Joseph D. Keenan, Jr., 97, of Eagle River, Wisconsin, died Saturday Oct. 27 in Saint Mary’s Hospital in Wisconsin, of sudden cardiac arrest.
“Big Joe”, as he was affectionately known to his legions of friends and family, was born Sept. 20, 1921, in Chicago. He was the son of Chicago labor leader Joseph Keenan who was International Secretary emeritus of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Labor’s Representative on the World War II War Production Board and the recipient of both the prestigious Medal of Freedom and the Medal of Merit for his service to the United States during and after World War II.
Big Joe retired as the owner of Edward Electric in 1985. He was a lifelong member of the Local 134 IBEW and a former president of the Electrical Contractors Association in Chicago. He was a proud graduate of Campion Jesuit High School in Prairie du Chien Wisconsin where he met many lifelong friends.
He then attended the University of Notre Dame from 1939 to early 1942 when he enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor. Mr. Keenan was an honored and decorated member of the seminal World War II Scouts and Raiders, the original Special Operations Personnel who provided the backbone of Naval Special Warfare and from which the current Naval SEAL Teams evolved. Mr. Keenan is recognized by the current SEAL Teams as one of the founding fathers upon whose brave shoulders those who followed learned and served proudly.
Prior to being deployed to China under the command of the legendary Navy SEAL Captain, the late Phillip M. Bucklew, known as the "Father of U.S. Naval Special Warfare" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_H._Bucklew#World_War_II), Mr. Keenan underwent training under the Navy’s V-12 Program at the University of Wisconsin. While at Wisconsin, he was Captain and Most Valuable Player for the 1943 football team. Mr. Keenan was also honored on various All-Big Ten Teams that year for his play as a center/middle linebacker and was an Honorable Mention at center on the 1943 United Press All-American team. The University of Wisconsin celebrated Mr. Keenan late in life by naming him Honorary Captain for the 2016 Wisconsin-Illinois football game in Madison, one of his proudest moments.
After his service in World War II, Big Joe returned to the University of Wisconsin where he met the love of his life, Florence Dobranski. They were married in 1947. When Mrs. Keenan passed away in 2006, they were soon to celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary. As parents, grandparents, great grandparents and friends to many, there were none better.
A resident of Park Ridge, Illinois, from 1952 to 1994, Joe was an enthusiastic supporter of Father John Smyth’s Standing Tall Foundation and Maryville Academy in Des Plaines Illinois. He was a charter member of its Chuck Wagon fundraising teams. He received the Standing Tall Award from Maryville in 1983, and also was honored for his long-time volunteer work with St. Vincent DePaul Settlement House in Chicago.
Mr. and Mrs. Keenan’s special place was their second home in Eagle River Wisconsin which they acquired in 1971. After retirement, they made their “special place” in Eagle River their permanent home in 1994. During retirement, Joe remained an active volunteer at Eagle River Hospital and member and generous supporter of Saint Peter the Fisherman Catholic Church in Eagle River. He was well known in the community for his exuberant presence, his ease at making friends wherever he went, and his love of frequenting the local restaurants. A menu item named for him at Eagle River’s Chanticleer Inn—“Joe’s Mac and Cheese”—stands testimony to his favorite food. Bartenders in town were well-versed in preparing his “Windsor Perfect Manhattan” (on the rocks, with a twist, and heavy on the sweet vermouth) as soon as he came through the door.
He is survived by four children, Joseph III (Sally) of Park Ridge; Linda of New Orleans, LA; Patrick (Kathy) of Boca Raton, FL; Michael (Denise) of Wheaton, IL; five grandchildren, Courtney, Katharine (Nate) Tackaberry, Patrick, Jeffie Leigh Lanter, and Joseph IV, and one great granddaughter, Brynn Katharine Tackaberry; as well as beloved cousins in Arizona, California, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
Visitation will be at Ryan-Parke Funeral Home, 120 S. Northwest Hwy., Park Ridge, on Friday, Nov. 2, from 4 to 8 p.m., and a funeral mass at St. Paul of the Cross Church, Park Ridge, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Father Smyth’s Standing Tall Foundation in Des Plaines Illinois https://www.standingtallfoundation.org/revsmyth.html or the charity of your choice.