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Say It Ain't So, Joe



Joe McClain (left) gets a hug from former employees Rod Van Wechel ’89 (center) of Grand Island, Neb., and Paul Latcham ’89 of Ankeny, Iowa, at Joe’s International Airport on June 29. Crowds of McClain’s former employees arrived in Mount Vernon for a weekend reunion.

When word spread that Joe McClain was planning to sell his bar, Joe’s International Airport, his former employees organized a farewell reunion this summer. Four alumni—John Donovan ’92, Jason Stiles ’96, Brett Muck ’99, and Liz Nangle ’99—invited dozens of ex-bartenders from around the country to Mount Vernon to a surprise gathering for a man they consider more than an old boss.

“He’ll be the one who walks me down the aisle when I get married,” said Nangle of Shreveport, La. When Nangle’s father died the first week of her senior year, McClain, his daughter, Wendy, and several bartenders drove 8 1/2 hours through the night to attend the funeral.
Similar stories of compassion and care come from current and former bartenders who consider McClain a father figure, close friend, and educator.

“He teaches me lessons on life, and he always stresses academics first,” said Andrew Higgins, a senior business major who, like many bartenders before him, will be tutored by McClain this fall on handling the bar’s books.

McClain was director of SAGA Food Service at Cornell from 1970-73, when he left for a similar position at Northwestern University. He and his family returned to Mount Vernon a year later. He sold insurance briefly before buying the bar, which he plans to sell next year after running it for 25 years.

“He’s a bridge bringing together students and the Mount Vernon community,” Muck said.

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