Illinois Valley Community College alumnus Joe Franco, of Kankakee, donated $25,000 to endow a scholarship for future medical and clinical lab professionals.
Franco, a 1956 graduate of IVCC predecessor La Salle-Peru-Oglesby Junior College, studied chemistry and Spanish, among other subjects at LPO. The DePue native also played baseball and helped lead John Strell’s basketball team to the NJCAA regional tournament in Flint, Mich.
Upon arrival at Illinois Wesleyan’s St. Joseph School of Medical Technology, Franco realized LPO had prepared him well for upper-level college coursework.
He would go on to found independent medical labs in Kankakee County and eventually become a commercial real estate developer in Kankakee, Moline and elsewhere. At the peak of his medical lab enterprise, Franco employed six pathologists and 200 workers in Kankakee County, Champaign-Urbana and Danville.
His seven-story Executive Centre, now home to the Kankakee Public Library, is considered one of the finest office buildings between Champaign and Chicago and The New York Times called it a “sophisticated showplace.”
Franco also helped spark a downtown Moline renaissance by developing a “super block” that included his seven-story Heritage Place and a 300-car parking garage.
“Somewhat-retired” for the past decade, he manages 2,000 acres of farmland in Kankakee and Iroquois counties.
Franco’s son Joe is a cosmetic surgeon, son Scott is the CEO of the family’s Heritage Development, and daughter Shelly was a lab technician and is now a real estate developer. The elder Joe and his wife, the former Mary Theresa Grivetti, have eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
The Franco’s have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charity and in 2022 Joe was the first recipient of The Economic Alliance of Kankakee County’s IMPACT Award “to honor his investment of time, treasure, and talent” and a “commitment to Kankakee County that stretched over decades.”
Jeff Hammes, chairman of the Alliance, said the Kankakee region lost more than 4,000 jobs in an economic downturn in the 1980s but eventually came out of it “because of its work ethic and the determination of – and vision – of a self-made man (Franco).”
He credited Franco, a 2009 IVCC-LPO Hall of Fame inductee, for “changing the face of Kankakee” and for being a “get-it-done type of guy.”
Franco’s parents – Joe Sr., worked in DePue’s Zinc plant and his mother Clara at Westclox – ingrained in him a granite-hard work ethic.
“I could not have afforded college if not for the opportunity LPO provided me,” Franco says.
He returned to the Illinois Valley to see family and he owns a home in Ottawa.
Praised as “mission-driven,” Franco concedes he is a fortunate individual, “but luck is a by-product of hard work.”
Reflecting on a remarkable life that began humbly in a small working-class town, he often remarks, “Not bad for a kid from DePue.”