By Craig Hastings
How can I put into words the loss I feel along with those of the entire community? Coroner, Deputy Sheriff, ESDA Director, Father, Husband of 40 years to beloved wife Lu, and my good friend, Joe Victor. My last conversation with Joe was just about two weeks ago. He had called to tell he had been fortunate enough to have been put on a list for a kidney transplant. He was elated as any of us might have been with such news. He was looking forward and onward without having to endure the rigors of dialysis after a transplant. As was the usual with most of our conversations we discussed some of our past law enforcement experiences. When two old guys that have known one another most of their lives and spent all of the past 40 years crossing paths within their same careers, there’s plenty of experiences to rekindle.
I first met Joe when I was fifteen years old. Joe’s my elder by just two years. My neighbor and lifelong friend Gary French was good friends with Joe Franklin who was a very good friend of Joe’s. (Victor) At fifteen years old I had already been into the muscle car stigma for two years. No I couldn’t drive but I studied cars more intensely than I did any of my school classes. I was with Gary one summer night when we stopped by Joe’s house out in Meadowview. Gary wanted to show me a car Joe Franklin and Joe were spending their time working on and cruising the hot rod scene locally. Gary had told me about the motor in this car and I had never heard of such a designation for this particular motor. I had my doubts. We pulled up and I saw Joe and Joe standing next to this gigantic car. It was either a Plymouth Fury, Dodge Monaco or a Chrysler 300 which were of all the same model line.
Gary had told me this car had a “440 TNT” motor in it. “No, no. It has to be a 440 magnum (Dodge) or 440 Super Commando (Plymouth),” I told him like a Mr. Know it all. “See for yourself, Gary said.” Sure enough, I walked up to this behemoth with the hood open and there it was on the air cleaner, “440 TNT” in big bold red lettering. Chrysler designated their version of the high performance 440, which was the very same motor as the Dodge and Plymouth, “TNT”. As much as I thought I knew the Mopar world front to back and side to side back in the day I missed this one. But, in short order Joe and Joe educated me about their high performance TNT Mopar. This would mean this car was a Chrysler 300 but I still think it was a Plymouth Fury. If they had swapped air cleaner lids onto the motor of a Fury with one from a Chrysler 300 just for first impressions when the hood was raised, bravo to them because I would have done the same. Come on, “Super Commando” or “TNT”! You bet… “TNT” would have been my choice too. This was my very first meeting with Joe Victor and from that TCHS era moment forward we were friends for life. Only then it was a hot rod friendship.
Then along came 1979 and me becoming a part-time police officer for Tuscola. Joe and his father were the Ace Ambulance crew that showed up every time I worked an accident with injuries, domestic battery incidents, and bar room brawls. Even kids hurt on a crashed bicycle or hit with a baseball in Ervin Park were tended to by Joe. Every single time Joe was on scene his mannerism was the same. Professional, compassionate, and in control was his way regardless of the seriousness of the incident.
The more we worked together the more I discovered that Joe was the man with a plan. Joe was the guy that was prepared with a plan for any imaginable emergency disaster. I think he layed in bed at night and thought to himself, “Now should this or that happen, I’ll respond by doing that for this and this for that.” Then the next day he sat down somewhere and either wrote it down on paper or years later, typed it into a computer somewhere. I know these things because he would call and say “What do ya think?” “Well Joe I think the same thing I always do, I’m glad you care enough about this community that you’re spending your own time planning for such emergencies because I’m not sure I could do as well.” Joe had every minute detail covered. Right down to what drinks would be provided should anyone have to remain on scene for more than an hour or two. Incredible.
If any of you have any doubts about how well Joe prepared, stop by for a tour of his new office building across from the Courthouse. Ask to see the war room. Actually I’m sure it has a different name but, should we be invaded by any foreingn enemy this room could serve as the ultimate strategy and preparedness center! This building and how it’s currently equipped was Joe’s dream. He spoke of the “what if we had” emergency management center for years before the Douglas County Board moved forward and built this building. Kudos to those board members for acknowledging the need for Douglas County and moving forward with funding to make it happen. Without someone like Joe with his heart and soul into such a project, never would it have happened.
I’ve had many memorable moments with Joe throughout our 40 year working history together. You can probably imagine that most of those are memories we both would rather never recall. It’s the nature of our occupations I guess. Most of what we saw and did together when working was unpleasant. The incident scenes wear you down both mentally and physically. Any of the relief you can manage comes when you can sit down and talk about them later. And not just right after, a year after, or ten years after. Joe and I were still talking about the “remember whens” up until he passed. It was therapy for both of us. None of us that do this work of first responders can ever make anyone who has never done this understand how 40 years of it affects us. Joe and I have been together on gruesome accident scenes, suicides, and a few homicides over our 40 year careers. It takes a toll on a person and there isn’t any way to do a reset to wipe away the memories. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve had to be the one that notified the family when someone had died. But think of how many times Joe had to do this!! Could you?!
Joe and I debated humorously a few times about whether we chose these jobs or did they choose us. We complained about some duties but were thankful of many others. Either one of us could have gotten out and done something else but what? Serving and caring for his fellow man was Joe’s destiny and I believe few did it any better. Few that I’ve even known anyway and I’ve seen a bunch come and go over my own 40 years as a public servant. You might have never known what Joe did for a living but when you met him for your first time, in ten minutes of conversation discovered this was a guy who cared about how everyone was dealing with their own lives as much as his own.
Most of us doing first responder public service work will come and go and not many of us will have much of an impact on how our positions move forward after we’re gone. There are now two, just two that I believe will forever impact those that follow in their footsteps. Joe Victor is the second and the first is Dennis Dietrich. I still to this day miss Chief Dietrich. I get asked all the time, “How in the world have you managed to keep your sanity all of these years doing what you do and dealing with the people you do?” In 1986 I became the Police Chief here in Tuscola and Dennis took this twenty-eight year old under his much more adult and knowledgeable wing and taught me to fly with the wind and not against it. Lu, rest assured your husband Joe will not soon be forgotten, not by my generation for sure. He is truly a great man.