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Joey Velez

 

the man

the husband & father

the artist

the prize fighter

the teacher

the businessman

the conclusion

 

... the man

Joseph (Joey) Velez, son of Puerto Rican Ralph Andrew and Alaskan Native Anna Latitia Gordon-Velez was born, June 23, 1925 in Seattle, Washington.

At 17 months, Joey was afflicted with the crippling disease Polio. It withered his left leg so badly that he didn't take his first steps (with crutches) until the age of five. He didn't walk without crutches until he was nine. 

At the age of 10, he was stricken with Pneumonia. Tuberculosis soon followed and he ended up bedridden in Firlands Sanitarium in Seattle for 18 months. When other young boys were running, jumping, climbing trees and playing ball Joey was forced to sit on the side lines. Because he was so full of energy he would go to the Y.M.C.A. after school worked out and played around in the boxing ring with some of the fellows. He strived hard to overcome his childhood ailments. He didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him. He was quite proud of the way he overcame these obstacles early on.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, patriotism and anger were running high. Joey wanted to enlist in the Navy but the recruiters took one look at his withered leg and booted him out into the street. Frustrated and angry, he then tried to enlist in the Army only to be turned down again. 

In 1944 Joey graduated from Broadway High School in Seattle. He was an athletic student despite his challenges. He was a Table Tennis champion, and accomplished dancer winning Blue Ribbons in four Jitterbug contests.  

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... the husband and father

In May of 1950, Joey married Shirley May Hoeffer, a lively redhead he met at the Seattle Athletic Club. Their daughter, Debra Jo (Jodi) was born July 1953 at Providence Hospital in Seattle. Shirley and Joey had an amicable divorce in 1958.

Joey had another precious daughter by the name of Charmaine Noel Bader who was born December 25, 1959 at Northgate Hospital in Seattle. Charmaine’s mother was Darlene Fay Gering of Seattle. 

Jodi and Charmaine are still alive and raising their families in southern California and Gig Harbor, WA, respectively.  

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... the artist

As a young schoolboy, Joey entered contests to show his artwork. He majored in art at Broadway High School and won 2nd place in the National Scholastics Art Contest. In 1944, he received honors in the National Scholastics awards for art and literary work. In 1945 he won 3rd prize in watercolor. He was also given a scholarship to a Southern California art school.  

Joey was a very talented man, indeed. He drew and painted faces, landscapes, cartoons. He drew portraits of himself to advertise the next fight, or the results of the match that he had been in. He drew and published fight programs for other boxers as well.

He attended the Edison Technical School in Seattle and developed into a top-notch commercial artist. His favorite medium was the newspaper. Not drawing for them, but on them, as his canvas.

He managed a branch of Seattle’s Burnley School of Art and before the age of 24, he worked at Frederick and Nelsons and later was Head Commercial Artist at Sears & Roebucks in Seattle.  

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... the prize fighter

In 1941, after being turned down from both the Navy and the Army because of his withered left leg, he was angry that they didn’t want him. He took this anger that day to the ring at the YMCA in Seattle. He admitted that he became very vindictive. He said, “All I wanted to do was fight servicemen. I went from base to base and took part in Army and Navy sponsored fights. The prize was a war bond.”

In all 24 of his first amateur fights he took on the best each military base had to offer. He never lost. It was as if he had his own motto, “If you can’t join them, beat them!” He became a serious amateur and took almost every title around.

By 1945 he was being called such names as, “Gentleman Joe Velez” and “Coast Slugger”. In 1946, he won the Northwest Golden Gloves Crown, the AAU Washington State Championship, and went on to Boston for the 1946 National Championship of the lightweight division.

In 1947, they were calling him, “Slashing Seattle Grappler” and “Seattle Scrapper.” as well as the “Little Gamester with the Gimp Leg”, and “Joltin’ Joe Velez". But he was most famous for the name of “Lil` Joey Velez.” which emblazoned the back of his boxing robe.

