DONOR STORIES

Not Your Average Joe
The rain stopped on April 24, 2004, just in time for city officials in Miami, Oklahoma to hold a special ceremony to dedicate the baseball field on 5th Street. More than 100 friends, family members and former players gathered to honor local sports legend and hero, Joseph “Joe” Pollock. The words inscribed on the bronze plaque located at the edge of the field offer just a glimpse of Joe’s lifetime of giving to his community. With his death on July 22, 2003, Miami’s beloved coach, scoutmaster, and professional baseball player had shared the ultimate gift of life.

By the time Joseph Steven Pollock graduated from Rhodes High School in Cleveland, Ohio, he had earned recognition as a state champion saxophonist and an all-sports athlete. Joe was a starting halfback on the football team that also featured Heisman Trophy winner, Les Horvath, and NFL Coach, Don McCafferty. As an all-state track star, Joe was privileged to participate in a 100-yard exhibition race with a newly crowned Olympic champion. They matched strides for the first 25 yards, but for the rest of the race all Joe could see was the back of Jesse Owens.
Following high school, Joe signed a professional baseball contract with the Detroit Tigers in 1942. He only played a few months of minor league ball before trading in his ball glove, cap and cleats for a rifle, helmet and boots. Assigned to the Anti-Tank Company, 309th Infantry, Corporal Pollock bravely served his country in Europe during World War II. The highly decorated soldier fought in the historic conflicts of Ardennes, the Battle of The Bulge, and Remagen Bridge. In addition to numerous combat and service medals, a special athletic award, signed by General Eisenhower, was presented to Joe for participating in the European Theater Track and Field Championships held in Nuremberg, Germany. The General stopped to wish Joe good luck as they watched his long jump being measured. Joe was crowned 100 Meter Champion and recognized as an All-Seventh Army Track Star. With the end of the war came a discharge from the Army and a return to the states to resume his career in professional baseball.
Joe arrived in Oklahoma in the spring of 1946 as a member of the Muskogee Reds in the Western Association. Instead of a doubleheader at the ball diamond, it was at a professional wrestling match in the Muskogee Civic Center where he met his future bride. However, Marye Ruth Oliver soon became a regular fan at Joe’s games and enjoyed watching the KOM (Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri) League’s leading base stealer in action. She remembers cheering from behind the 3rd base line during one nine-inning game when Joe stole 6 bases (including home twice). In his book, “Majoring in the Minors,” baseball historian and author, John G. Hall, names Joe Pollock as “the fastest man in the (KOM) league in 1946,” with a record 119 bases stolen in 123 attempts (1946-1947 seasons). Hall recalls that Mutt Mantle from Commerce, Oklahoma attended games regularly so that son, Mickey, could cheer for his hero, Jumpin’ Joe. On November 16, 1946, Marye and Joe exchanged wedding vows. When Joe retired from baseball in 1947, the couple settled in Miami, Oklahoma where they raised two sons, Kenneth and Ronald. The former soldier/ballplayer happily adapted to his new role of loving husband and doting father.
Still wanting to share his love for baseball, Joe served on a committee that brought little league and youth league baseball franchises to Miami. He then coached in these leagues for the next 20 years. “Coach Joe,” as he was known by scores of youngsters (including Heisman Trophy winner, Steve Owens, and younger brother, Tinker), always saved a couple of spots on his roster so that every child would have an opportunity to play. Scoutmaster Joe participated in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for a total of eight years. When his son, Ron, was a member of the talent-laden track team at Miami High School, Joe volunteered to help out as an assistant coach from 1970 -1973. During a recent interview, Steve Owens remarked, “I think Joe was so honest with young kids, and speaking for myself, I knew that he cared about me – not just for what I could do athletically – but, as a person. I think he sent that message not only to me, but to a lot of young kids growing up in Miami. Joe gave of himself so much, in so many ways.”
In February 2003, Joe was diagnosed with an inoperable heart condition. The prescribed diet and medications did little to help. Consistent with his lifetime of caring and giving, Joe was adamant about becoming a donor. “In his mind’s eye, if he could give a child a chance to walk, whether they went on into sports or not, or perhaps help a child that would have to go through life with a disfigurement…. that was the legacy he wanted to leave through his donation,” according to Marye. She notes that Joe’s donation has helped to create a greater local awareness of the need for organ, eye, and tissue donors. With every chance she gets, Marye explains donation to her friends and acquaintances. “We don’t like to think about it, but life is uncertain. I like to do anything I can to help people understand the importance of donation.”
Joseph “Joe” Pollock died at the Integris Baptist Regional Health Center on July 22, 2003. He was 82 years old. His family and community grieved the loss of their husband, father, grandfather, coach, soldier, ballplayer, hero and friend. The lifetime of unselfish giving to family, community, and country had come to an end, but not without one final act of love and compassion. By choosing to be a donor, Joe saved his best gift for last.


Joe and Marye Pollock

OTHER LIFE STORIES

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ORGAN DONOR FACTOID
Q. Do celebrities and people with money get transplanted quicker than those without?

A. The placement of organs is done from a national list starting with our state. The order in which the list is kept is based upon severity of the patient's illness, time spent waiting, blood type, and other important medical information.


 


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