Chicago’s Very Own: Joe Becker

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Teaching history to children has always been Joe Becker’s  passion.

But at the end of next month, when the year is done here at Roycemore School in Evanston, Illinois, so is Joe Becker.

“This weekend, I was running off the last assignment sheet for my class and when I pushed that copy button I thought, ‘Wow, I’m going to miss this,'” he said.

And so will the thousands of students and faculty that ‘s he met, taught and worked with since he came to this school way back in 1969.

“Forty-four years is a long time,” Becker said.

Becker was hired as the school’s football coach and history teacher. A couple of years later, he was named headmaster, and he suddenly found himself running a K-12 independent, private school, in his early 20s.

“I can remember when I was very young and inexperienced, and the kids that I taught that first year, and which seats they were in and some of the silly things that I did,” Becker said.

“My early memories of Joe would be when we all used to sit in the lounge and he would interact with the teachers all the time. It was a very special time,” said Melinda Orzoff, Lower School Division Head.

Now, at 67, he’s spent his entire career dedicated to the children at Roycemore School. He met his wife Michelle in the school office, a receptionist at the time, and his two children spent 14 years at Roycemore. His son Larry, had history, with his dad.

“That was a little strange, there was only six of us in that class, and so it was extremely bizarre. I didn’t know whether to call him dad, or ‘Hey Mr. Becker,’ or ‘Hey you!'” Larry Becker said.

“That’s one of the real blessings I have had here is that it was family,” Joe Becker said.

Somehow he managed, but still the school and the welfare of it’s children are in his blood. He spends most his weekdays and weekends walking these hallways, and Becker always carrys his ubiquitious cup of joe.

“It’s just a nervous habit and I carry it around dump it out and just have to literally have it and fill it up and walk around with it,” he said.

His toughest time during his career was just a few years ago, when Northwestern University decided not to renew the property lease on it’s former site at Lincoln and Orrington, where Roycemore has operated since 1915.

“When I found out they weren’t interested in extending the lease, we were concerned but it became an opportunity because we were able to grow,” Becker said

After orchestrating a search, they found a new building at 1200 Davis Street, rehabbed it, built a huge gymnasium — now named for Becker — and made the move.

“To move a school that had 95 years of paper and files and materials in 10 days to be up and operating was daunting,” Becker said.

“It worked from the first day we moved in, and that’s a testament to Joe’s organization and vision,” Orzoff said.

At a dedication dinner, alumni, old friends and family came out to bid Becker adieu. His wife, daughter and son were on hand to give a proper send off to a man who’s dedicated his life to kids.

So for the man who went from football coach, history teacher to headmaster for the last 44 years, what’s the next chapter in his history book?

“I’m just sort of take a few deep breaths take each day as it comes an enjoy my family a little bit and have a  little spontaneity in  my life,” Becker said.

Joe Becker, he’s one of Chicago’s Very Own.

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  • Mary Ellen Spiller

    Thoroughly enjoyed the story on Joe Becker. We live in Michigan so he is not a familiar face to us. After viewing your story, I felt sorry we'd missed out on knowing such a warm and inspirational man. Thank you for your uplifting feature.