Batavia downtown advocate Joe Marconi dies at 88
Of late, Joe Marconi was a frail man.
But the Batavia man didn't let complications from diabetes stop him from speaking out about what he thought downtown needed -- as strongly now as he did when he came to town 40 years ago.
Marconi, 88, died Thursday.
"Joe arrives, and right away Joe is full of ideas and excitement and energy," Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke recalled. "I would give him a lot of the credit for spreading around his energy and enthusiasm for taking on a new concept for what Batavia could be."
Over the years, it meant pushing for more off-street parking for downtown businesses, better streets, wider sidewalks, benches for shoppers, landscaping, brighter lighting and a second bridge.
And he expressed his views in no uncertain terms, Schielke said.
"He was not afraid to put his energy, and especially his money, into it," Schielke said.
Marconi, a clothing salesman, bought the Anderson Block Building and a clothing shop in the mid-1970s.
"He just fell in love with Batavia," said his son, Michael.
He then bought the 1886 Gammon Corner house, a former funeral home. He also invested for awhile in the building that had the original Batavia library, bought the First National Bank building and houses along Route 25. He bought the stable behind Gammon Corner and turned it into shops and restaurants. The funeral home became a store on the first floor, and the second floor became the home for him and his second wife, Addie, when he moved to Batavia in the mid-1980s.
He continued to work for a clothing company until he retired about 15 years ago, Michael said.
"He loved the little towns of America," he added.
"What we have to do all over Batavia is have something and make it a little better than we found it," Joe Marconi said in 2000 after winning a Batavia Chamber of Commerce award for improvements he made to one of his properties.
Even as his health deteriorated, Joe Marconi continued to speak out.
This summer and fall, an assistant wheeled him and his oxygen tank up to the microphones at city council and school board meetings so he could speak about his latest issue: the cost of electricity in Batavia.
In August, he filed a class-action lawsuit with several other people, accusing consultants who advised Batavia about investing in energy from a coal-fired electricity plant of misrepresenting the costs, among other things. His goal was to get Batavia out of the deal, or at least have the energy company pay part of utility customers' bills.
"If he was passionate about something, he spoke up about it," Michael said. That may have come from his upbringing, as one of seven children in an immigrant family. "He was fighting for the people all the time," Michael said.
"He learned how to survive because he had no choice," Michael said. Joe and his first wife, Doris, moved to Chicago because of his work as a clothing salesman.
But downtown was his main cause. He was one of the initial members of the Batavia MainStreet downtown support organization. He supported the idea of building a second bridge over the Fox River and tried to get the U.S. Postal Service to open a branch office in downtown, after it moved the Batavia office to Randall Road.
He said tearing down the Batavia Junior High School to make way for a new library across the street from Gammon Corner would ruin the character of the intersection. The library board's decision to put the entrance off a parking lot, instead of Batavia Avenue, vexed him, and he lobbied for a Batavia Avenue entrance for years after the library was built.
"He was the voice of enthusiasm and broad ideas. He made no bones about it," Schielke said. "He was a citizen who made a difference."
His son, David, praised Joe, in a 1998 interview with the Daily Herald about his career as a screenwriter. Joe had given David free rein over the family video camera at age 8, fueling David's interest in films. David went on to write the Will Smith movie "Enemy of the State," and cowrote "Live Free or Die Hard."
"My father was always incredibly important. He's been behind me 100 percent. For that I will always be grateful," David Marconi said.
Visitation for Marconi will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday at Moss, Main Street and Batavia Avenue. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Holy Cross Catholic Church, 2300 W. Main St., Batavia.