By Kathryn Grimshaw

My friend Joe Sicinski had a fondness for impersonating other people—sometimes imaginary people, sometimes real—catching accents and voice characteristics with great skill. Over the telephone, in a disguised voice, Joe would introduce himself to me as Josephus, the 1st century biblical historian from Jerusalem of 2,000 years ago, calling to give me an update on the events of the Roman occupation of Jewish Palestine. (“Pontius Pilate held an interesting trial here, recently,” he said.)

Or he was Joseph Stalin, in a thick Russian accent, telling me of a fierce, muddy Tank Battle of World War II, pitching the racially-pure, blond-haired Teutonic German (a recent graduate of the Hitler Youth Training School, with large doses of passionate propaganda, “Heil Hitler!”) against the wild-haired (but not blond) under-fed, rabid Moscow University student-turned-reluctant-soldier, from the vast Russian steppes, poetry book firmly in hand. (“We won, you know. Russian tanks are the best, you know,” he said.)

In a more modest vein he was Joe, the local Italian shoe-repair man, working in a dark and dreary corner shop with unclaimed handbags hanging from the ceiling, toiling seven days a week to feed his twelve hungry children. (“No ticket, no shoes,” he warned.)

In fact, you never knew who you were going to meet when Joe called. And I have been with Joe when he did his funny “voices” with complete strangers, just to confound them, I guess. His sense of humor often had a wicked knife-edge to it, but it always made you laugh. With a stranger, I would try to interpret, softly, as I looked at the stranger’s shocked face. “He’s just kidding, you know,” I would say. “he’s not really the recently knighted Sir Joseph Schottenstein of Minsk, vacationing along the Volga River with his sturdy wife, singing “The Volga Boat-Man.” Joe would assure the stranger that he was completely serious. He would look quite happy at his deception.

Joe died on April 20, 2024. I will miss him very much and not only for his unique sense of humor. (Personally, I’m a little bit short on humor at the moment.) But I will always remember with deep affection his quick perceptiveness, his strong sense of fair play, our conversations about many shared interests, Joe’s compassion and wisdom, his instant recognition of insincerity or human folly—and especially his ability to be a genuine, unselfish friend, of whom there are never enough.

Be at peace, Joe. You are surely missed.~