Kathy Antoniotti

KENT: Don Joseph, known as “DJ” to friends, said he didn’t want his friends and family to stand around mourning his death. He wanted no part of a formal funeral service.


To honor the longtime Kent businessman’s wishes, the family is inviting his friends to say goodbye at a celebration of his life, where they can share stories and offer up a toast, said his son, Jeff Joseph.


“He basically wanted us to celebrate his life with a party, so we are just going to have a gathering with cocktails, some food and tell stories,” he said.


Jeff Joseph said his father, who died Saturday at the age of 81, began his career as a general manager at a Cuyahoga Falls car dealership before buying his first Chrysler franchise in 1964.


Mr. Joseph always seemed to know when to make a shrewd business move and was set to sign the sales and service agreement papers on Nov. 23, 1963, early in the Detroit heyday of the muscle-car era.


“And if that date rings a bell, Nov. 22, 1963, was the date John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. Obviously, he put everything on hold as the world came to a halt. In February 1964, he took the chance of opening the franchise,” his son said.


The new Chrysler, Plymouth and Imperial dealership on West College Street in downtown Kent was an immediate success. But soon it was all too apparent he would need room to expand.


“He had such a small lot, his customers would have to park on the street and he would have to go out and stick nickels in the meters because they didn’t have any place to park on the lot,” he said.


Mr. Joseph bought, sold and combined car dealerships, always in Kent.


In 1969, Jeff Joseph said, his father read an ad in the back of a magazine that a little-known Japanese car company was taking applications for dealerships. Mr. Joseph went back to work and wrote a letter to Toyota.


“He always said, ‘I’d rather be lucky than good,’ because he chose that franchise,” the son said.


Today, the dealership is one of the oldest Toyota franchises in the country, he said.


Mr. Joseph terminated his Chrysler franchise in the early 1980s when talk of a government bailout began and bought a local Chevrolet franchise during the time that “Chevy was king,” his son said.


In 1989, Mr. Joseph and his son, who went to work for the company in 1970, opened the current Toyota facility. As unofficial “general contractor” on the project, Jeff Joseph said his father got the facility built in just 91 days.


The younger Joseph began buying the company in 1987 when his father decided to spend winters in Florida. Eventually, Mr. Joseph and his wife, Lana, bought a home on the Florida coast, a boat, a motor coach for traveling and Harley-Davidson motorcycles for each of them that they took on their travels around the country, especially out West.


“He was the best boat captain you’ve ever seen,’’ his son said, but added that Lana Joseph made it possible because she was “the best first mate, ever.”


Mr. Joseph gave up his boat, motorcycle and travels after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease six years ago, according to his son.


The couple moved back to the area in 2008 to be closer to family. Mr. Joseph, who said he never wanted to be placed in a nursing home, was taken to the Arbors at Fairlawn on Thursday.


“Ironically, he was only in this place for 48 hours before he died. I’m just glad I came home and got to say goodbye,” Jeff Joseph said.


In addition to his wife of 30 years, Lana, Mr. Joseph leaves his son, Jeff, and wife, Karen; his daughter, Lynn Newenhisen (Bill); stepsons Jim Wise (Debbie) and Mark Wise (Mary Pat); brother Dick Joseph (Wanda); sister Jackie Darrell (Ray); 10 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.


Friends will gather for a “life celebration” for Mr. Joseph from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at Todaro’s Party Center, 1820 Akron Peninsula Road.


Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.