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Centenarian artfully lights up the room

April 17, 2008
Marguerite Robichaud Joseph of Grosse Pointe Shores brings light into any room.

Marguerite Joseph, a resident of Grosse Pointe Shores for 53 years, is the president of Exway Electric Supply Company. She comes into the store daily to check on the business. Photo by Ann L. Fouty
On April 19, this lady, who still goes to work every day and enjoys playing the 50 cent slots, will be lighting up a tiered birthday cake with 100 candles. Celebrating with her family of four children, 12 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren, Joseph is the last of her eight siblings born in Coniston, Ontario, eight miles from Sudbury.

Joseph's earliest memory is of being helped by her aunt,up "a big stairway" when Joseph was 3-years-old.

"She held my hand and pulled me up, up to a big house on the top of a hill," Joseph said.

She also remembers the large garden her father planted to help feed his family, of which Joseph was the third oldest of nine and the last sibling alive. It was just something every family did in those days, she said. The French-Canadian family moved to Windsor when she was 14.

With three years in a teachers' training school, Joseph went on to teach first and second grade in a Windsor Catholic school. She returned to her home town after the priest from her old parish in Sudbury asked her come home and teach.

"I thought it would be a grand opportunity to see all my old friends," she said. Joseph remained for three years.

The first year back in Sudbury, Joseph boarded with her aunt and the remaining two years she lived in a club house.

Returning home for the Christmas holidays in 1930, Joseph met a young man from the Detroit area, John Joseph. In the summer of 1931, she married John, who was two years younger than she. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he confessed that if he had told her his real age she wouldn't have gone out with him.

"And he was right," she said.

The young couple moved back to Detroit to join the family grocery business. Soon after, Joseph said, her husband began a delivery service.

"It was during the Depression and you did what you could," she said.

Joseph reminisces about the delivery truck with flaps and no heater.

"I'd have on boots, two or three coats. The weather was zero and we only had flaps on the windows. I was his chasing boy (meaning she carried the boxes). We delivered parcels for three big companies."

The couple bought a 60-unit an apartment building where Henry Ford hospital and GM employees lived. Joseph was building manager, while her husband went to school to learn the refrigeration and air conditioning trade. He apprenticed with an electrician and specialized in wiring service stations, upon the advise of his wife. John became one of only two electrical contractors to specialize in wiring service stations.

Three years before he purchased the electrical supply service in 1960, Joseph became an American citizen and continues to vote regularly.

Establishing the small electrical company was a family business with Joseph as the bookkeeper.

"I did the book work and raised five children," she said. Through hard work, faithfulness and compromise, they increased the size of the store and the inventory and built a strong marriage.

 Eventually, the children became involved in the business. Joseph is the president and comes in each day.

"I check on everyone and make sure things are done. I raise the roof," she said.

Joseph said she can't put her well-manicured finger on her favorite memory because over the years with her husband, raising five children, traveling and helping her husband establish Exway Electrical Supply Company on Harper in Harper Woods, there have been many. But, she does say, her greatest pride is raising her children, Shirley Marlow, John Jr., Roger, Francis and Peter, who died of leukemia.

Joseph, as well has her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are proud of her artist talents. After the children were raised, she said, she began taking art lessons at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial and worked in all mediums — oil, water color, ink, pastel, acrylic and batik. She has landscapes and still lifes propped up in back office at Exway. Joseph said she never forced her work on any family members. However, Marlow noted that most family members have at least one painting.

"I'm good at almost anything (involving painting). I do enjoy doing something," she said. "I started (painting) after the children were grown because my place was in the home with my children."

There are some 300 pieces in the homes of relatives and friends and in the store. Her work has been displayed in the Grosse Pointe War Memorial and in some downtown Detroit buildings.

A member of the Grosse Pointe Artists Association, the women's Painters Association and a past member of the Scarab Club, Joseph doesn't paint any more.

After all the children had homes of their own, Joseph and her husband began to travel, flying on the Concord and riding on the Orient Express. They frequently went to Lebanon, where her husband's family lived.

Marlow laughed and said it was easy for her mother to converse with her in-laws because their second language was French and being raised French Canadian, French was her first language.

During their travels, the couple would purchase a variety of lighting styles to stock their store.

Joseph pointed out her faith is her mainstay and is a member of Star of the Sea.

"My mother," Marlow said "is a very loving caring mother, with great faith. She has stamina and when she gets knocked down she picks herself up again."

The two talk about Joseph's near brush with death when she had less than a 1 percent chance to live about 6 months after her husband died in 2000. She had gastrointestinal problems and underwent a six hour operation. The doctors didn't paint a promising picture, but the children and nurses didn't give up. Thirty days later, Joseph left the hospital and has been the picture of health since.

Now she and Bernice Polorski of Grosse Pointe Woods head to the casino about once a week to play the 50 cent slots.

"I'm just an ordinary person like anyone else. But I have strong faith," she said.

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