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Joseph Richard Anttila
Joe was born the first month, 26, 1949 in Ontonagon, to Brenolf and Geraldine (O’Connell) Anttila. He grew up in Mass City on a street knows as “Diaper Avenue” because there were a lot of babies being birthed there and the clotheslines were full of diapers. Joe and his brothers Billy and Donnie worked in the woods with their dad as soon as they were able to handle a peeling iron. Logging was an Anttila family tradition. Of all the various jobs he labored at, Joe was a logger. (In fact, when he received his draft notice, Joe considered trying to get a deferment because he “peeled pulp for da fence” but decided Uncle Sam wouldn’t share his sense of humor.)
Joe graduated from Mass High School in 1967. He claimed that the school was closed soon after due to the antics of his class. On June 4, 1968 he answered the call to serve our country and he fought during the Vietnam War. Military service is another family tradition. When asked about his Army career, he would proudly state that he served for 1 year, 9 months, and 8 days. A Vietnam Vet cannot unremember that experience. After the war, Joe worked in the lower peninsula and other states, mostly in construction and industrial painting. But his heart brought him back to the Copper Country where he logged again, which was his passion. Joe was also an excellent bartender. He joked that he served “mind, body, and soul destroying beverages” at Tige’s Bar, owned first by his uncle Tige Uotila and then by his brother Billy. Being full of, let’s say, conversational humor, Joe kept the patrons amused.
In the summer of 1985, an amazing thing happened to a couple of strangers. A gal named Nona from Toivola went with her dear friend Jayne to Tige’s softball tournament in Mass City. Joe Anttila was working in the beer shack, and that was the first time those crazy old kids gazed upon one another. Oh, those twinkly brown eyes – Nona’s eyes must have twinkled too. Nona asked Jayne, “Who is that?” Jayne told her and Nona said, “I want that one.” The rest is history. It took some feminine wiles and sharp wit, but eventually it became mission accomplished and their adventure began. Joe and Nona were married on November 7, 1987. Through the decades they shared many trials and tribulations, but much more triumph. And the greatest of all the things they shared was love.
Joe pretty much did it all. He was the local saw doctor, sharpening chains and fixing saws for many other people. He’d cut the entire winter’s wood and for years he split it all with a maul and taught his bride to be the pile-it. Winter was not his favorite season. Slogging through snowdrifts to fell trees or hook up logs behind the skidder in freezing temperatures – not fun. Joe would get home and warm up a bit, then go back out to scoop the entire driveway until it was, as he called it, a boulevard. If you look in a Finnish dictionary, next to the word Sisu, there should be a picture of Joseph Richard Anttila.
Before his eyesight began to falter, Joe was an avid reader and a cribbage wizard. He enjoyed watching old T.V. shows, plus nature, action, and mystery movies. In the mornings he would jam to his weather band radio. On regular radio, Joe liked listening to Jan Tucker, Mitch and MaryAnn’s comical banter, classic rock, Dick Storm, Brian Juntikka, Cowboy Corner, and Will Shortz’s weekend puzzle on NPR.
His interests and talents sprang from the mishmash of experiences in a well-lived but an oh too short life. Joe was an animal lover. There were cats that he trained to fetch. His family had a baby raccoon he rescued, and it learned to use a litterbox. Chipmunks would climb up his leg when they figured out that Joe would usually have peanuts in his flannel shirt pocket. He was famous for delivering puppies to folks who didn’t know they wanted one. Joe could really cut a rug and he was quite the crooner. Mention almost any word and he would break into song. His bride would comment that living in their little house was like being in a musical comedy. Joe could sing and dance, and he was truly funny. He remembered lines from Shakespeare from the long-ago high school years but quoted them with a personal and often sassy twist. It seemed that Joe kept every corny joke and humorous family tale tucked in his memory bank to dig out at the most opportune moment. Some of his jokes could be labeled “Dad jokes,” but people who knew him called them “Joe jokes.”
Most of all, Joe loved his family and friends, and especially the little children. He’d entertain them with tall tales and his false teeth magic tricks. Some of the wee youngsters tried to take their own teeth out to make Joe laugh too, and that indeed made him laugh. Some years ago, his brother Billy wrote, “A man with a heart as big as his smile and all of his kids and the kids in my family love their Uncle Joe.”
During the past few years, numerous maladies attacked Joe’s body, many of which needed some intense medical treatment. Thank God for daughter Brenda, who made sure that her dad made it to his appointments and procedures in facilities across the UP and Wisconsin. These trying times really brought out Joe’s Sisu. He battled valiantly, but at the end his body could not fight anymore. The day before he died, he told his very sad son Jonah, “God wants me now.” The next morning on August 24, Joe’s soul went back to the Creator, but his kind and beautiful spirit remains among his loved ones. One of Joe’s favorite quotes is from Nez Perce Chief Joseph: “I will fight no more forever.” Amen to that. Thank you for being you, Joe. You are dearly missed. Please rest in peace.
Preceding him in death: his parents; his brothers William, Dean, and John Thomas; sister MaryLee; brother-in-law Jim Juntunen; in-laws Sulo and Marge Kangas; and many other beloved relatives and friends.
His is survived by his wife Nona; children Eddie (Susan) Anttila, Clare (Jim) Loveless, Wade (Angie) Kolehmainen, Amber (Fatih) Surmen, Brenda Anttila, and Jonah Anttila; grandchildren David, Eddie, Josh, Alaaddin, Lalehan, Miray, Yildiz, Jed, and Bekka; siblings Jane Juntunen, Donnie (Carole) Anttila, Evelyn (Dave) Good, and Nora (Bill) T’Niemi; and many nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.
The family wishes to thank the following people: Joe Battisfore for his friendship and guidance through the VA process for Joe and family; Dr. Todd Anderson for truly caring about the health of his patients; Dr. Labonte and RN Evan Hyrkas for being so kind, caring, and attentive during Joe’s last day and moments with us; as well as numerous other nurses, doctors, and home healthcare staff, especially the Swallow Lady, for taking care of Joe during the numerous appointments and procedures over the years.
Loving wife Nona’s final note, “We will dance again Joey. And we will go snorkeling.”
Military Honors will be held on Saturday, September 16, 2023, at 11:00 a.m. at the Toivola Cemetery. A Celebration of Life will follow at 11:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. at the Twin Lakes Firehall.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Joe’s honor to the Copper Country Veterans Association: 15225 N. Superior Rd., Houghton, MI 49931; or a charity of your choice.
The O’Neill-Dennis Funeral Home of Hancock is assisting with the arrangements. To leave online condolences for his family, please go to www.oneilldennisfh.com.