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Local Man Turns 100 in Richly-led Life

Joe Newman
Joe Newman

BRADENTON – Anyone who manages to live 100 years is bound to have a prolific life. Joe Newman turns 100 on January 13, but has already accumulated a wealth of rich experiences which would be impressive had he twice as long. The Chicago native and Notre Dame alum recently talked about some of his experiences with Robyn Davis from 1490's The Robyn Report, weekdays at 5 p.m.

Born in Chicago, Newman is the son of Russian immigrants and says he was the only one of his parents' kids born in hospital. After high school, Newman earned a degree in accounting from Notre Dame, and says he hoped to go to Harvard Law, but had no money. Fortunately, he'd received his accounting degree at the dawn of Social Security and was offered a job within its administration.

Newman says that literally the first thing they did was set up the file cabinets and IBM cards for the secretaries who were inputting Social Security Numbers. Later, he became a field agent, where Newman was heavily trained on the reasons for the program and what the administration hoped to accomplish, an orientation that leaves him fiercly protective of the successful social program that has kept millions of elderly and disabled from the depths of poverty.

A child of the depression, Newman's experience fostered deep beliefs in the importance of a community that looks out for each other. A longtime activist, he is more passionate then ever about effecting change in the time he has left. A founding member of the Nation Discussion Group, Newman tries to inspire as many of his fellow citizens as possible to become and active member of their community.

A life of activism began early for Newman and his late wife Sophie, when complications during the birth of their daughter, Rita Jo, left her with severe mental retardation caused by Cerebral Palsy. At the time, there were very few resources for such people, most of whom were institutionalized. Newman dedicated much of his life to eradicating the stigma associated with such handicaps and fighting for resources to be dedicated to serving the handicapped community, successfully lobbying for changes in state laws in Indiana that paved the way for many of the programs which now exist. He and Sophie were founding members of the Logan Center. Started with only $24 and the dedication of a handful of parents of special needs children, the organization has gone on to help thousands and continues today, providing critical services that improve the quality of life of both children and adults living with such disabilities (see video below).

Today, Newman says that he knows his current efforts, much of which focus on political issues, are unlikely to bear fruit in his lifetime –  a span he says he measures in months, rather than years. But it's a deep sense of faith in the ability to effect change that has grown from his experiences, along with a sense of obligation to pay forward that keeps him pushing on in the twilight of his life. Still remarkably spry, profoundly informed and full of kick, Newman is an inspiration to many. TBT wishes him a happy 100th birthday and salutes his contribution to our community and country.

Joe Newman can be heard every Tuesday on the Robyn Report on 1490 AM


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