Forks in the Road: Joyce family’s music as welcome as a flower in May

Bill Joyce

As joyful an Irish tenor as I have ever heard belt out a tune, Bill Joyce is a stand-up and stand-out guy in many ways. At the ripe young age of 92, he is still singing and enjoying the company of his many friends and family.  

Bill is a product of a proud Irish Family from the flats in the First Ward. He was the second of four children born to George and Florence Joyce who lived at 23 W. 4th St. “The flats” in those days was known as a  predominately Irish neighborhood.

His older sister, the late Florence, married Charles J. Salladin, and Bill joined his brother–in-law’s trucking business, taking it to the next level after Charlie Saladin’s death. He  achieved a phenomenal degree of success operating the tractor trailer transport and warehousing company, Oswego Stevedoring and Trucking located on Oswego’s east side.

Bill’s younger sister, Nancy, married Joe Rodak, who joined Bill in the family business.  Nancy and Joe, both of whom are now deceased, also jointly operated the Cabaret restaurant and bar on West Seneca Street in Oswego for many years, and his youngest sister Patti is married to former Niagara-Mohawk Executive Bob Crist, and continues to maintain her home in Oswego.  As the youngest child, Patti earned the nickname, “Couldn’t be,” after her father’s reaction in learning that his wife was pregnant with her fourth child at a later stage of life. Patti was a welcome, if somewhat late,  addition to a very warm and loving family.  She was 21 years younger than her older sister Florence.  One of their family’s best bakery customers, Ed O’Shea, a long time Pall-Times Linotype foreman (and  my father’s boss at the Pall), would always tap Patti on the head when picking up his order and ask, “How is ‘Couldn’t be?’”

Life in the small, wood-frame Joyce household was  joyous and busy.  Bill’s dad worked for the city water department andhelped his wife run the family baking business our of a small addition to their home.  Their breads and rolls were renowned and Florence Joyce’s cakes and pies were well sought-after delectable delights. Florence Joyce lived to the ripe old age of 105. Music was a big part of the Joyce family’s daily lives, and their piano was the site of many an impromptu singalongs with Bill’s friend, George McDonald, as the pianist.

A charter member of St. Mary’s famed men’s choir and over the years, under the tutelage of St. Mary’s organist and Choirmaster Prof. James H. Lally and later organist and Professor Ray O’Donnell, Bill and other choir members would make the rounds of Oswego’s leading Irish watering holes on St. Patrick’s Day. He was  known for his tear evoking version of “Danny Boy,” among other Irish favorites.

Bill would often sing Irish songs with fellow choir members Joe Bosco, Jack Donovan and Paul Murray, in addition to Mike and Francis Dehm.

Bill lives in Sterling and his home for many years continued as a place of regular singing sessions on most Wednesday nights. Choir members and  Ray O’Donnell, the choirmaster and pianist, would get together to belt out show tunes, Irish tunes and medlies of other all-time favorite songs.

Bill and his late wife Nanette raised six children: Bill Jr., George, Nanette, Cynthia, John and Mary.  They have a total of 61 grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Nancy and Joe had two children: Joe Jr, a local attorney, and Lisa, who now lives in Florida and works as a promoter for the Walt Disney company.  Nancy was known as a very talented chanteuse and entertained often at her cabaret club.

Patti had one son, David Buske, who works at Novelis, and married Oswego native Jean Lisk. Her husband Bob Crist’s son, Bill, married Carol Lisk, so a brother and step-brother married two different sisters. They are also the daughters of prominent Oswego musician and band leader Ed Lisk and his wife Dorrie.  Bill Jr. was an Oswego music teacher for many years and became Oswego City School District Superintendent.  He is currently Superintendent of Schools for the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse.

Music in the greater Joyce family is, as one might say, a family tradition. Bill Joyce and his extended family have made us all sing, laugh, cry and sing some more over many decades. Theirs is a warm and loving legacy.  May the lilt of their Irish laughter and melodic inspiration continue to charm us for many more years.

John T. Sullivan is a former Oswego Mayor and the author of three books, “Forks In The Road” parts I and II and an autobiography “Pee Not Your Pants — Memoirs of a small time mayor with big time ideas,” available locally in the river’s end bookstore and online.  His column appears exclusively in The Palladium-Times on the first Monday of each month.

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