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updated: 6/1/2012 2:54 PM

Moving Picture: Cowboy Joe a fixture in Batavia

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  • Trainee Joe Thompson clears tables at the Valley Sheltered Workshop 46th Annual Pancake Breakfast. It was the largest yearly fundraiser for the Batavia nonprofit facility where developmentally disabled adults work.

       Trainee Joe Thompson clears tables at the Valley Sheltered Workshop 46th Annual Pancake Breakfast. It was the largest yearly fundraiser for the Batavia nonprofit facility where developmentally disabled adults work.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Each employee is paid by the piece. Thompson earns more than most.

      Each employee is paid by the piece. Thompson earns more than most.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Thompson's life is simple. He likes to work, and has been doing the same work for 46 years.

       Thompson's life is simple. He likes to work, and has been doing the same work for 46 years.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Sue Lusted, supervisor of Valley Sheltered Workshop, shows Thompson a new job.

       Sue Lusted, supervisor of Valley Sheltered Workshop, shows Thompson a new job.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Thompson became known to locals as Cowboy Joe because he was always seen wearing a cowboy hat. These days, he wears other hats as often as his western wear.

       Thompson became known to locals as Cowboy Joe because he was always seen wearing a cowboy hat. These days, he wears other hats as often as his western wear.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Moving Picture: Cowboy Joe

 
 

If you've spent much time in Batavia in the last 46 years, you probably already know who Cowboy Joe is.

Or perhaps you know him as The Mayor. Or maybe just Joey.

Since the age of 18, Joe Thompson has been working at the Valley Sheltered Workshop in Batavia, a sanctuary for developmentally disabled adults. A dozen adults do small piece work, like stuffing envelopes for local businesses such as Burgess Norton and the Kane County Cougars. Thompson can fold more than 100 boxes into shape in an average workday.

"I like to work," the 64-year-old said without hesitation. "I like to keep my hands busy."

Sue Lusted, supervisor at the nonprofit workshop, says Thompson tells her he doesn't like the weekends or the days when the business is closed because of a lack of work to do. "I sleep all day," Thompson said of his days off.

For 39 years, he walked through downtown Batavia on a daily pilgrimage to the workshop and back home at the end of the day. He got all sorts of nicknames during those years, either for his numerous cowboy hats or presence each day on the streets of Batavia. He was satisfied with his life.

"I remember seeing him walking back and forth when I was in high school," Lusted said. "I never knew where he was going."

Then, on a winter day in 2005, Thompson had a heart attack as he walked to work.

"It felt like somebody was squeezing my heart to death," he said. He made it to the workshop, then his younger brother and legal guardian, Frank, drove him to the hospital.

Thompson survived and continued to walk to work for six more years, until last year, when he began getting rides from his brother.

Now Frank delivers Thompson to work each day, and takes him home each night. But Thompson is still known as The Mayor at the workshop, and still known as Cowboy Joe around town because of his collection of hats that he's worn for years.

"I don't walk no more," Thompson says. But just as soon as that sentence leaves his lips, another one follows.

"I like to work. I'm glad I got this job. No, I don't need anything else."

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