CORNER BROOK Joe Iannarelli spent his life creating recreation programs for children to enjoy because he knew what it is was like to grow up with little structure in his life.
He just didn’t know how much his life would be impacted by his chosen profession.
Now 90 years of age, Iannarelli’s storied career as a recreation director and a hockey personality will come full circle in the fall of the year when he’ll be inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame for his tireless work in recreation management. He retired as manager of the Esquimalt Sports Centre in Victoria in 1981 after 20 years of service to the sports community.
The road to the hallowed home was full of twists and turns for Iannarelli, whose father died when he was 10 after he got silicosis from working in the Schumacher gold mines.
One of the stepping stones in his travels was a stopover in Corner Brook back in 1956 where he was successful in getting the job as the recreation director for the City of Corner Brook. It was a four-year relationship with a community he still talks about today with respect and contentment.
“I thought the people in Corner Brook were amazing,” he said. “Corner Brook is still one of my favourite places. I regret I didn’t gone back for a holiday. I was going to go back, but we just couldn’t seem to work it out.”
He came to Corner Brook to help boys and girls enjoy sport and recreation in a safe, structured environment and also introduced a number of new concepts that were embraced by the people — the city’s popular sports playground program that saw children in four areas of the town spending their summer days being kids just a sample of what he did during his stint.
He also made an impact on the minor hockey program, coaching a Corner Brook peewee team to a provincial crown and sharing his expertise with those involved in the system. He was the man who got rollerskating going at the old Humber Gardens and he focused his energy on making sure people in Corner Brook didn’t become bored. He was a dandy hockey player who attended the Detroit Red Wings training camp in 1946 after serving four years in the army and he was a playing coach with the Royals. One of his proudest moments happened in the city — winning a city hockey championship with the Humber Hawks with his son Joe Iannarelli Jr. playing on his wing.
Joe Lundrigan Jr., who played in the National Hockey League with the Toronto Maple Leafs, was a member of Iannarelli’s talented peewee team. Lundrigan isn’t surprised that his former coach is getting accolades for his tireless work.
“I think that was his calling really,” Lundrigan said. “He did get involved. He didn’t sit back and let things happen; he made things happen.”
Lundrigan said his coach always had the best interest of his players in mind and his military background was evident in his coaching style.
“He was pretty, I wouldn’t say strict, but orderly with regards to things he wanted done,” he said. “He instilled the winning fear, if you want to call it, into us.”
A lot of time has passed since the good old days in Corner Brook, but Iannarelli’s memory is still sharp as he reminisces about the social life with all the dinner and dances, hanging out at Humber Gardens and becoming imbedded in the community with Joe Jr. and his wife Jean, both of whom have since passed away.
High on the list of his community involvement came in the form of a volunteer role he would take on to help underprivileged children with his wife and son by his side lending a helping hand. The Kinsmen Club was looking for somebody to run a two-week summer camp for 24 children and Iannarelli stepped up to the plate. He would be joined by his wife in the role of ‘camp mom’ and Joe. Jr. was one of the camp instructors.
“I’d never been to a camp of that sort in my life. In fact, I couldn’t afford to go when I was growing up,” he said. “It was a real learning program for me. It was something I had never done and I really enjoyed.”
Living in Victoria has meant 12 months of golf for the gentle giant, who was more adept at putting pucks into the net than he was to engage in the rough stuff. He enjoys the sunny weather while hitting the links, but he always reminds people where he got his start on the links. He got his first taste of golf at the Blomidon Golf and Country Club during his tenure in Corner Brook.
“I’ve been hooked on it ever since,” he said. “Moving to B.C., of course, golfing is just amazing in the summer time. We golf 12 months of the year.”
During a telephone conversation with The Western Star, Big Joe didn’t really talk about the things he accomplished in his life. He constantly talked about the people he met and the friendships formed from coast to coast. The social setting in Corner Brook jived with him, particularly a social event that became a Christmas Eve tradition for him and his family. They would spend the day with four of their close neighbours going from home to home, with everybody playing host to a specific part of the celebration.
It was a far cry from what he was used to growing up as a boy with no father. And it took him miles away from the times when he didn’t know where the next meal was coming from.
“That’s the first experience I ever had of that sort because growing up as a kid with no parents we didn’t have much of a home life so that really became a treasured moment for me,” he said.
Iannarelli pulled up stakes in Corner Brook in 159 to move back to Ontario because he was feeling homesick. His wife and son were also homesick, but it was because they wanted to be in Newfoundland.
No regrets about how his life turned out, he actually had a chance to come back to Newfoundland in 1961. He had become friends with Hockey Hall of Famer Howie Meeker when the two were teammates in junior hockey in Kitchener as an 18-year-old and they would form a lasting friendship that saw Meeker, who lives in B.C., arrange for a job interview at the naval base in Argentia.
During the trip to Argentia, he was met with a vicious snowstorm that had his stomach in knots. He was offered the job, but when he returned home to Ontario he received a telegraph from Esquimalt Sports Centre with another job offer on the table. He went to Victoria, his first time in the west, to entertain the offer.
“So I phone my wife (Jean) and I say “Well, I’m staying at the Empress Hotel, I am looking out the window, the grass is green and the sun is shining, which job shall we take?,” he said.
Iannarelli has thought about his decision to go west on many occasions. But, he knows life has been good to him since going to Victoria so he looks back on the past with a smile and a big thumbs up.
Corner Brook will always hold a special place in his heart. He knows the experience in Corner Brook helped turn him into the man he is today.