Funeral services for Joseph Belak, 84, Rapid City, formerly of Gregory, were held July 6 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Gregory. There was a private burial.
Joseph was born on Feb. 21, 1934, in Gregory, South Dakota to Joseph and Frances (Chvala) Belak. He attended grade school and middle school at the St. Joseph’s Catholic School. He then attended Gregory High School.
Joe was a talented athlete in multiple sports during his high school years. He received many awards in both football and baseball, but baseball was his true calling.
In 1951, he led the Gregory American Legion team to a Class B State championship and was named the South Dakota American Legion baseball player of the year. He was being scouted by several professional baseball teams because of his outstanding performances.
With the rise of military action (and ultimately war), Joe knew that he would be one of the first to be drafted, so he enlisted in the United States Army and served in Korea during the Korean Conflict. His tour of duty included being an Infantry soldier and skilled Paratrooper which earned him the rank of Senior Jump Master. Some of his duties included the dangerous task of laying land mines and then also picking them up.
He was stationed at Camp Zama, Japan and joined the military baseball team. His performance caught the eye of other baseball scouts from the United States Olympic Team. In 1956, Joe flew to Melbourne, Australia to participate in the 1956 Olympics and helped his team win the Bronze Medal.
Another more tender life changing moment for Joe was meeting his future bride, Hisaka Kimoto, while stationed in Japan. After a whirlwind romance the couple married in Japan.
Upon completing his duty in Korea and Japan, he and Hisaka, along with their son, Joe Jr., returned to the United States. He returned to his home town and began his college career at Black Hills State University.
He returned to Gregory following his time at BHSU and he continued to play the sport of baseball which he loved; playing in the Basin League for the Winner Pheasants and also the Rapid City Chiefs until 1958. His participation in amateur baseball continued until 1978 and was honored in 1983 by being inducted into the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. He continued to participate in the ‘old timers’ game’ during the annual 4th of July festivities until his health would not allow him to do so.
Joe attended both the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Burke, SD and the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Gregory. He was a member of the Burke VFW and the Gregory American Legion.
Joe was quiet man who spent countless hours serving others. He set aside his love for baseball and the future possibilities in the sport to answer the call to serve his country, family, and community. He spent many endless days and nights serving as a lineman to restore electricity to members of the surrounding areas. He was a skilled handyman and laborer and answered many calls to help with house repairs, yard work, etc. He made it a mission to visit those less fortunate in the nursing home and assist during feeding times. He loved to sit outside in the evenings and just be present in the glory of the sights and sounds of the outdoors.
Joe was very proud of each of his children, grandchildren and great-children. He and Hisaka loved their grandchildren and welcomed opportunities to care for them. Although Hisaka was not able to experience the birth (and lives) of the great-grandchildren, Joe was able to be present to share his love (and her spirit and love) for them. They will always be a part of their lives and will watch over them.
Joe was challenged by multiple health issues over the years and although he continued to decline in the most recent years, he continued to have a strong spirit, passion and drive for life. Joe passed away at Sanford Medical Center in Sioux Falls, SD on June 23, 2018 at the age of 84.
Joe was preceded in death by his wife Hisaka, his mother, father, and grandparents, 7 brothers (Felix, Pete, Steve, Frank, Jim, Tony and John) and 3 sisters (Mary, Anna, and Agnes), their spouses, several nephews and nieces.
Son: Joseph and wife Colleen (Rogge);
Daughters: Fran and husband Doug Sletten; Anna (Atteberry-Gustafson) and husband John Gustafson;
5 grandchildren: Jesse Atteberry and wife Ashley (Miklos), Brandon Atteberry, Jasmine (Atteberry) and husband Dan Thelen, Carly Sletten, and Garret Sletten.
4 great-grandchildren: Michael Joseph and Blair Elizabeth Atteberry, and Emma Violet and Harper Jo Thelen.
1 sister: Susan Connot
And a host of many relatives (nephews, nieces, cousins, etc.) and friends.