Meet Joe Turf

For nearly three decades, Joe Cordes has spent his retirement improving Jasper football

Words by Nick Norris | Image by Blakeney Clouse 

For the past 28 years, Joe Cordes has spent his retirement assisting his former high school’s football program in any way he can. It goes without saying that a lot has changed in that time. Principals, coaches, and nearly 30 classes of students have come and gone. A new school was built, and Walker High evolved into Jasper High. Despite the changes, Joe has been a constant, spending much of his time taking care of equipment, fixing things, and finding ways to assist the coaches.

“This is my form of relaxation,” Joe says. “I don’t play golf. I couldn’t afford the golf balls, because they certainly wouldn’t be in the fairway. I go to the field house just about every day to help out any way I can. The coaches should spend their time coaching, not worrying about little things. I tell them I’ll take care of the equipment and small projects so their time can be spent on what they were hired to do.”

After retirement, Joe made his way back to his hometown. Always having been a man of the community, Joe found himself visiting then-head coach Danny Gambrell at the school. The field was being redone, and other projects were falling behind as a result. 

“I offered to help Danny catch up,” Joe explains. “One thing led to another and I ended up just sort of sticking around, I guess.”

Of course, it isn’t just the work that keeps Joe around. It’s the relationships made along the way that make a hard day’s work feel meaningful.

“I’m more comfortable around the coaching staff than I am anybody,” Joe says. “It’s a camaraderie we have with each other. We pick on each other and have a lot of good times. It’s fun when we’re all together. And we’ve worked for some good people, too. We’ve had some great superintendents and principals here, which makes the work all the easier.”

Countless memories have been made throughout those 28 years. But to Joe, some stick out more than others. “Probably what I have enjoyed most is watching some of the kids who don’t get much playing time have a chance to get in a game and do something big,” Joe says. “Some kids get to make huge plays multiple times a game and those are memorable also, but seeing the ones who don’t always have that opportunity get to do something big is exciting. Those are the plays I remember.”

As for the future, Joe isn’t quite sure how long he will continue offering his time with the Viking football program, but he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. The 69-year-old believes the job does even more for him in some ways than he does for it.

“I don’t have time to get old,” Joe jokes. “This has been a good outlet for me. The boys keep me young by keeping after them. I get to stay in touch with the community, meet new people, and make some lifetime friendships. It’s like a family here, so I’m going to keep it up ‘til I can’t.”

In a high school setting, changes in one form or another happen almost every day. It’s the good people like Joe that keep it feeling steady. 78

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