The Joe “Kadeetz” Story
by Bob Jandoli
When I was growing up in West Orange, there was a fellow we knew by the name of Joe “Kadeetz”. Now, Kadeetz wasn’t his real last name but most of us kids called him that. His actual name was Joseph Pauciello. Joe was mentally challenged, born with Down Syndrome. He was a great guy, friendly to everyone in town, and full of school spirit, attending all our rallies and just about every high school sporting event. He even acted as assistant to the football coaches, gathering the equipment and uniforms after each game. He even was allowed to ride on the bus to away games. At every school victory, celebration or dance, Joe would be the first there to ask the girls to dance, and not one of the ladies ever refused. Joe danced every dance of the evening with a different girl. He was “The Man”.
Unfortunately there were kids who were mean to Joe. In the 1950’s and early 1960’s many people didn’t understand or accept mentally challenged people. They either were afraid, or were just plain stupid. In Joe’s case, they called him horrible names and made fun. Joe would retaliate with anger and that would make them yell out more insults to him. Although Joe would display his ire, I knew it hurt him, and, the thing I am most ashamed of is: I did nothing. At first I was too young to stand up to these guys – they were older and bigger – but as time went by and I grew, I defended Joe and after a while they knew not to make fun of him. My girlfriend, at the time, Diane, (whom I later married), felt the same as I. She would always say hello to Joe and offered him the first dance. He had a bit of a crush on her.
Later in life after we were married, we would run into Joe in town and he always said “I knew you two would get hitched”. I lost touch with Joe, and many years later I saw him sitting on a playground bench in town. He was frail and weak, already in his 70’s. Joe didn’t recognize me, but I said hello. His sister was with him and told me he just recently went through an extensive heart operation and wasn’t healing well. I heard months later that Joe had passed away. Sadly, it was too late for me and my friends to pay our respects to a man I so admired. The whole town should have turned out for one of it’s favorite sons.
As most of you know, from reading my stories that Diane gave birth to our daughter, Michele in 1971, who was born with Down Syndrome. We were devastated and I cursed God for doing this to us. “Why God, would you give us a Down Syndrome child?” After all, we were so kind to Joe and people like him. Why us? That kind of anger surely went away fast. We realized that God didn’t curse us at all. He blessed us. He rewarded us. No need to explain why. If you’ve ever met Michele you would understand.
In 1989 the town of West Orange unanimously voted and inducted Joe into The West Orange Sports Hall of Fame. It was long overdue. Both Joe and Diane are gone now and when someone passes away. I offer my condolences and always reassure their loved ones that the person who has recently passed, is now dancing on Streets of Gold. I know now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Diane saves a dance for Joe in Heaven, as they both dance on those Golden streets. Way to go Joe, You ARE the Man!!!