Home is where one starts from. What one chooses to do with their lives is shaped by their beginnings. Those choices ultimately shape one’s life but also can have a lasting impact on their community.
For local businessman and philanthropist Joe Fischer, the love of his parents and family and the values they instilled upon him have left a lasting legacy on Sedalia and its residents.
Fischer’s parents, John “Jack” and Margaret “Maggie” Fischer, were born in 1925 and 1926 respectively. The couple owned Fischer and Fischer Contractors and Fischer Concrete Service. Both lost their fathers in the early years of the Depression and were raised by strong mothers and supported by family and community, according to Fischer.
“I believe this formed their sense of ‘giving back’ that permeated their entire lives,” Fischer said via email. “My mother’s brothers worked at many odd jobs to support their mother and younger siblings throughout the Depression and my father’s mother worked as the floor manager for a pants factory in Tipton because it paid 10 cents more per hour as she was raising two young sons on her own.”
“Both families had the opportunity to see firsthand the importance of family and community in supporting with time given to help raise and shape young, strong work ethics in them both,” he continued. “My mother and father shared an understanding of each other’s experiences and demonstrated a love and respect that all eight of their children wanted to emulate and realize in their relationships.”
Fischer said his immediate family understood the importance of working together and sharing as they lived in a two and a half bedroom home with 10 people at 3016 E. 12th St. in Sedalia.
In a letter to his daughters, Fischer said his parents used the living room as their bedroom separated by “French doors” from the “living room” (actually the dining room) with his sisters Mary Ellen and Rita in the front bedroom, brothers Johnny and David in the half bedroom (study) with a trundle bed and Annie, Margy, Tom and Fischer in the other bedroom with a double bed and bunk beds until Fischer was 9-years-old.
During the summer nights, in the only full bath in the house, the children always washed their feet “in the tub with a washcloth to their bodies from the sink” before they went to bed. They would take a bath on Saturday night, “so we were clean for church the next day even though we often shared water.
“In 1967, Dad built an addition on the west side with four bedrooms and two baths,” he continued in the letter. “That was amazing. The first night, Tom and I fell asleep under our beds on the carpet. We both broke in the addition by having a dart fight between our bedroom and Johnny and David’s room using the doors for our shields. Mom and Dad were less than pleased.”
Fischer and his siblings spent many rainy days in the basement with Pullman blankets from the Katy Railroad spread out over all the boxes for mountains playing with their GI Joes. They would spend other summer days in Tipton with their Grandma Norman who would give each child a Kennedy half dollar. The siblings would then walk to Hecht’s Drug Store for a comic book and soda and come back with a little change left over.
“Of course, we all had daily chores to help maintain some semblance of order in the household and were given opportunities to gain experience working on projects around the house, the farm and my father’s business,” Fischer explained. “Both of my parents demonstrated a strong work ethic to all of us kids and developed in us a sense that we could do whatever we wanted if we just focused and worked hard enough.”
As one of eight children, Fischer recalled his fondest childhood memories were framed in being in the outdoors playing soccer, football, baseball or basketball in his family’s yard or a friend’s yard with all of the other “baby boomers” in the neighborhood or just feeling the freedom of jumping on a bike and riding anywhere in town.
“My siblings and I enjoyed the benefits of growing up in a Sedalia community committed to providing the services like new parks, sports programs and new schools, to name a few, that made this place so special,” Fischer explained. “We had the best of both worlds with a rural, bucolic setting and all of the benefits of a thriving town. We could ride our bikes to Sunshine Rock to play in Flat Creek or start a pickup game of baseball or football in town or go shopping at the many department stores downtown.
“Going to the same Saint Patrick Church and a four-classroom school that my mother attended certainly gave a sense of belonging and close community,” he noted. “Later we attended Sacred Heart School and Smith-Cotton High School, realizing the amazing educational and extracurricular activities they worked so hard to provide to us students and continue to provide to this day.”
For Fischer and his siblings, it was the importance of the love and friendship of family and good friends that helped shape their beliefs.
“We always felt loved beyond reason and saw them demonstrate their loving and caring with their mothers and siblings and the many nieces, nephews, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that followed,” Fischer said. “We saw that nothing in life is more important than family and friends who are like family.
“In a community like Sedalia, we see firsthand that so many of our neighbors step up time after time and make sacrifices to make this community better and demonstrate to today’s young people the importance of giving back,” Fischer continued. “It truly takes a ‘village’ and this place is living proof that it works. My father always said if you give generously, it will come back to you sevenfold.”
Fischer described his parents as giving of their “time, talent and treasure” to make a positive mark on many people’s lives.
“My first wife, Susan, (the late Susan O’Brien Fischer) always marveled at the good example they set as a loving couple and parents,” Fischer noted. “We have all been the beneficiary of those selfless souls who came before us having worked tirelessly to build an amazing community with amenities beyond imagination for a town of this size.
“Mary McLaughlin shared this Woodrow Wilson quote with a group of us in Leadership Sedalia years ago and is a mantra that I believe the Sedalia community has embraced and demonstrably lives daily,” he said. “It reads, ‘You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.’ Sedalia remains special to me because she has never forgotten this message.”