Long & Winding Road
Joe was born in 1965 in St. Paul, MN, to Italian parents and is the youngest of five children—Cathy, Pat, Donna and Beth—all of whom remain close. His penchant for talking to people—with his mouth and his hands—developed at a young age, as his childhood home was adjacent to the neighborhood playground. His first job was not sweeping the pressroom floor or sorting cores. Joe earned his first paycheck at the restaurant his mother, Mary, worked in—Geno’s Fine Italian Dining. Dad, Joe, was a career 3Mer.
Still in high school, Joe got his first taste of the industry, working part time as a silkscreen and pad printer. Like many a shortsighted youth, he allowed a romance to influence his collegiate prospects, opting out of higher education to explore the love affair he had with printing.
It was then that another love began to blossom—with his wife, Kim, a fellow printer and now expert flexographer. She recalls, “He helped me to have an understanding of flexo as well, as I came from an offset background.”
Joe began building his flexography C.V. in 1985, working on a rewinder at Phoenix Packaging. Taking to the trade like a sponge to ink, he became a press assistant and was then promoted to press operator, a title he carried over to his next gig at Anagram International. Joe moved up the ladder by becoming a shift supervisor. He’d hold that position for several years before heading to AWT’s wide web operation, where he was pressroom manager.
Greif—then known as Greif Bros Corp—was Joe’s next employer, working at the multiwall packaging company as printing manager for several years beginning in 1995. By then, if not earlier, the distinction between a 9 to 5 job and a life’s pursuit had blurred.
Back to School
Given his experience, it may have seemed a bit odd when Joe’s next venture took him to Dunwoody College of Technology. Kim had a premonition about the move. “One day, I was reading the PIA newsletter and saw an ad for someone to start a flexo program at Dunwoody. I immediately knew Joe was the guy.
“When he started the program, he knew he could make a difference—and quite a difference he made!” Kim says. The result was a two-year curriculum that trained students to take on prepress and press operator roles. It earned Joe recognition as Harper Corporation of America’s Teacher of the Year and the school as the Harper Flexo College of the Year, multiple times.
“Some members of the Dunwoody student body had never heard of flexography before he went to their high school job fairs,” Kim notes of her husband’s recruitment efforts. “He enjoyed seeing some of them move on to great things in the flexo industry. He takes great pride in that.” Asked once to sum up the experience, Joe modestly suggested that he “built the best flexo program in the country.” That feeling is shared by former students, now familiar faces at FTA meetings and events.
Shawn Oetjen, manufacturing manager at AWT Labels & Packaging, once his student, later his successor as a flexographic instructor at Dunwoody, describes their interactions from first encounter to this day. “Joe has a personality that is incredibly passionate, inspirational and understanding, with humor at the cornerstone. I met Joe when he came to my high school to talk about flexography. The presentation he gave was riveting.”
Oetjen continues, “His delivery was so powerful that it was hypnotic. It pulled me in and kept me focused. We all have teachers that we remember as playing a pivotal role in our life and Joe is that inspirational person for countless students. Many still talk about him today.”
“In the classroom, Joe delivered his content in a way that made you care. It was larger than life! Presentations were delivered with incredible amounts of energy, humor and a style that spoke to each student as if they were his equal,” Oetjen recalls. “He broke things down into simple terms, so everyone could understand them. Joe truly cared about all the students in his classes and his passion for the industry was infections. When you left his class, you could not help but look at the packing of products and then start applying what Joe had taught you.”
Oetjen states, “Joe was good at communicating expectations and then holding his students accountable in a non-threatening manner, while sincerely celebrating success, no matter how big or small. Joe was humble and knowledgeable; he approached his students with respect, which in turn allowed his students to respect him. This fostered an environment that allowed the learning to flourish, and students’ futures to become brighter, because of Joe and the many things he did to empower their ability to succeed.”
Outside the classroom, Oetjen confides, “Joe furthered his students’ interest in flexo by arranging various tours and field trips. Once, he took the class to FTA’s Fall Conference in Arizona. For many, it was their first exposure to any sort of a convention. It was amazing how everyone at the event took time to talk with the students and share their positive thoughts on why this is a good industry. I know myself and many others left excited to join the group.”
Turning attention to today, Oetjen says, “Now, as I work with Joe almost 20 years later, the fundamentals have not changed. I can always count on a laugh when talking with him. He will provide guidance or input, and if he has a different perspective, he will share it, albeit in a respective way that allows a team to build on opportunities and have constructive conversations. Joe has a power to pull people together and unite their views for a common mission. He has played a vital role in continuing to grow this industry, as he serves as a catalyst in getting so many individuals to contribute to a collective cause.”
Bjorn Knutson, manager of certification and technical services at FTA, offers, “When I think of Joe Tuccitto, there are a few words that rise to the top. The first one I will omit; the very close second is passion. As a former student of Joe’s at Dunwoody Institute (20 some years ago), I learned a lot about flexography—not only how to turn the screws, but how to do it correctly, as he has always been a huge proponent of FIRST Methodology.”
Knutson notes, “Training always started in the classroom, always stressing the starting points. If your process is not controlled, it will not be repeatable. This was all backed by his hands-on experience and continued industry education. For more than 10 years, I have had the pleasure of continuing my education, while working side-by-side with him on several FIRST projects, FORUMs and Fall Technical Conferences. From being an FTA member, instructor, founding member of the Twin Cities Flexo Association and currently director of education at FTA, he has not only been a mentor to me, but he has also passed that same passion on to countless other students and the flexographic industry as a whole. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this honor!”
At Dunwoody, Joe began dipping his toe into the FTA water, volunteering to assist with Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST), running FTA workshops and seminars at the college, and chairing the FTA Skills Committee.
Hall of Fame Member and past FTA President Mark Cisternino bestowed his namesake award on Joe in 2004, in recognition of his contributions, particularly calling out development of an online training program, which would be a harbinger of things to come.