One of Minnesota’s most important behind-the-scenes boxing figures, Joe Azzone, passed away on Saturday July 3rd following a heart attack. He was 79 years old.
There is a circle of friends that meets for lunch every Wednesday. “All the old-time boxing people get together,” explains Denny Nelson, dean of Minnesota boxing officials. “Joe, his brother Tom, myself, sportswriter Don Riley would come, Don Evans, who is the inspector for state boxing, and Don Weller. We’d always get together every Wednesday for lunch. There’s other guys coming and going, but those guys are the mainstays.” Nelson paused. “I wasn’t there last Wednesday, but Joe was there. And then he had the heart attack on Thursday.” Azzone had suffered a first heart attack “about fifteen years ago,” had a bypass operation, and then had another less severe heart attack some time after that.
Nelson counted Azzone as one of his oldest and dearest friends. “He was a good friend of mine since I was eighteen years old,” said the 73–year old judge and former referee. “He was one of the class guys of boxing. As long as I remember, Joe was always involved in boxing…when I boxed at Emmett Weller’s gym, Joe had finished his boxing and was coaching at the Police Gym. At the time he was a probation officer, and he would get the kids into boxing. Over time he helped out a lot of kids. After that he went into the insurance business and he did that all the rest of his life.”
Despite his departure from coaching, Azzone maintained close ties with boxing. “Well, he worked in the Golden Gloves for a long, long time,” said Nelson. “He was always helping out somehow. Then he was on the original state boxing commission – a deputy commissioner and then a commissioner with the old commission until Jesse Ventura disbanded it [in 2001], and then the International Boxing Federation was looking for someone to serve on the board of directors and I recommended him to the IBF, and someone else recommended him too, and he really liked that. He enjoyed working with the IBF.” When the Minnesota commission was reinstated by governor Tim Pawlenty in 2006, Azzone was too busy with the IBF to consider a return to the state commission. Finally though, Azzone’s declining health forced him to retire from the IBF. “He resigned about a year ago because he couldn’t really travel,” Nelson said. “It just became too much for him.”
Joseph J. Azzone Sr is survived by his wife Gloria, two sons, and a daughter. Visitation will be Wednesday evening from 4 to 8pm at O’Halloran & Murphy funeral home on Snelling Avenue in Saint Paul, and the funeral service will be held at St Louis King of France Catholic Church in Saint Paul at 2:30 on Thursday. Burial will be afterwards at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.