Joseph P. Karpuk, 98, of Sioux City, Iowa died Thursday, November 19, 2020, at a local hospital.
Arrangements are under the direction of Meyer Brothers Colonial Chapel. Condolences may be sent online at www.meyerbroschapels.com.
The funeral Mass will be 10:30 a.m. Saturday, December 5, 2020 at St. Michael Catholic Church in Sioux City, with Rev. David Hemann and Joe’s son, Deacon Fred Karpuk, officiating. Burial will be at Calvary Cemetery. The body can be viewed at the Church between 6:00-8:00 p.m. on Friday December 4, 2020, with a Rosary said at 6:30 p.m. and a vigil service at 7:00 p.m.
COVID-protection masks, protocol, and distancing will be followed for the vigil service, Mass, and burial. Arrangements are being made for the Mass and vigil service to be viewable on-line through the Holy Cross Parish facebook page. A liturgy and celebration of life gathering, befitting of Joe’s love of God, family, and song, will be set to occur in June of 2021, when the many family members and friends who loved Joe are more safely able to participate. Those who may consider traveling to Sioux City to honor Joe are encouraged to travel at that time.
Joe was born January 29, 1922 in Sioux City, the son of Russian immigrants Paul and Anna Karpuk. He was the youngest of five siblings and attended St. Francis Catholic grade school. During the Depression, Joe helped his family by gathering coal on the tracks for heat. As a teenager, Joe hung around Stockyards Park with his buddy Paul Yaneff and he was a ball boy for the Sioux City Cowboys. Joe and Paul once shared a dugout bench with Babe Ruth. Joe graduated from East High in 1940.
Along with his older brothers Stan and Eddie, Joe served the United States in World War II. He achieved the rank of Sergeant in the U.S. Army. Joe worked in chemical warfare defense and was eventually stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines. Shortly after the war had ended, he and his company traveled into Japan, including Hiroshima.
Joe’s well known love for singing was present even back then. In 1943, when stationed in California just prior to deployment for the Pacific islands, Joe was able to make a 78 recording at a Hollywood studio of what became his family’s most loved song: You Are My Sunshine.
Soon after his discharge and return to Sioux City, on St. Patrick’s Day of 1946, Joe noticed the “high forehead” of farm girl Mary Ann Rashimas at the Avalon Ballroom in downtown Sioux City. They met, dated, and soon married on Thanksgiving Day of that year at St. Casimir Catholic Church. Joe and Mary Ann were truly devoted and they became the loving parents of six children. After spending 66 Thanksgiving anniversaries with one another, Mary Ann predeceased Joe on December 18, 2012.
In 1950, with the family just starting to grow, Joe commenced work for Al Baber’s Vis-Vita, a Sioux City business serving livestock producers. Joe eventually became part-owner with Frank Yaggie, and then, in 1976, became the sole owner. In 1970, Joe moved the business to its present location at 6th and Floyd Blvd. in Sioux City. In 1981, a 9-story mixing mill was added to the site. Joe’s later partners in Baber’s Vis-Vita have included his wife, his son Fred, and his grandson Dan. Joe never retired from the family business and he in fact left from work to go to the hospital for his final sickness.
Joe’s dedication to the family business and work was surpassed, however, by his devotion to his wife and children. Joe and Mary Ann put all six of their children through Blessed Sacrament, St. Michael, and Heelan in Sioux City. Family cohesion was promoted by regular August family vacations to Okoboji, a tradition started in the late 50s when Joe and Mary Ann ensured the safe travel of their family to the Lakes by greyhound bus.
Including Joe’s stint as a Little League coach, Joe and Mary Ann enthusiastically supported their children in their many athletic and music activities. Joe considered himself to be the “founding director” of what was known as the Karpuk Athletic Association (KAA). With Joe’s support, and with his children’s energies, various athletic games, leagues, and contests were organized by the KAA to involve the participation of neighbors and friends.
