Joe Fusco Shoots in 80s at 93 Years Old

Editor at Large

EXCELLENT GOLFER: 93-year-old Joe Fusco participated in the recent Tulsa Sports Charities golf outing at Oaks Country Club, where he kept the ball in the fairway and impressed all his fellow golfers with an excellent round. He says golf keeps him in shape.


A distinct and discernible thread of harmony is woven into the fabric of Joe Fusco’s singular being.

There’s the red, white and blue pride that continues to accentuate and illuminate his memories of service in World War II.

There’s the contentment and the serenity that penetrate his mind and his every fiber at the very thought of playing the game of golf.

Then there’s the rapture and the enchantment of a melodic interlude, emanating from his classrooms and his bandstands.

Joe Fusco’s life, all 93 years of it, has played out like an imperturbable concerto.

He survived the sinking of a ship in World War II, taught generations of students the subtleties of music, provided the musical soundtrack for an era or two of young love, and plays the game of golf with the delicate touch of a jazz clarinetist.

A Tulsa resident since 2005, Fusco is a soft-spoken, wiry man of short stature and tall talent.

He spent 34 years as music instructor and band director at Bristow High School. For nearly twice that many years, he fronted a dance band.

Long fascinated with golf, he plays regularly on a handful of selected courses throughout Tulsa. More often than not, he shoots scores lower than his age. Turning in scorecards with scores in the low to mid-80s is nothing unusual for this native of New Jersey.

On a recent outing at the Oaks Country Club, Fusco joined a foursome participating in a Tulsa Sports Charities event. Steady, fluid and accurate, Fusco drove the fairway with the ceremonial tee shots opening the morning and afternoon rounds of competition.

Although arthritis has limited the movement in some of his fingers, forcing him to put aside the saxophone and silence the Joe Fusco Band, he has no trouble gripping woods and irons for four or five hours over the course of 18 holes.

It was golf and music that led him to Bristow in 1950. While completing his work toward a degree at the University of Oklahoma, Fusco was interviewed on campus by Dr. B.R. Nichols, superintendent at Bristow, who was in search of a band director.

“I wasn’t planning on going to Bristow,” Fusco said. “I had some other place in mind.”

Nichols urged the 30-year-old Navy veteran to visit Bristow.

Upon arrival in the small Creek County town, Fusco recalled that “I wasn’t too impressed. I really wasn’t.”

Nichols might have sensed Fusco’s reluctance. Nichols moved the interview out to the nine-hole Bristow golf course.

Just that quickly, “I was hooked,” Fusco said, smiling.

“I think he was interested in me because I was a golfer. He wouldn’t let me say no.
“Every year, I would get a better offer (from other schools) and he would match it. He would say, ‘You’re not going anywhere. You’re staying here.’

“And I did.”

Fusco stayed for more than a half-century, retiring in 1984, remaining as a volunteer staff member into the ‘90s before finally moving to Tulsa.

Fusco, a widower since 2002, married Veneta in 2005 and relocated to her home town.

It was about that same time that Fusco began to cut back on the number of dances and dates he was scheduling for his five-piece band. For years, the band traveled the Midwest, from Oklahoma and Texas into Kansas and Nebraska, playing jazz and popular music for listening and dancing.

“We just wandered all over the place,” he said.

“I’ve been playing music all my life. I miss playing in the band. I really do. And, I miss teaching, too.”

But, then, he has golf to help fill his days, despite two shoulder surgeries.

“I can’t raise my arms very high,” he said. “But I can swing. So, I keep on playing.”

He had been introduced to the sport about the time he was entering the Navy in 1940. That he was able to rekindle his sporting passion after six years of military service is something of a miracle.

Assigned to the aircraft carrier Wasp in the South Pacific, Fusco survived the Battle of the Solomon Islands in 1942.

After torpedoes sank the Wasp, Fusco found himself treading shark-infested waters for 3 hours while awaiting rescue.

“We lost close to 300 men,” he said.

U.S. destroyers and cruisers in the area dropped depth charges to fend off sharks, Fusco said.

“Even the time when I was in the water, I don’t know that I’ve felt sorry for being in the Navy,” he said. “I enjoyed the Navy. Even in the water.

“There’s no amount of money I would take for the experiences I had in the Navy.”

Fusco later served in Alaska, the Great Lakes and the Olathe Naval Air Station in Kansas. Following his discharge, he served an additional five years in the Naval Reserve.

Looking back at his career in education and his military experience, Fusco took a deep breath and said: “I feel very blessed. Real lucky. I’ve had a great, great time. I just hope that I can live to be 100 and still be playing golf.”

As he approaches his 94th year beginning in September, Fusco was asked about his secret to longevity.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said with a smile. “I don’t particularly watch what I eat, or anything like that.

“But I do exercise.

“And I do play golf.”

And that helps to maintain the balance, the harmony, in his life.

Updated 07-30-2013

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