Technical Sergeant Joseph Celli - US Army - Jenson Beach, FL

Sight-impaired man is a tower of vision

“When the good Lord gives you so much, you’ve got to give some back,” says 81-year-old Joe Celli about his many accomplishments.

He isn’t bragging, he’s just happy that he’s been able to help so many people. The macular degeneration that began 12 years ago was a temporary inconvenience to Celli’s altruistic life-style – an inconvenience that he turned into a better quality of life for many fellow American veteran’s.

Celli is anxious to show off some of the “gadgets” that have helped him for the last
decade. ZoomText is a computer program that displays letters at least an inch or more high. Macular degeneration leaves people with some peripheral vision, so finding a very large screen icon is possible. He uses a standard mouse and can tell which icon to click by the location on the screen. Celli then is able to enter a world that others take for granted.

A blind person can use his ears at the computer as competently as the sighted use eyes. As Celli checks his e-mails, the computer simultaneously highlights the text and reads to him in an electronic, yet pleasant, voice He also has a scanner that automatically puts a printed page on his screen and then reads it to him. He can respond by typing on his keyboard while the “voice” announces what he is typing. There is no one there to help him and he doesn’t need it. “It’s great, I can sit back, press a few buttons and relax as I listen to my friends’ e-mails and jokes,” he says.

Reaching for a normal-looking pill bottle, Celli says, “Let me show you this.” His prescription’s name, dose, warnings, doctor and date are announced by another machine by holding the container over it. This was made possible by ScripTalk.

There are machines that state blood pressure and diabetes information. His telephone has 90 imbedded numbers on a keyboard set up to easily find and automatically dial a party. If the Veterans Administration determines a veteran needs this equipment, it’s available free of charge.

Speaking about his own blindness rehab, Celli holds a finely crafted rolling pin. “Sure, it was great to make these things,” he said, “but I wanted to learn how to live with blindness.”

Celli started his rehab in Alabama about 12 years ago and quickly saw the need to bring it to a place where many veterans live – Florida. Bob Graham, Florida’s former governor and senator, heard Celli’s pleas and helped put a plan into action.

“Joe Celli was instrumental in getting a blind facility in the West Palm Beach VA Hospital,” says John Getz, an administrator for the hospital. Getz, who is also blind, and Celli have a friendly and productive relationship. Celli tests a lot of equipment for the VA and helps get them into the hands of other blind veterans. Sometimes things don’t quite work the way a blind person would like, so they go back to the drawing board.

VetDogs, a program run by the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, is Celli’s latest cause.

“You can’t go wrong when you hook up with firemen,” says Celli.

Firefighters throughout the country started the program to help the disabled Iraq War veterans get much-needed guide dogs. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being raised already, but the need is great. Celli says it takes about $6,000 to bring one of these dogs to a soldier. Celli points to an article from the New York Daily News by Jess Wislowki, who reported about one extensively injured Navy medic.

“This is my ticket back to the real world. I’ve got a chance,” said the medic while petting a black Labrador. Celli is working the phones and his computer to bring similar young men and women, who have given so much, that same chance for a more promising life.

There is so much more to Joe Celli. He credits much of his drive to his Italian immigrant father, who loved his new country so much and wanted Celli to speak English without an accent, new country so much and wanted Celli to speak English without an accent. Barely 17 years old in 1944, he lied about his age and enlisted in the service. He served as a combat engineer and returned to marry his sweetheart, Maryann, who has remained by his side for almost 60 years.

Celli attended college, but found his love of business was more compelling. He started his career as a tractor-trailer trucker hauling produce. After years of hard work and ingenuity, he concluded his career in a large trucking company a president. His final position was at Seatrain, the second largest container company in the world.

Celli retired from the company in the 1990s and moved to Martin County. Like many retirees, he took a few years to see the country in a motor home. But, true retirement quickly ended.

With little or no expertise, Celli was asked to be on the Martin County zoning board. He said he had to learn quickly as the county “comp plan” was born. Two main’ items came out of his tenure that makes him proud. One is the fact that to change a zoning, a sign must be erected on the site. The second is that an intruding development has to look like its neighbor on the borders.

Villa Assumpta is one of Celli’s proudest accomplishments. With a small group of professionals, he saw this senior home HUD project b ecome a reality. They all worked pro bono and were able to develop the entire 100-unit project.

The White Doves project was also conceived by Celli. Most Martin County residents are familiar with the program that distributes thousands of toys to children during the Christmas season. Celli jokes that “mistakes were made” early on. The first year, wrapped gifts were solicited, but they quickly had to unwrap all of them so they could see what they were giving to the kids.

The Big Heart Brigade is another passion for Celli. He is always on hand at planning meetings and the big day, Thanksgiving, when the organization donated complete holiday meals for tens of thousands of people every year.

“There probablywouldn’t be a Big Heart Brigade without Joe Celli,” says Jeanette Mueller, president. “He has given so much time and energy to this organization and community. Celli’s own big heart was showing when he talked about helping to give away 200 bicycles for kids one Christmas. He heard two East Stuart brothers were disappointed that they were not getting bikes. With some local help, Celli arranged for the boys and their family to have a really nice Christmas, including two new bikes. It was the only time his eyes watered during the telling of so many good memories. “Good people in the county make things happen,” he said.

Joe and Maryann Celli will soon leave their beloved home of many years in Jensen Beach. Maryann is quite ill and Celli feels it best to locate to his family’s hometown, Pittsburgh, to be near his nieces and nephews. He said this story will be a good way to let everyone know he is leaving.

Wherever he is, Celli is sure to continue good deeds and make friends. Joe, Martin County is going to miss you. And one more thing, thanks from all of us.

Jenson Beach Newspaper Article

​Celli passed away in 2018.