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Joseph William Mitchell, Sr.

Joseph William (Joe) Mitchell of Wilmington, Delaware and Elkton, Maryland, passed away on Wednesday May 8, 2024.

He is survived by his four children, Wendy (Chuck), Joe Jr (Emily), Tom (Elise), and Krissy (Barry) and his sisters; Joan Hicks and Judy Bonislawski. He was preceded in death by his parents, John Raymond and Hannah, his brother Jack, and his beloved wife Barbara.

Born in Canton, New York, Joe spent his younger years fishing and listening to radio serials. He was always a sports fan. He even did some boxing in high school. He attended Phoenixville High School in Pennsylvania before moving to Wilmington, Delaware, where he graduated from PS DuPont High School in 1955.

He started working in retail with his father at JJ Newberry as a teenager. His parents bought Bennett’s 5 & 10 in Wilmington, Delaware in 1953 and renamed it “Mitchell’s 5 & 10.” Joe worked there from the day it opened until the store closed 55 years later in 2008.  His brother Jack and sister Joan helped turn the little 5 & 10 into a junior department store, carrying everything over the years from live monkeys to limited edition Picasso prints, clothing, stationary, school supplies, housewares, arts & crafts supplies, baseball cards and, of course, it’s legendary hobby and model train department. Mitchell’s was known worldwide for their model train department and sold trains to dozens of international countries. When his father retired, Joe became President of Mitchell’s, which expanded over the years to have three locations in Northern New Castle County.

Working at Mitchell’s also led him to meet his eventual wife, who lived in nearby Deerhurst. Barbara McClain and Joe were married in 1962 and were devoted to each other for the entirety of their marriage, cruelly cut short by Barbara’s death in 1985.

Joe was proud of the eight years he served in the Army National Guard. He often recounted his time as a radar technician and shooting M42 Duster guns. He told a story of a commander promising a case of beer to the first soldier who could shoot down the radio controlled ARCAT target, despite the fact that they weren’t supposed to actually hit it. He won that beer.

Joe volunteered in a huge variety of civic organizations, starting early with the Wilmington Optimist Little League. He coached In Brandywine Little League for many years, and was known for throwing epic end of season picnics for the players and their families at his beloved waterfront cottage in Elkton, Maryland, where, inevitably, half the kids would end up covered in river mud.

He defined what it means to be a public servant, although never an elected official, he volunteered thousands of hours over decades in his work with various civic, planning, and transportation organizations. He devoted a lot of time campaigning for his friend, the late Phil Cloutier, serving as campaign treasurer for the former New Castle County Council President.

A lifetime sports fan, he collected autographs and memorabilia, which he donated to various charity fundraisers.

He had a chance meeting with Delaware’s National Baseball Hall Of Fame William Julius “Judy” Johnson. They became friends, which inspired Joe to found of the Judy Johnson Memorial Foundation, raising awareness of the contributions of Negro League Baseball. He met President Obama at a White House celebration of Negro League Baseball. When he introduced himself to the President, he told him that he was the President of the Judy Johnson Memorial Foundation, President Obama told him that he, himself was also a President. The Wilmington Blue Rocks will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of Judy Johnson Night this summer. He became involved in the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum after befriending renowned decoy carver R. Madison Mitchell (no relation.) He spent years on the board helping to make the decoy festival and museum become a reality.

He was never shy about making suggestions on how things could be improved, whether it was widening a road, fundraising, or sports rule changes.

He adored watching birds and spending time with his cats at his Elkton house. He was a dedicated, passionate, selfless, committed and stubborn advocate for so many organizations. Donating thousands of hours and dollars to help make a difference. He was particularly fond of charities that help children and cats. His silent auction donations to the American Cancer Society were legendary. His ability to find the best deal that he could turn into more revenue was a lifelong skill that is his legacy in both his retail career and charity fundraising.

He led a full life with many passions and will be missed by his family.

A Memorial service will be held at Grace Episcopal Church, 4900 Concord Pike, Wilmington, DE 19803, on Monday, May 20, 2024 at 11:00 AM, with a visitation starting at 10:00 AM. Interment will follow in the adjoining cemetery.

Contributions in his memory can be made to the American Cancer Society of Delaware or Faithful Friends.




Funeral Services

A Memorial service will be held at Grace Episcopal Church, 4900 Concord Pike, Wilmington, DE 19803, on Monday, May 20, 2024 at 11:00 AM, with a visitation starting at 10:00 AM. Interment will follow in the adjoining cemetery.


    Kurt Storr lit a candle and writes,
    Too the Mitchell family, Sorry to hear of Joe's passing. My mother and Joe were on the Civic league of New Castle County,and County Council of Brandywine Hundred. My mother would come home from the meetings ,and comment on a question she would bring up,and Joe would walk over ,and shake her hand. It was a lot of fun working at the store-with Joe. Kurt J Storr
    05/15/2024 04:35 pm
    Larry Nagengast writes,
    From the moment I met Joe Mitchell, I knew I had a friend forever. And I think just about everyone who met him felt the same way. We worked together on the board of directors of the Brandywine Little League for many years. Joe was a splendid treasurer for the league and a strong contributor to the organization's growth and stability. I was well aware of Joe's service with the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred. His knowledge of civic issues, especially those involving transportation, was unparalleled. He was held in high regard as a business manager. Shopping in his store was a pleasant experience. I made it a point to buy a new pair of jeans there right before the start of every Little League season -- and I'd wear those jeans to every game until it became too hot in mid-June. Joe also gave my oldest son his first job, and trusted him enough to manage a department while he was still in high school. Kind, passionate, caring, honest, loyal, dedicated -- it's hard to choose the description that fits Joe best, for he was all these things. May his family, and all who knew him, cherish their memories of this true gentleman.
    05/15/2024 10:37 pm
    Ginny Craig lit a candle and writes,
    To Joe’s family - You already know what a nice, kind, caring man Joe was. I knew him from the Ogletown store and his many hours volunteering at WILMAPCO. I extend my sympathy to you and hope family and friends will be of help in the grieving process. Ginny Craig
    05/15/2024 11:17 pm
    Andrea McCoy Carty lit a candle
    05/17/2024 12:40 am
    Michael Jack writes,
    So sorry for your loss. Krissy sending prayers to you, and your family. Michael Jack
    05/18/2024 02:46 pm
    JODY writes,
    Sorry for the passing of my Favorite Uncle!!! ,,,, 🙏 memories of the water front elkton house. Ending up joining waterski house close to his house. Always great memories. God Bless you Uncle Joe🙏🙏🙏🙏🌺💐🌹🌻🚣🏼🚤🗽
    05/19/2024 10:04 am
    Elby F Rogers Jr writes,
    My condolences to the Mitchell family.
    05/20/2024 11:55 pm

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