Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District Chief Peter Van Dorpe summed it up this way in his Everyday Heroes nomination of Joe Teson: “There are heroic acts. And then there are heroic lives.”
Capt. Joe, as he is known throughout his community and the fire service, clearly deserves the honor, the chief went on, noting not only Teson’s decades of service to the Algonquin-LITH Fire Protection District, but also his dedication to numerous community causes.
Teson was an active member of the Jaycees, the Algonquin Leadership Program, the Booster Club at Jacobs and Dundee-Crown high schools, a builder of Angel Town Playground, among the organizers and participants in the Shamrock Shave, a Movember participant and Muscular Dystrophy Association supporter.
He also is a founder of the Bear Necessities Run, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and was the precursor of the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation, Van Dorpe and others said.
Teson raised a family, hosted Great Lakes recruits at Thanksgiving time, cleared driveways and walks for seniors and others in need, and, through his business, Teson Automotive, helped allow people to drive to work, redardless of whether they could afford to pay him for their repairs right away.
Instructor for the McHenry County College Fire Academy. Salvation Army bell ringer. The list goes on.
Were it not for a massive stroke he suffered two years ago this month, Teson still might be on the job, said his son, Lt. Dan Teson, also of the Algonquin-LITH department. Instead, he retired in April 2015 with 33 years of service.
“One of the coolest memories I have about my dad is when he was recognized for having worked for 30 years at the department,” Dan Teson said. “People in the fire service often say they have first and second families, as in my first family is my wife and kids, and my second family is my brothers and sisters at the fire department.
“During his thank you speech, he said he doesn’t have two families, just one big family.”
That family was put to the test when Capt. Joe suffered his stroke, Dan Teson said.
“It was 26 minutes from the 911 call to his first CAT scan at Good Shepherd Hospital,” he said. “And it wasn’t special treatment. That’s the level of service our guys provide. [Capt. Joe] was the training officer for a long time.
“We were lucky we had the Algonquin fire department the day he had his stroke.”
Capt. Joe has been defying medical odds ever since, his son and others said.
The stroke was severe and could have proved lethal. Today, however, Teson is talking, taking some steps and determined to recover.
Capt. Joe said he grew up on Main Street in Algonquin, just a couple of blocks from the fire station. His mother, Frances Teson, participated in the volunteer ambulance service. He and his brothers often rode their bikes to fire scenes, where they’d watch the crews work.
So it was only natural that in the early 1980s, when the department published an ad seeking new members, he applied.
“My brother Charlie joined at the same time,” he said.
Teson became one of four captains, and earned a reputation as a great instructor at McHenry County College.
“I really liked being involved with it all,” Teson said. “I liked working with the new members and training them.”
Fire Prevention Bureau Director Mike Murphy, also with the Algonquin-LITH department, called Capt. Joe “an old-school firefighter” and all-around great guy.
“He’s there for his family, for the fire service and for the community,” Murphy said. “He just gives and gives and gives and never asks for anything in return.”
The family, Teson’s wife, Kathy, said, is grateful for the community’s support during the past couple of years – support she knows will continue as long as it’s needed.
“The guys came over and cleaned my gutters,” she said. “They came over one morning and gutted the bathroom to make it handicapped accessible. They met him in town when he came back from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago with the fire trucks and escorted him home.
“It is a brotherhood.”