“Dr Joe” T Simeone

“Dr Joe” T Simeone, died peacefully on Sept. 3, 2022, at his beloved old home on Rock River in Oregon. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he was the son of Gaetano and Frances (Sciannimanico) Simeone and brother to Theresa (Neil) Bernardo.

After graduating from St John’s University, he got on a ship bound for Rome, Italy to attend Medical School. Joe quickly discovered he couldn’t speak classic Italian, knew only the Brooklyn dialect of his immigrant grandparents. He knew Latin, some German but had a tenacious ability to study and memorize the rules. In 2 months, he mastered the language as all class lectures were in Italian by the professors. He could only go home to N.Y. in the summer at first by ship and one of his last trips before airflight was on the Andria Doria which later sank in 1956 after a collision with the Stockholm off Nantucket.

Following internship at Flushing Hospital, Flushing New York, Joe spent 15 years doing private Family Practice in Bayside, Queens, N.Y. He described it as “the days when house calls 24/7 were the norm, people did not have to make appointments and he dreaded ever taking a vacation as the hallmark was returning to find 50 patients in the waiting room.”  Once during a winter snowstorm, an expectant mother went into labor, and early ambulances could not navigate snow filled streets. So, Joe got in his trusty Corvair with the rear engine providing back traction, then drove the woman to the hospital delivered her baby there. He reflected that many other health solutions, would be unthinkable in medicine today, that it was a more innocent time when the first thought was not possible malpractice but trying to do the right thing.

When emerging specialties began changing the scope of Family Practice, Joe received a Fellowship in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the newly founded Rusk Institute at New York University. He began studies there in Manhattan while still caring for his family practice patients back in Bayside late into the evening. After 2 years, he finished his residency early with honors, and earned Board Certification in Physiatry. (He briefly delayed his future with Rusk Institute, to bring his cousin Zio Mario & family from Naples to N Y for a visit. Mario and his family had been the only family Joe had while studying in Italy and he never forgot that his cousin Mario had been imprisoned by Mussolini during the war.

Leaving his Family Practice, Joe became an Associate Professor at the Rush Institute & Assistant Director of the Hand Rehabilitation Clinic. By mid-70’s Joe was emphatic that he’d had enough 2-hour commutes on the Long Island Expressway, George Washington Bridge Tolls, and Manhattan parking schemes. Seeking a different career location west, he was offered a newly created position at Swedish American Hospital in Rockford, Il. of Physiatrist, Director of Physical Medicine, and Rehabilitation. If it was in Chicago, he told them his wasn’t interested, but they assured him it wasn’t…Joe didn’t know then what it meant to live “downstate in Illinois.”

During his 25 years at SAH in Rockford, he consulted at OSF, Beloit Clinic and Freeport Hospital for Physiatry/EMG study requests. The guy from Brooklyn fell in love with his drives though Adeline, Haldane, and the countryside on the way to Freeport Hospital. One day he met Charles Debes, who described he was building a new facility on Mulford Road, Rockford named after his mother, Alma Nelson. Charles hired Joe on the spot, and he became the Medical Director there for rehab services. It was then a relatively new concept for patients to recover in special therapy geared for maximum function and returning home. Joe quipped that he thought Charles was impressed that day seeing Joe climb into his used pickup truck to return home.

How did Joe do all this? He was incredibly efficient and never wanted patients to have to wait, he was a gifted but humble, caring physician. Sometimes his shyness was misinterpreted as aloofness.

In 1983, he married his best friend, professional colleague and loved partner “Betsy” for the rest of his life. After his first visit to Oregon, he said it was déjà vu of his grandparents’ home in Emerson, N J. and Oregon would be his home. Soon he became immersed in the friendship of fellow Masons at Horicon Lodge in Rochelle, was past master and life member, also belonging to Oregon Masonic Lodge, the Freeport Consistory and Tebala Shrine. As a member physician, Joe volunteered and performed many free physical exams that enabled families and their children with disabilities, referrals to a Shriners Hospital for treatment. Joe also read to the sight impaired for the NIRIS program in DeKalb, was active in St Brides’ Church, serving as Treasurer, and gave over 2,000 hours OF volunteer service to KSB Hospital, Dixon.

Retirement brought a postponed avocation for Italian cooking, and Joe eagerly attended culinary school. He went on to have great fun teaching classes called “Cooking with Pepino” for 12 years at Oregon Senior Center. He liked to recall his first job experience in Brooklyn working for a wonderful man named “Paul the Greek.” Paul had an original diner close to the El Train where fans would get off for baseball games at Ebbits Field. Baseball was then a fierce part of everyone’s daily life between Dodger and Yankee fans.

Since living in Oregon, Joe expanded his love of music and drama, performing with the Second Wind Performers and a comedy group in Sebring Florida. He loved singing Big Band Music and classic opera, especially the Italian composers, often singing them in Italian much to the delight of his caregivers.

For nearly 40 years, Joe was blessed with a second loving family in Illinois: survived by wife Lavine Elizabeth (Beth) Baker Simeone, sons, John (Jan) Kultgen, Byron, granddaughters Olivia, Allison, Rachel; Jason (Gina) Kultgen, Byron, granddaughters Grace, Ava. Sister-in-law Lindy (George) Eckerd, nephew Wes (Jennie) Eckerd, Gabe, Emma, and Michelle (Todd) Halvorson, Lane & Brooke. Predeceased by his father and mother-in-law, Lavern, and Jule Baker.

He was father to sons and daughters: Doug, Todd (Tammy), Thomas (Terry), Andrea (Anne), Carla (Kim Johnson) Simeone, Dr Claudia (John) Tiwett. Further survived by 6 grandchildren, brother-in-law Neil and 3 sons, and his dear Brooklyn cousins. Predeceased by his parents, the mother of his children, Anita Vivolo, sister Theresa Bernardo, daughter in law Dianne Simeone, his godson Angelo.

Grateful appreciation to his special caretakers Jess, Grace, Kilee, and Ashley, who loved him dearly and helped Beth give him quality, personal health care and live in his home. Equally, his personal physician, Dr Mark Myers supported Joe’s home care especially during a serious bout of Covid in early 2020 which Joe survived.

Cremation Rites have been accorded with Fitzgerald Funeral Home & Crematory. A Celebration of Life will be held on Sunday, Oct. 30, 1-4 p.m. at the Jarrett Prairie Museum, 7993 N River Road in Byron. Memorials appreciated to Shriners Children’s Hospital, Ogle County 4-H Foundation, or Washington Grove Cemetery Association. Online obituary at www.fitzgeraldfh.com




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