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Published: Tuesday, 7/22/2008

Fisherman helped run his family's funeral home

Joseph C. Abele, 61, owner of a Toledo funeral home who loved to fish on Lake Erie and was his grade school's first Eagle Scout, died Sunday in his home after a battle with esophageal cancer.

After graduating from St. Francis de Sales High School and the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science, Mr. Abele went into the family business at the Abele Funeral Home, 1910 Cherry St. He and his brother were the fifth generation of Abeles to run the business, which started in 1860, said Mr. Abele's brother, James.

Mr. Abele worked in the field for about 40 years, his brother estimated, adding that Mr. Abele was especially skilled at applying makeup to the deceased.

"Joe was really a makeup artist," his brother said. "He did a super job on makeup."

He said his brother also made funeral arrangements and performed other duties of running the funeral home.

"His job was pretty demanding, different days, different hours. He was on call a lot," said Mr. Abele's close friend, John Lees, adding that it was not unusual for Mr. Abele to travel out of town to pick up or deliver a body.

The first Eagle Scout from St. Patrick of Heatherdowns School, Mr. Abele met Mr. Lees at the National Scout Jamboree in 1960, leading to a lifetime friendship.

"He was a dear friend," Mr. Lees recalled. "He was the best friend anybody could ask for."

The Abeles had a cottage at Sand Beach in Ottawa County, and Mr. Abele was active in the Sand Beach Association. He was director and vice president of the Sand Beach Conservancy.

Mr. Lees said Mr. Abele spent many happy hours in his boat, catching perch, walleye, and other fish.

Mr. Abele's daughter, Anne, recalled that her father would joke that they were going, "catching, not just fishing."

Mr. Abele's daughter also described her father as the go-to guy whenever anyone needed help, from fixing things around the house, to a shoulder to lean on. Rather than accept the grim prognosis that came with a cancer diagnosis, she said, her father fought the disease by participating in clinical trials at the Cleveland Clinic and undergoing extensive chemotherapy.

Mr. Abele is survived by his wife, Ellen; daughter, Anne Abele, and brother, James.

The body will be in the Sujkowski Funeral Home, Rossford, where the family will receive visitors after 2 p.m. tomorrow. Visitation will resume at 10 a.m. Thursday in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Toledo, where a funeral Mass will begin at 11 a.m.

The family suggests tributes to the church or to the Hospice of Northwest Ohio.



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