers – has performed in all kinds of venues from nursing homes to VFW halls. It was at a VFW hall where he acquired the nickname, “Crazy Joe” because of his antics on stage. “A guy came up and asked what the name of the band was and I told him Tune Timers, and he said, no, it should be ‘Crazy Joe and the Tune Timers,’ and it stuck.”

He described one of his gags while performing, ‘When the Saints go Marching In’. “We would march out of the room and go into the ladies’ room and I’d come back out with a bra. Of course we planted it and a gal was waiting for us. It always got a good laugh.”

Sight gags are still part of his shtick that includes his crazy hats. That all started when he spotted a guy wearing a cap with two beer cans on it. “I thought it was great fun. I saw him again, we had a few beers and he gave it to me. It was a terrific thing to make people laugh and get them to talk to me. And then I began to look for other hats and developed a collection.”

Anything for a laugh, says “Crazy Joe,” who is really ‘crazy like a fox’ when it comes to getting donations to help his fellow veterans.

 

Written By Linda Fudala-Tucker

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