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By Connor Ashlock
On Monday, Sept. 6, 2021, Larry Joe Alexander departed this world for the better, where his sweet Julie Ann had been waiting for him for five years.
Larry left behind two strong-willed and driven daughters, Kari Jo and Alyssa, along with a niece who became another daughter to him, Kristie (Brad) Ross, and her son David, who was a nephew that was really more like a grandson.
His visitation and funeral were well attended, testifying to the immense impact he had on the Jersey County community.
In fact, his eulogy will be remembered as a special one, as there aren’t too many given which are returned with resounding applause.
Now, those who Larry left behind, both friends and family, have been spending their time reminiscing on the man, the myth, the legend— the incomparable Larry Joe. Though there have been plenty of tears shed, there has been just as much, if not more laughter— just the way Larry would’ve wanted it.
“Dad would not have wanted to see us girls mourn his loss, rather he would want us to keep on telling his silly jokes and share laughter,” Alyssa said.
Larry was never in short supply when it came to shelling out laughter.
A 1982 graduate of Jersey Community High School and prom king of his class, Larry Joe was born on Halloween in 1963, a fitting birthday for a man of his caliber.
The youngest of six born to George and Bernice Alexander, Larry Joe was reared in Dow and would later make his home in Jerseyville.
When he was just a few months old, his teenage brother, Jimmie, died of muscular dystrophy.
When Larry was a senior in high school, another one of his brothers, Ronnie, would pass away from the same disease.
Although these two deaths significantly impacted his life, it was ultimately the death of his mother when he was just 16 years old that would prompt him to enter the funeral service profession.
Larry Joe always joked that the Worsham School of Mortuary Science was the Harvard of the Midwest, and if that wasn’t the reputation of the institution before Larry graduated in 1985, then he most certainly made the name stick after.
Larry Joe is well remembered for his powerful ability to care for the families he serviced through the years, as well as for his ability to make his many friends laugh, but he possessed a special heart that only a select number of individuals would ever be able to see.
When he returned from the 12-month course provided at Worsham, he quickly made his way to Oak Grove Cemetery in Jerseyville to visit the grave of his mother. It was during the middle of the night, so he wasn’t at the cemetery long before he was noticed by a Jerseyville police officer.
When the officer questioned Larry Joe as to why he was there, he responded with, “I’m just visiting my mom, sir.”
“I hadn’t been helping dad long at the funeral home when we had a particular case that showed me just how much my dad cared about what he did for people,” Kari Jo said. “This was a challenging service, but I wanted to prove to my dad that I could handle this profession. When we had wrapped everything up at the cemetery, I ended up feeling like I failed the family, myself and my dad. Dad got in the car while I was wiping away the tears from my face and asked what was wrong. I told him and his response has stuck with me to this day.
“He said, ‘The moment you stop feeling emotional for a family is the moment you should walk away from funeral directing.’ It was validation that you can do both— you can feel for them while helping them navigate the harshness of loss.”
Funeral directors often possess a humorous spirit that many feel is out of place for those who practice the profession, but ask a funeral director and they’ll tell you that they know the value of laughter amid the darkness of this world.
“I remember when I was a pre-teen asking my mom why dad felt the need to joke around about everything constantly and she reassured me it was all in good faith and that he joked to get through the very hard things he dealt with on a daily basis,” Alyssa said. “Alyssa, he has to laugh— my mom would say.”
Indeed, there aren’t many individuals who have been around Larry Joe for more than five minutes without hearing his famous chuckle or seeing his belly shake because he was laughing at his own jokes.
“It didn’t matter if it was to my friends, Kari’s friends, or anyone— they always had to be on their toes,” Alyssa noted.
Larry Joe especially enjoyed telling jokes to his special buddy, David.
“He used to always joke with him when he would wake up from a nap that it was bedtime again— just to get a rise out of him,” Alyssa said.
Although he was a jokester at heart, Larry Joe also loved passionately and wasn’t afraid to express that love.
“Larry only loved one woman in his life and the world lost her on May 14, 2016, but she always lived on in Larry’s heart,” Alyssa said. “Dad always knew off the top of his head their first date, the first time they both said I love you, when they got engaged— he never forgot dates.”
“They were best friends. They could trust each other with anything,” Kari Jo said. “From their love, we learned how relationships should work— how people should treat each other.”
After Julie died from cancer, the girls worked hard to make sure they kept on top of their studies while also taking on more responsibility around the home, as well as the funeral home.
Larry and Julie would have nothing to worry about if they could see the women that their daughters are becoming.
Alyssa graduated cum laude with her juris doctorate in 2020 and now works for the Gori Law Firm. Kari Jo graduated with her bachelor’s in social work from SIU Carbondale in 2019, but as of Sept. 14, she has a new title attached to her name.
At the Sept. 13 meeting of the Republican Central Committee, Kari Jo was unanimously selected to be the party’s recommendation for the office of Coroner, a position Larry Joe held since he was 29 years old.
The office was officially declared vacant by the county board at the Sept. 14 board meeting, at which time Kevin Ayres presented the party’s recommendation.
Kari Jo was unanimously approved by the county board to fill the office that her father held for 29 years, marking him as the longest serving Jersey County coroner in at least 100 years, if not since the founding of the county.
He and Julie would be proud to know their daughter became not only one of the youngest coroners in the state, but one of the youngest in the county’s history, as well as the county’s first female coroner.
“I feel humbled that my dad’s friends and colleagues can look at me and say that I have what it takes to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” Kari Jo said. “My dad deputized me as a deputy coroner last year and I have accompanied him on all his calls since. While serving as one of his deputies, I have learned that the privilege does not lie in being considered a first responder. The privilege is being able to look at someone who has just lost everything and say, ‘Whatever you need, I’m here for you.’ My dad did that for 29 years, and I am grateful to follow his lead.”
This ties into the core of who Larry Joe was and where the source of his abilities lied. Before being Ronald Reagan’s biggest fan, or a Mason, a Shriner, or even a father and a husband, Larry Joe was unapologetically and unashamedly a Christian. For him, to serve the families that came to the funeral home meant dying to self for the sake of others every day.
“When your dad is the county coroner as well as a funeral director, you know that everything revolves around the funeral home. My dad made sure to come to as many events that I or Alyssa were involved in, but we understood that when duty calls, it calls. We shared our dad with the community all these years, and to see the outpouring of love come back to us is a gift we’ll never be able to repay,” Kari Jo said.
It has been a season of high emotion, not only for the family, but for all who were close to Larry Joe and had been affected by his life.
He is remembered for his jokes, his laughter, his love and for his service to the thousands of Jersey County residents that he led by the hand through some of the darkest days of their lives.
It would require a lifetime to tell all the jokes, stories and experiences of the man who was Larry Alexander, but given the man he was, his friends and loved ones will have no problem recounting them as long as they live.