My Tribute to Uncle Joe
“It all started with a hound named Lead”
Joe Hornick was born in a small coal mining town just prior to the depression. As he told me, growing up Joe was thought to be sickly, having pneumonia in a time when medicine was not what it is today. At the time everyone in the area worked in the mines and Joe’s immigrant parents feared that he would never make the dusty, damp Pennsylvania coal mines. They erected a one room store with the intentions that Joe would someday run the village store. Joe would have nothing of it. As many of that generation, he was determined to better himself and had the extreme work ethic to do it.
After his schooling, which didn’t last very long, Joe followed his brothers to New York. All the family saw the toll coal mining took on their father and wanted better. None of the four boys worked in the mines very long. Joe was driven to succeed.
He worked several jobs including a logging job before landing at IBM when IBM was primarily a typewriter company. He retired from IBM in the 70’s.
Uncle Joe married Ann Rajnish, a schoolteacher, and together they had a son. Ann passed away fairly young with cancer which left Joe to raise his son. Their son went on to become an International Marketing Executive with a major pharmaceutical company.
Prior to leaving rural Pennsylvania, Joe saw a neighbor hunting with a beagle of some sorts named Lead. Joe was hooked and knew he too would have to have a beagle to hunt rabbits. He managed to scrape some money together and he talked the man into selling him Lead. Lead set the standard for the rest of his life. Lead died of distemper but the fire had been lit. It wasn’t long and Jerry was sleeping in the house. Jerry, a beagle of unknown origin was acquired to replace Lead. As with houndsmen of today, if one was good, two would be better. Soon Bounce was added and the two made an outstanding brace. The whole family and even the neighbors would take Bounce and Jerry and harvest some rabbits. Bounce and Jerry were a duo that Joe said he never saw again in his entire life.
When Uncle Joe went to New York, the hounds remained in Pennsylvania as he had his priorities of making a life for himself first. It was in New York that he entered the world of registered beagles. He was a founding member of the Mid-Hudson Beagle club and was a popular hare and cottontail judge for many years in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and into the very early 1960s. When the walkie-talkie trend came about, that was the end of his judging. Joe wrote several articles to Hounds and Hunting as well as letters to AKC criticizing the trend of the day. Through it all, his real passion was pleasure running and hunting.
In the 1920s, Joe and his brother Kurt heard about a man in the Adirondacks that had the best hounds for snowshoe and for cottontail. There was also a huntable population of European hare in Southern New York/ New Jersey at the time as well. Joe, always striving for the best in everything, and Kurt who put hunting over everything else, landed in North Creek paying a visit to Willet Randall. They purchased a female pup directly descended from FC Patch named Bessy Patch. Everything changed. They hunted Bessy all over New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. They hunted her on snowshoe hare, European hare and cottontail. From the early 20s, through the 1970s, Joe hunted Bessy and generations of her descendants everywhere he went. Again striving for the best and being a truly great houndsmen, Joe was a master at keeping the outstanding ability of Bessy going for many generations. He blended many hounds together, had disappointments but also a lot of success and remained ever vigilant for any weakness that may pop up. I was and still am amazed at the skill these craftsmen had in refining their hounds. Throughout the next 40+ years, Joe travelled to North Creek several times to infuse more Patch blood as well as several other well known kennels of the day. Joe only accepted the best and settled for nothing less. He kept his bitchline going for more than 50 years and he believed his best hounds were produced in the 1970s, always looking for improvement in field work and type. He incorporated Yellow Creek from Harvey Low, Blue Cap from Gorman, Woodland from Miller, additional Patch from Randall, Lehigh, Watatic and even Mt Zion Pete as well as other outstanding hounds into his Patch base to come up with hounds that could push a hare and handle a cottontail, all with the build of a show hound. He ran hounds with Willet Randall, Bill Gorman, Ray Miller, Morgan Wing, Harry Morse, Dick Root, E.C. Hare, Ron Lake, Ray Libby, William Vandermass, Maurice Sampson and several others I cannot recall.
Joe took pride in getting others involved in the sport (including myself). I have no idea how many he brought into the world of beagles but in 1964, he made a journey to Randall’s in North Creek with a young man fresh out of the Army. Joe introduced Mike Capozzi to Willet on February 22, 1964 and Patch history was made. Willet and Mike hit it off and soon Mike was moving to the Adirondacks. Joe kept in touch with Mike regularly after his move.
Joe had grandchildren in Michigan and began flying back and forth from New York to Michigan to Pennsylvania and anywhere else he desired. He enjoyed his retirement immensely. Always physically in shape, he hunted hare in the Adirondacks and Catskills into his early 80’s and the hounds were always a huge part of his life. He had a natural gift and his hounds displayed awesome talent. (I have told several the story of how he had his hounds trained to the car horn.) He had the eye and skill of a great houndsmen and was not afraid to try a cross or a different hound but his priorities again were his family and the strain of leaving hounds and having someone take care of them became too much and the hounds were dispersed.
After he did not have any hounds of his own, Joe was sort of a foster-houndsman to my hounds. He would visit his brother, my father for a 2 or 3 week stretch several times a year. We ran hounds together almost nightly. After he would return home to New York, every Saturday we would talk on the phone about the hounds and breeding philosophy as well as every other topic under the sun. I was like a sponge because the hounds had become such an important part of my own life. He rabbit hunted with me the last time at his age 81 (I believe). We stood on that hillside as Luke, my hound that he bred, stroked a rabbit, bringing it by Uncle Joe with that crystal clear chop, I watched Uncle Joe lower his Spanish crafted side by side and enjoy the music. That big timber rabbit gave us all a thrill and I’m glad he kept on running through the greenbrier and grapevines.
Joe was also an amateur taxidermist, amateur barber, excellent gardener, arborist, beer, wine & whiskey connoisseur, story teller and a fitness buff long before it was popular. He taught me many life lessons.
Uncle Joe passed away at the age of 88 while shoveling snow. He lived independently up until the end. Although at the time, the manner of his passing seemed difficult, it was a very fitting way for it to end. He truly lived the American Dream and always lived life to the fullest. He instilled the love of the hounds in me so deep that it will never go away.
(photo at the top is Uncle Joe with Luke after a trip to the vet for stiches after cutting his leg to the bone during a hunting trip)