By Kristi Smith
In honoring Dads who were not only great Dads, but were influential beyond their family, we want you to know about Joe Lizzadro. He arrived in the United States from his native Italy in the early 1900s. He traveled with his father, a shoemaker, who set up a cobbler’s shop in Chicago, Illinois. Young Joseph worked in the cobbler shop and attended school. He learned English and became a U.S. citizen. His father soon brought the rest of his family to the United States.
In 1916, Joseph took a job with Meade Electric Company as a laborer and began what would become a lifelong career in electrical contracting. Meade operated a retail appliance store and converted gas lighting to electric. Through hard work and dedication, Joseph was promoted and became a company stockholder. After the death of the company’s founder in 1929, Joseph rose to Chairman of the Board of Meade Electric. Today, family members continue in his footsteps at Meade.
Business and Family Man
Joseph married Mary Sandretto (1910-2001) in 1932. Mary was born in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan, known as The Copper Country. Joseph and Mary had six children. The growing family moved from Maywood to Elmhurst, Illinois, in 1939. Joseph enjoyed family trips to the Keweenaw and began collecting stones there, typically Lake Superior agate, thomsonite, and datolite. He cut and polished them, making jewelry for friends and family. At work in the early 1940s, Joseph noted the poor condition of traffic signals in Northeastern Illinois and, in his enterprising fashion, proposed to maintain them for the state. Officials accepted his offer and more state contracts followed for street lighting systems and stormwater pumping stations. With these and other contracts with steel and oil companies, Meade Electric prospered and so did Joseph.
Joseph gained appreciation for the unique characteristics of the mineral world as a lapidary hobbyist and collector. He especially loved to cut and polish jade. Joseph acquired his first Chinese jade carving, a small hanging vase, in the late 1930s, intending to cut it into pieces for jewelry. At that time, it was nearly impossible for lapidary hobbyists to obtain rough jade. Carvings, which were plentiful and fairly inexpensive, were often purchased and fashioned into something new for the sake of the hobby. Joseph’s respect for the original carver’s ability overwhelmed his desire to recut the jade. Thus, the Lizzadro Collection began. Joseph added other carvings to his collection and also items of amber, ivory, coral, agate, and gemstones. As his collection grew, his dream was to display the beauty of stone and share it with others. Through an agreement with the City of Elmhurst and Elmhurst Park District, Joseph built his museum in the Wilder Park. His dream was realized on November 4, 1962, when the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art opened its doors to the public. Joseph continued to collect beautiful works of lapidary art until his death in 1972. Due to space and facility limitations in Elmhurst, the family decided to move the Museum to a newly renovated building in Oak Brook. The Museum reopened in the fall of 2019, at the corner of Jorie Boulevard and Kensington Road. The Lizzadro family continues to carry on the Museum’s mission of sharing with others the beauty of stone today.