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102-year-old left unforgettable mark on Milan, one brushstroke at a time

A painting on the side of a store in the Milan, Mo. town square (KTVO)

As a painter, historian, veteran, friend, and father – the late Joe McCarty left his mark on Milan.

His 102-year long life was filled with making the town a better place, one brushstroke at a time.

McCarty served as a first sergeant in WWII, and painted art for the town of Milan, from a picture of Jesus for the church, to countless truck doors, to business signs around the town.

But that wasn’t all McCarty was known for. Through his life, he served on countless boards and organizations to improve all aspects of the community from the hospital to the golf course.

“His memory was fantastic, he was the town’s historian,” said Paula May, McCarty’s daughter. “He remembered his childhood in the early 20s, and how exciting and great it was in the country and Milan during the 20s, and then of course the Depression came the next decade. When he graduated from school it was 1932, and boy it was tough that whole next decade. He and friends would go around the countryside and paint signs, he and friends would go to Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota painting signs and barns.”

McCarty had early encounters with some big names – before they were well known.

“There was a man from Missouri named Walt Disney from Marceline, and he had a little garage studio and was doing work there, and Dad heard about it so he got an appointment to have an audition for painting cartoons and making backgrounds for the work they were doing,” recalled May. “He did that, and they called him back a second time, and right then, he heard from home his mother had passed away so he didn’t get to finish his audition for Walt Disney, but he said, ‘I didn’t think Walt was going to amount to anything anyway.”

May also recalled an experience her father had told her of a different job opportunity.

“He went and thought he’d interview for drawing roses and flowers for greeting cards, and then just decided, no, he didn’t think the Halls brothers were going to do anything, so he came home, and they of course are Hallmark cards now,” May said with a smile.

But his daughter says he had no regrets – he loved his wife, family, and town of Milan.

May says he amazed even her with his energy for life, well into old-age, asking him, “Dad, how do you get up every morning with such a joy of being alive and smiling and excited about doing anything? He would complain and gripe about some things, but every day he was ready for the day and he would just have a smile on his face.”

For 50 years – McCarty made cartoons for the Milan Standard, starting in 1963, and not stopping for nearly 40 years.

McCarty’s friend, Charley Clark, is part of a group Joe would take time to have coffee with. Clark recalled a story of when McCarty was touching up the painting he’d done on the stairway wall of the Sullivan County Historical Museum.

“He’d put books underneath one leg of the step ladder, and that was when he quit painting signs, because his wife happened to come by and see what he was doing and there he was halfway up the stairway on that ladder and he was almost 90 years old then,” Clark said.

Just as Joe left his mark on Milan – he left an impression on the people.

“He’ll be very missed by Milan,” Clark said.

“We’re going to miss Joe so much,” May said the community told her at McCarty’s funeral. “The historian, the artist, just the guy who would help anybody do anything.”

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