Weighing in at 135 pounds he was compared to condensed dynamite. His ability to move in the ring with his Polio inflicted leg was extraordinary. Observers marveled at Joey’s footwork, his quick maneuvers and sharp reflexes were superior to more than 90% of the fighters in action in his day. Nothing short of remarkable, considering that Joey’s Achilles cord on his left leg was completely helpless caused by the infantile paralysis. They say he was “exceptionally hard to knock off his feet.” Joey couldn’t back up very well in the ring, but most of the time, he didn’t have to. When he got an adversary in the corner, it was usually the beginning of the end.

He traveled throughout his career. He was chosen to represent the U.S. in London, although he couldn’t make it at the time. All told, he went into 62 amateur battles — and came out on top in 60 of them!  

One story has it, Joey stuffed $40 into his shoe and headed for Los Angeles, CA. There he wandered into the famous Main Street Gym, which was the haunt of many of the world's most famous boxers and the location of several Hollywood films. Joe Louis, Max Baer, Rocky Marciano, 'Jersey Joe' Walcott all passed through the doors of the famous gym and all became good friends of 'Lil Joey' Velez.

His first fight didn’t bring him the riches he had hoped for. He explained, “I made $35 in my first pro match in California. It wasn’t the gold mine I had thought it would be.” But his prizefight of $35 expanded by the end of his first year as a pro to over $26,000. Over the years Joey made over $250,000 in the ring, saying, “It didn’t last. My hindsight is terrific. I blew it.” Losing the money never bothered him though.  

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... the teacher

For a time, Joey coached boxing at the Washington Athletic Club, teaching the manly art of self-defense to 50 or more young boys each Saturday morning. Later, he operated his own Joey Velez School of Boxing for boys in the 6 to 13 year age bracket, first in the Greenwood District, then at the Eagles gymnasium near Fourth and Wall Streets in downtown Seattle.

A local television station presented Joey’s “Madison Square Kindergarten,” a weekly telecast that he produced for four years. Youngster’s ages 6 to 12 went at each other with gloves almost as big as they were. Harmless fights pitched the mini-battlers against each other in three weight divisions; flea weight, gnat weight, and paper weight. Most of the children found it a challenge just to lift the heavy gloves. Before long, he was conducting boxing classes for youngsters in six different parts of Seattle. By his own count, approximately 4,000 Seattle youngsters “learned to absorb a few knocks, to stand up straight and conduct themselves as gentleman." under his supervision.

   


Shortly after Joey's death in December 2002, a gentleman by the name of
Tim Robinson contacted me. He wanted to express his sympathy to our loss and asked if he could share his memories of the summer in 1957
when he was a student at the Joey Velez School of Boxing.
Click Here
to read Mr. Robinson's touching story.


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... the businessman

In the 60s and 70s, Joey went into the restaurant and cocktail-lounge business after purchasing Del’s at Taylor Avenue and Denny Way. He renamed the place “Joey Velez’ Portrait Room” and decorated the cocktail room with his paintings. It looked like the Brown Derby with personalized portraits on every wall and in every booth. Later, he operated a tavern at 318 Nickerson St., near the south end of the Fremont Bridge — a terrible mistake. He said that he “didn’t belong behind a bar”. He ended up filing for bankruptcy. As mentioned above, Joey also had a thriving boxing school and boxing program on television.

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... the conclusion

Joey was many things to many people. He was a loving son, brother, uncle, husband and father. He was so full of inspiration, talent that people found it impossible to forget him. And he absolutely loved to make people laugh.  

Joey gained considerable fame, both as a professional fighter and an artist. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s this Seattle born boxer stunned the boxing world with victory after victory. Nationally televised bouts, newspaper articles and national sporting magazines covered Velez’s boxing career step by step. Here was a young Puerto Rican / Alaska Native who just wouldn’t give up, though the odds were against him from the very beginning. But he beat those odds and went on to greatness.

Joey died Saturday, December 7, 2002 from natural causes. His greatness continues to touch people...he was an amazing man who will be remembered in the hearts of many.

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This site was created by Joey's daughter Jodi Velez-Newell with information compiled by her and
other family members. A special thanks goes to second cousin Debie Hutchens-Hurtado