‘I am just overwhelmed’: Family, friends raise money for Joe Pace, who is battling ALS

Family and friends of Joe Pace, seated, came together Wednesday night at the Pints for Joe fundraiser at Goat Island Brewing in Cullman. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Family and friends of Joe Pace packed Goat Island Brewing Wednesday night to show their love and support as he battles ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). The Pints for Joe fundraiser was organized by the Cullman Brewers Guild to assist the Pace family with mounting expenses. Pace, vice president of the Guild, was there with his wife Desiree, his children and many others whose lives he has touched.

For every pint of beer purchased at the event, $1 was donated to the ALS Association Alabama Chapter and $2 was given to the Pace family. Guests also donated money at the door, and by 8 p.m., more than $2,000 had been raised for Joe, not including money from beer sales, according to Cullman Brewers Guild Treasurer April Benefield.

Joe and Desiree Pace live in Vinemont, where Joe is perhaps best known as a dedicated referee for many different sports including football. It was a year ago, as Joe was running up and down the field at a football game he was calling, when he first noticed a problem.

Desiree explained, “Last November he was doing football and he felt out of breath and he took himself out of the game. His neck had been bothering him, and he was achy, sort of like the flu or worse, like arthritis. (We) didn’t think anything else.”

Joe has always been active and thought that maybe all the years of running up and down football fields and basketball courts were simply beginning to take a toll on him.

“He was pretty quick for a 54-year-old,” said Desiree, “and then, just like that, when he started feeling these symptoms, it got to the point where he couldn’t even walk and just couldn’t do anything.”

The Paces consulted numerous doctors in Cullman, Huntsville and Birmingham, and Joe underwent many tests as doctors eliminated all other possibilities. The Paces learned that Joe was facing ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

“Everybody is different with ALS. We are learning something every day,” Desiree said.

In Joe’s case, he has trouble with fluid filling his lungs and making breathing difficult.

“We almost lost him once,” she said. “He is on the best medicine now, but eventually, the medicine won’t work, and we know that.”

For Joe, making the best of his time by spending it with his friends and family is most important to him.

Joe loves football and is a huge fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and after moving to Alabama, he also sided with the Crimson Tide. He loved calling football, and Friday, Nov. 1, his fellow umpires and referees have arranged for him to wear those stripes again. He will be equipped with a walkie-talkie on the sideline as he helps call the Cleveland High School football game against Susan Moore.

Joe explained, “We have the all-star crew going to the game, and I’ll have the headset on. It is the one thing I miss. Being in the hospital for two months and listening to the games on the radio and hearing these guys, I definitely miss it. Somehow, some way, I’m going to be back at it.”

He said of Wednesday night’s event, “I am very blessed. I have every part of my life here. I have the folks I work with, the referees, folks from church, the kids I coached ball their whole life and my Brewers Guild friends. I am just overwhelmed, as I have every aspect of my life here tonight, and it motivates me. Until you go through something like this, you think you only have one or two friends in the world, but there are so many people out there behind you that it really gives you strength, so I’m having a good night.”

The Cullman Brewers Guild will continue to raise funds to help the Pace family. If interested in donating or being a part of the Guild, call 706-662-4733 or visit www.facebook.com/cullmanbrewersguild.

A GoFundMe has been established by Joe’s family in New Jersey. Find it at  www.gofundme.com/f/pints-for-joe-an-als-fundraiser

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Desiree and Joe Pace with their oldest daughter Stephanie, left (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)
Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune
Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune
Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune