Joe Register, assistant professor and assistant chair of the English department, died in his home on Saturday, August 4th, ending his battle with cancer. He was 51.
I was tasked with writing about a man I never met. I was not a student of Joe Register. I did not pass him in the hallway, and if I had I might not have noticed. “Joe was an under the radar kind of guy,” said Kim Hall, assistant professor, of English. Register graduated from Temple University in 1986 with a BA in English, and a MA in English from The University of Memphis in 1989, but according to friends, Register was a Philly guy.
He founded and self published a literary magazine in 1998, “The Bucks County Writer,” In a 1998 interview with the Lehigh Valley paper, “The Morning Call,” Register called himself a writer, not “prolifically published,” but a writer. “Our job is to benefit writers,” Register said. “People want to publish; that’s important for them, to be able to share their work.” A Bucks County author, Foster Winans, told “The Morning Call,” that seeing Joe’s magazine in a local book store gave him the idea to open a writer’s lounge; he called it a “sign.” Perhaps the measure of a man is not what he accomplishes, but what he inspires others to accomplish. “Professor Register inspired me to become involved in “Live Wire,” former “Live Wire” editor-in-chief Shawn Shaknitz said. “The students of HACC have lost a great man.”
I think about his wife Lucinda Manges. At one time she was a HACC nursing student, who moved on to become a practicing midwife for the Amish. I think about his four daughters, Margot, Ella, Sarah, and Jane. I did not know his family. I did not know the girls that favored him, or why they made him a “Best Dad” basketball magnet. The man described as a calming influence didn’t care for sports, other than watching college teams battle for supremacy during March Madness. The words were heart felt messages from girls who shared a close relationship with their father. According to Kim Hall, he had accepted his mortality after being diagnosed with cancer, but it was the idea of leaving his children he hated the most. “He always talked about his girls. He loved his girls,” said Hall.
He worked in a restaurant in his 20’s. He backpacked across Europe. He loved romantic poetry and drew parallels between poetry and punk rock, and at one time, drove a brown Dodge Dart. He was a champion of the underdog. “Joe’s stories were always about the single parent working two jobs and still coming to school,” Hall said. He was observant and mischievous without being obvious and relied on humor to carry him and others through the day. The bulletin board for the English department was the work of Joe Register. He decorated for the holidays, even though he wasn’t much of a holiday person, according to Hall. “To look at him you wouldn’t think that Joe was the one that decorated the office at Christmas, but yeah he was,” Hall said. Chess, a game of logic, isn’t normally the choice for overly creative people, but Register loved chess. “He was always playing someone online. He’d make his move, go to his class, come back and make his next move,” said Hall.
A theme began to emerge. The more people I spoke with about Joe Register, the more I heard about his humor, intelligence, and kindness. Barbara McGraw, assistant professor of English, shared a story of a conversation Register had with a colleague. McGraw heard Register laughing as he said, “One doctor said if I do this I might have three months, and another says a few weeks…They have all this information for me but no information.” With a warm smile McGraw said, “But that was just Joe.” Elisa Weigard, library liaison to the English department, described Register as creative, supportive of the library, and “really, really, funny.” Open-minded and welcoming to departments outside of English, he seemed to make others feel included. I found myself mourning a man I had never met, a man I had never learned from, as his impact on others became obvious.
“I know this sounds cheesy, but I think Joe was the best of us and he’s not here anymore,” Hall said.
A scholarship is being created in Joe Register’s name. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations would be appreciated to the HACC Foundation, One HACC Dr., Harrisburg, P.A. 17110 and specify it is for the Joe Register fund.