Former MSU, NFL star honored by Ohio hometown

Published 12:20 am Friday, November 30, 2007

NATCHEZ — Joe Fortunato has received numerous accolades in his life.

He won an NFL Championship as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears in 1963.

He was named to five Pro Bowles, including one where he was named the defensive captain for coach Vince Lombardi.

Email newsletter signup

He is also a member of the Mississippi State University Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame for his playing days with the Bulldogs.

But no honor touched the Natchez resident like the one he received earlier this month in his hometown of Mingo Junction, Ohio.

“It was the first time tears came to my eyes,” Fortunato said of the ceremony his tiny hometown held for him on Nov. 4. “It was very humbling.”

The steel mill town of about 4,000 right on the Ohio, West Virginia border gave Fortunato a key to the city, erected a large sign at the entrance to the city and renamed the portion of State Route 7 that runs through town “Joe Fortunato Highway.” Nov. 4 will always be referred to as “Joe Fortunato Day” in Mingo Junction.

A proclamation was read by a representative from the Ohio governor’s office and Ohio state senators attended the event as well.

“That’s the biggest thing that town has had for years,” Fortunato said. “The whole thing was really nice.”

Mingo Junction mayor John Fabian said once the idea to honor Fortunato was brought up by the Mingo Business Association, it was no problem to get it up and going.

“Everyone in town is very proud of him,” Fabian said. “We were all pretty enthusiastic to get this thing going.”

It also helped that Fabian was a high school classmate and fellow athlete of Fortunato’s at Mingo High School, now called Indian Creek High School.

Fortunato graduated in the class of 1948.

“He was an outstanding high school athlete in all sports,” Fabian said. “He was a standout in football, basketball and track.”

After graduating from Mingo High, Fortunato went to Virginia Military Institute for a year before transferring to Mississippi State.

Fortunato was named to the All-South Defensive Team and was declared an All-American in 1952.

He was drafted by the Bears in the seventh round and, after fulfilling a two-year military commitment, played linebacker for the Bears from 1955-1966.

Fortunato has kept a home in Natchez ever since he met his first wife of 46 years, Mary Joy, a Natchez native, at Mississippi State.

After his playing days were over, he moved here permanently and started his oil business.

While Fortunato was honored with the ceremony his former town gave him, he wanted to give something back to them as well.

He started the “Joe Fortunato Scholarship” which will be given to one male and female scholar athlete from Indian Creek High School each year.

“They were having this day to honor me and I decided I wanted to give something back to them,” Fortunato said. “They were shocked.”

Fortunato said he credits a lot of his success to growing up in that working class town.

“It was rough,” Fortunato said. “My grandfather owned a grocery store and I worked there until I was old enough to work in the steel mill. Growing up there taught me it takes a lot of hard work to get where you want to go.”