Uncle Joe Deaguero, ALS Took Him Way Too Young

My 49th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge.

My 49th ancestor is my Uncle Joe Deaguero (1947-1983 ).

ALS and Death

Joe Deaguero - High School Yearbook
Pioneer High, 1965. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.

Uncle Joe died of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, when I was in eighth grade. I hadn’t thought of him in years, but the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge had Uncle Joe on my mind quite a bit this year, and got my cousins and I talking about him on Facebook. His was the first close family death of my life. I still vividly remember the day he died. I had stayed late at school to make signs for our upcoming junior high dance, and knew something was wrong as soon as I saw my Mom, who broke the news to me.

Uncle Joe was only 36 years old when this horrible disease took his life and finally spared him from suffering any further debilitating effects. I cannot remember how many years he lived after his diagnosis, but I remember that the diagnosis shocked our entire family, and devastated his wife, my Mom’s middle sister (I’m not identifying her by name since she is still living).

It hit us cousins hard to watch our robust playful uncle wither away and lose his ability to speak, as well as all other motor skills. At first, it was a cane, then a wheelchair, then he was bedridden at the very end. But, he participated in family life as actively as he could for as long as he could. Mom, my aunts, grandma, and I took Uncle Joe everywhere with us in his wheelchair. I remember us popping wheelies and making him laugh, and me often jumping on the back of the wheelchair for a ride while pushing him around. I also remember his tears of frustration when trying to speak, when his mouth and vocal chords no longer obeyed his brain. Or when he couldn’t get his hands and arms to move. I remember my tiny aunt being able to lift him in her arms towards the end, because he had lost so much weight and muscle.

Life with Uncle Joe

Fortunately, though, most of what I remember about Uncle Joe are happy funny memories.

He and my aunt were married less than a decade, and although we did not attend their wedding (they eloped in Vegas), I do remember when they got married. Because I wasn’t too happy about it at first. He was taking my fun playmate auntie away…she was a big kid herself who loved to play with her nieces and nephews.

But, Uncle Joe soon grew on me. He was a big kid himself too when it came to his new nieces and nephews. I loved spending the night at their beautiful refurbished old home filled with antiques (including an old fashioned toilet with the pull-down chain handle to flush it). They had old pin ball machines and a juke box that I never tired of playing with. Uncle Joe’s passion was restoring antique cars, and I loved to drive around with him in those — especially riding in the rumble seat of his Ford Model A. The three of us went camping in his restored Willys-Knight. Uncle Joe was an avid woodworker, who made us cousins the coolest toys, including an awesome fort for the bedroom of some of my boy cousins. And every trip to the movies with my aunt and uncle resulted in tons of over-priced junk food that Mom never let me have.

My aunt and uncle never had children of their own, but they showered us nieces and nephews with love and attention.

Family History Discoveries

While on Ancestry.com last week, I got a shaky leaf record hint for Uncle Joe, which is what inspired me to write about him. These hints led to some fun discoveries about my uncle.

First,  a high school yearbook photo of him while a student at Pioneer High in Whittier (Los Angeles County), California. Since he and the other students on that page are in robes, I assume this is his senior year. Even if the photo had not been identified by name, I could have picked him out immediately, I remember that same smile.

But, what surprised me was to learn that Uncle Joe served in the military. I never knew that. I found a U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File entry that indicates he served in the Air Force from 8 April 1966 (most likely, right out of high school) until 4 April 1970.

The following photo is one of the photos I have with my Uncle Joe.

Flanagan Family Wedding 1970s
My Uncle Flanagan’s wedding in the 1970s. Uncle Joe is in the back row, far left, next to his wife (in the hat). I am in the pink dress in the front row.

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