Everyday Heroes: Longtime resident makes New Straitsville a better place

New Straitsville resident Joe Maroon tirelessly supports his Southeast Ohio community, including holiday lights and veterans' memorials.

Jess Deyo
The Columbus Dispatch
Joe Maroon with the New Straitsville veterans memorial he helped install photographed on Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

It’s no coincidence that Joe Maroon is known as a pitbull — he was coined as such for his go-getter mindset. If he has a goal, he’ll stop at nothing to get it done, he says, and over his 84 years, he’s done a lot.

“Let's grow and make our lives worthwhile, with Jesus Christ in our hearts. That's what my life is about,” Maroon said. “Anytime I see somebody that needs help, regardless of what it is, if I can help them, by God, I'll help them.”

A firm believer in God, a brother and a friend to all, Maroon is a staple to the people of New Straitsville. His passion for volunteering comes from a desire to connect with people, and, if he could have it his way, he would touch the hearts of everyone he passes (or at least tell a quick story). 

Joe Maroon brought holiday lights and veterans' memorials to New Straitsville

Some of Maroon’s accomplishments include chairing the Keep New Straitsville Beautiful Committee, creating the town’s community garden and playgrounds, and even being named volunteer of the year by the Keep Ohio Beautiful Commission. However, two projects stand above the others: the town’s Christmas lights and the veterans’ memorials. 

Maroon tells it like a timeless Christmas tale. Forty-one years ago, the town of New Straitsville was dark throughout the holiday season, he says, and he knew he needed to bring some joy to the downtown streets. So he made it happen. He raised $1,700 and, with plenty of helping hands, he placed red and green strings of lights throughout the town. Every night during the holidays, he turned the lights on manually, and he did it with a smile on his face. 

Decades later, Maroon is placing those same lights and is the chair of the Christmas Light Association, which works to gain funding for the project, although Maroon funds much of it himself. There are now ornaments, garland and even a nativity scene he created. The lights are now automatic, and to help with hanging, there is always a local business willing to volunteer their box truck.

His efforts to bring beauty to the town don’t stop after the holiday season. Maroon organizes drives to rid the town of rubbish, cares for veterans' graves across five cemeteries, and inspired a Fourth of July celebration this year, the first the town has seen in years. Over the years he has also placed three veterans' memorials in the town’s memorial park. 

The first monument, placed in 1997, along with the second monument, placed in 2004, are a collection of names of those in New Straitsville and beyond who have served.

The third, placed in 2008, is a memorial recognizing those who fought against Japan to capture the airfields on the island of Iwo Jima in 1945. The front depicts the Pulitizer-winning photograph of the United States Marines raising the American flag above Mount Suribachi. On the back are the names of those who fought in the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, World War I and World War II, who were not yet recognized on the other monuments. 

To recognize as many as possible, Maroon hopes to eventually place a fourth monument.

“So many people are coming to me and saying, ‘Joe, my son, my daughter, my husband's not on the wall, I want them remembered,’” he said. “And this just isn't in this area. This is Columbus, this is all across the United States. People want their names on it.”

Nominator Steve Hiles has known Maroon for seven years, and in that time, he became one of his best friends. “He's really about the most selfless and giving person I've ever known,” Hiles said. “Not in terms of giving away money, but giving in terms of his time and energy. And he's just really passionate about trying to make New Straitsville the best town possible.”