When members of Morristown’s United Methodist Church say that Joe Replogle remains with them, they are not being trite.
Reminders of this beloved parishioner, whose life will be celebrated in a memorial service on Feb. 1, 2014, are everywhere.
There is a desktop bookshelf Joe whipped together for church Secretary Mona Lindemann. A coffee maker marked “Bell Labs” harkens to the Whippany research center where Joe was an electrical engineer until retiring in 1991. Stained-glass windows decorate a church alcove, thanks to Joe.
The balcony boasts a sturdy camera mount fashioned by Joe, who used it to videotape The Christmas Singers lunchtime concert on Dec. 19, 2013.
Early the next morning he died in his sleep at his Mendham home. He was 86.
“A large part of what is Joe and what was Joe still is in this church. So many things that he fixed. In his last month, he fixed this pencil sharpener,” Pastor Neill Tolboom said, gesturing to the implement on his desk.
Friends remembered Joe Repogle as a humble, friendly fellow with a droll sense of humor. He loved public radio’s Car Talk and A Prairie Home Companion, and New Yorker cartoons.
“When in charge, ponder. When in trouble, delegate. When in doubt, mumble,” advises a plaque he placed in the church audio/visual room, his “office” for decades.
Now the room feels like a techie shrine. Yards of meticulously coiled cables hang neatly on a pegboard, just as Joe left them, beside rolling carts that he custom-rigged with electronics for fast setup at church events.
“He was always here, taking care of things at the church,” said his fellow volunteer and longtime sidekick, Howard Leach.
BALING WIRE, AND PILES OF PARTS
Joe went back farther than most parishioners, farther even than the present church, re-built in the early 1970s after a fire.
He and his late wife Marty joined the congregation in 1956, after Joe’s service as a 1st Lieutenant in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. Joe’s well worn Marines cap has become a prized possession, destined for enshrinement in the A/V room.
For a generation, Joe and his pal Howard Brady were the go-to guys when anything broke.
“They held this church together with baling wire,” said Music Director June Van Thoen.
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Joe also volunteered with the Telephone Pioneers of America, a charitable service organization. And the Penn State grad was fanatical about recycling old computers.
“He would never throw anything away,” said Mona, the church secretary.
Joe could “build something that works from what seems to be just a pile of parts,” added Vince Cattano on his Facebook page.
Everyone at 50 South Park Place has a story about this inveterate tinkerer who, in later years, blithely ignored admonitions by worried friends and sneaked up the church tower to maintain the giant clock.
“He walked the talk and demonstrated what Millard Fuller called ‘the theology of the hammer,’” said former Pastor Jim White, praising Joe’s “practical Christianity.”
“He could fix anything, in a given amount of time,” said Pastor Neill, noting that Joe’s solutions were… creative.
For Christmas, Joe wanted the star of Bethlehem to appear above the sanctuary as it does in the Bible–with no strings attached. So he hung it with nearly invisible–and live–wires, Pastor Neill recounted. It took some trial-and-error to light the thing.
“Every Sunday I had to re-set the circuit-breaker,” the minister said with a grin.
Joe and Marty are survived by a son, Kris; daughters Katrina and Karalyn; and six grandchildren. They lost a son, Keith, in infancy, and a teenaged son, Kurt, in a bicycling accident. The couple started the Morris County chapter of Compassionate Friends to help others cope with painful losses.
Outwardly, Joe remained upbeat even after his wife’s death in 2010 following complications from an accident.
“He always had a smile and a kind word for everyone… he was just a very good man,” Mona said.
Joe’s sudden death right before Christmas shocked church folk, who keep expecting him to shuffle down the hall behind his electronics cart. Yet some take comfort knowing he went peacefully, avoiding the ordeal that claimed his wife.
“It was a wonderful way to go,” Pastor Neill said.
Joe Replogle’s memorial service starts at 10 am on Feb. 1. In lieu of flowers, the family asks anyone who is so inclined to donate to his or her favorite charity.