WWII Veteran Comes out of Retirement at 99 to Help Veterans

Joe Lavinger, aka “Crazy Joe” decided to go back to work to help veterans, after the Pandemic, to pick up where he left off.  We retired him from fundraising out of the Columbus Ohio region when he was 97. The Pandemic had just started sweeping the nation, we didn’t want to take any chances, so we asked him to stay home and be safe.  

Let me give a little background about Joe, before I continue.

He served in the Navy during WW II.  He was deployed on a minesweeper, called The USS Steady.  Their ship had the dangerous task of removing mines from minefields laid in the water to prevent ships from passing.  He and his buddies were more than a little apprehensive and scared out of their minds.  I think that’s when Joe realized his gifts for calming people down with his jokes and funny antics, while bombs were going off all around them.

His comedic flair continued after the war into a career of entertainment.  He thought if he could get that USS Steady audience of soldiers laughing, he could get anyone to laugh.  He formed an entertainment group, called the Tunetimers.  Eventually, he got the nickname “Crazy Joe” because of his wild antics on stage, then the group changed the name to

”Crazy Joe and the Tune Timers”!  It stuck and lasted for 56 years.

Joe married a young lady from his hometown of Bethlehem, named Mary!  He made jokes about that as well.   Joe and his group opened for acts like Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Helen Reddy, Jackie Gleason, and many others. He, himself, is a living legend.

Now back to the present. I have been hosting great birthday parties for him since he was 89!

He’s worked part-time for Veterans’ Outreach since 2000 and had been a valuable fundraiser.  Through his efforts, thousands of veterans’ lives have been improved. 

His props are funny and crazy hats…many are animated.  He collected over 300 hats during his entertainment career. One day I called up his wife, Mary, and I asked her what Joe was doing then?  She he told me that he was on the Internet looking for another hat!  I nicknamed him, The” Glad Hatter”! That is exactly how he would get a conversation going.  Check out his gallery soon on veteransoutreach.org!

This past July we celebrated his 99th birthday at an American Legion in Columbus, where he has been a member for 49 years. I was able to reach out to his band members and pull them together for a fantastic tribute to Crazy Joe, singing, dancing, and playing their hearts out. Bernie, the Commander, presented the cake to Joe and that itself was a show! Everyone had a great time, and especially, and of course, Crazy Joe.

It was at his party that he told me he’d like to go back to work.  He knows there are so many veterans that need his help.  I don’t know of anyone else that has come out of retirement at 99!

Since he doesn’t drive anymore, Volunteers of America has offered to drive Joe to special events where he can do his magic.  Joe’s got the best personal mission, that he lives by, better than anyone I’ve ever known.  “When I go out my door and meet 10 strangers, I hope that I can get them all to smile or laugh!”  Too bad more people can’t be like that!  There’s so much that he has given to our society and this organization, it’s beyond my skillset to really report his full impact. I always thought that he should have his own reality show.

When he and I still go out…like to the Hollywood Casino, he takes a valuable moment to give me some inspirational talks. When he puts his hand over mine, I know to shut up and listen. The inspiration that he has given me, and others is incomparable to anything else.  He is the embodiment of perseverance and the power of a good attitude and laughter.  God blessed us all for knowing him, to be able to be a productive member of society at more than 99 years old is something we can all aspire to. When he is out there, raising funds that are helping our veterans, in his 100th year of life…it is no laughing matter.  Joe is a perfect example of “The Greatest Generation”, a kind of steadfast resolve tempered with humor we could all benefit from. 

I would like to extend a rare treat to all our subscribers. If you would like to ask Joe a question on any subject or just to say hi, you can send those emails to me at [email protected].  Yes, Joe uses a cell phone and a computer, amazing, isn’t it?  I am sure Joe will respond with the hope that you will give him a smile or a laugh back.

As Joe continues his mission in this life, I will continue to share his stories and hopefully make our readers smile.  Thank you, Joe.

by John Ely