Joe didn’t forget the Russian language he knew growing up. A good handful of Joe’s Russian words and phrases and their meanings are well understood by his children and grandchildren, including the one name they all wanted to avoid being called: durak. But it was Joe’s Russian words, combined with the glasnost popularity of Mikhail Gorbachev and the anti-drug campaign of Nancy Reagan, that resulted in Joe’s popular “Skazee Nyet” to Drugs t-shirt promotion. Hundreds of “Skazee Nyet” t-shirts, complete with Joe's Certificates of Authenticity, were sold. One of these t-shirts has been received by the Nancy Reagan Library.
Joe proclaimed to many his motto: “I live to sing. I sing to live.” He often followed with a quick offering of one of his parodies or favorite songs. These were Joe’s efforts to inspire and encourage others in the enjoyment and carrying on of their lives. Those who heard were not just family and close friends, but other folks with whom Joe had contact: bank tellers, lunch counter workers, choir members, customers, etc. Examples of these songs of encouragement are many: love and devotion to his “True Love” Mary Ann; musical welcomes as the “tape-maker” of new spouses to the family; encouragement of the grandchildren to “reach for the stars”; participation in the fall of the iron curtain with his “Perestroika Polka”; musical appreciation of workers in “This One’s For You”; counsel to the marrying grandchildren of the joys and tears of marriage in “Sunrise, Sunset”; celebrative promotion of agribusiness with his organization of the 76 Corntones, a kazoo band that marched in the formation of a giant corn cob; musical cheerleader at a Heelan pep assembly for Heelan’s first state volleyball qualifier with a parody he wrote for the occasion; suggestion to “Don’t Look So Sad” about your growing number of birthdays; National Anthem singer at a Heelan-O’Gorman basketball game at the age of 70; competitive warning to his three sons that he would beat them in golf “My Way”; and assurance to his dying daughter Teresa that “We’ll Meet Again.”
One of Joe’s favorite parodies was his devotion to the Lord: “Always on My Mind.” Joe especially loved Catholic music and was a member of the Blessed Sacrament and St. Michael choirs since the early 1960s. Whatever the kind of song, his goal was to sing worthily for the Lord. Like work, Joe never retired from the choir.
Joe surely realized at some point that the key to people enjoying him was his penchant for songs about being lonesome. He seemed to revel in singing about his grandchildren who moved away. His two all-time favorite songs, to both sing and play on his harmonica, were his lonesome Joe laments, “Can I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight Mister” and “You Are My Sunshine.”
Joe is survived by five of his six children, Phil Karpuk (Lorall)of McCook Lake, Fred Karpuk (Beth) of Sioux City, Lori Moody (Doug) of Omaha, Theodore Karpuk of Dakota Dunes, and Joanne Friedman (Tom) of Ankeny; 27 grandchildren: Jonny (Erin), Tommy (Sara), Alex (Sara), and Kayla Karpuk (Tanner); Brian (Caitlyn) Karpuk, Niki (John) Tedesco, Sarah (J.O.) Fitzgerald, Ali (Lane) Grindle, Dan (Bailey) and Chris (Jenna) Karpuk; Craig (Emily) Moody, Kara (Tim) Nicklas, Janel (Lee) Roden, Brett (Amanda) Moody, and Mindy (Andy) Keane; Noel (Lindsey), Steve (Kelly), Christa, and Mike (Holly) Maxey, Lisa (Justin) Froehlich, and Tony and Zach Maxey; Emily (Pete) Haack, Katie (Arcadio) Nunez, and Jenni, Ted (Heather), and Ben Friedman; and 57 great-grandchildren.
In addition to his parents and wife and his siblings, Ann, Stan, Eddie, and Helen, Joe was predeceased in death by his daughter Teresa and his grandson Joseph Ivan.
Memorials can be directed to Holy Cross Parish, Heelan High School, Holy Spirit Retirement Home, Trinity Heights, KFHC Catholic Radio, and Briar Cliff University.