Joe Distelheim, a retired newspaperman, died December 30, 2020, wondering how he’s going to get his news from now on. He was 78, a 15-year resident of Hilton Head Island.
Born in Chicago, he was a journalism alumnus of Northern Illinois University. He did graduate work at the University of Delaware and spent a year as a Professional Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. Also furthering his education, he survived the Battle of Parris Island, vowing never again to find himself anywhere near the place. Six years later, a grateful nation awarded an honorable discharge to Sgt. Distelheim, USMCR
He loved his wife, the Chicago Cubs (in that order, honest!) and life on Hilton Head Island. He hated bigotry, misuse of the apostrophe (never to form plurals, people!) and that stupid tree on number six at the Country Club of Hilton Head. All who knew them understood that his best quality was his wife of 40 years, Dottie, the finest wife in the history of wives.
He was a 20th century newspaperman, in an era in which daily newspapers were growing and vital to their communities. None of the newspaper offices in which he worked survives. He was an advocate for accuracy, ethics, community service, and inclusiveness in the profession. He retired as editor of The Huntsville (Ala.) Times, where he also wrote a weekly column focusing on the newspaper and journalism in general.
Over a 38-year-career, he was a reporter and editor at five newspapers in Delaware, North Carolina, Michigan, and Alabama. As a political reporter at the News-Journal newspapers in Wilmington, Del., he covered presidential primaries and national conventions in 1968 and 1972. At The Charlotte Observer, he was city editor whose staff won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on brown lung disease in North Carolina’s textile mills. He was sports editor, among other roles, at the Detroit Free Press.
After retirement, he co-authored a baseball book, “Cubs: From Tinker to Banks to Sandberg to Today,” which became a worst-seller.
He and Dottie moved in 2005 to Hilton Head Plantation, where they began a wonderful life of good friends, bad golf, and involvement in the community. Joe was a longtime teacher of English as a Second Language with The Literacy Center in Hilton Head and Bluffton.
Joe will be remembered by his beloved wife, Dottie, his sister, Donna Huchel of La Jolla, Cal., sister-in-law, Sonya Charles of Charlotte, N.C., and brother-in-law Ike Jones of Greensboro, N.C. He also will be missed by nieces Shelley (Brett, Max), Valerie (Jamie, Amanda, Christopher) and Susan, as well as nephews David (Wendy, Alex) and Ken (Fritzi, Riley).
A Celebration of Life will be held on Hilton Head when we are able to gather. Donations may be sent to The Literacy Center, at P.O. Box 3725, Bluffton, S.C. 29910.