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St. Paul Boxing figure, Joe Azzone, dies of Heart Attack at 79

JoeAzzone07032010Former Secretary of the Minnesota State Boxing Commission, Board Member of International Boxing Federation, and founder of great boxing gym of the past died on July 3

St. Paul Boxing figure, Joe Azzone, dies of Heart Attack at 79.Josep J. Azzone, Sr., a St. Paul native who was an integral part of the boxing community, a devout Catholic and active member of St. Louis King of France Church downtown, and a strong guide to city youth through a career as a social worker and the founder of the Police gym in the 1950s, succumbed to a heat attack on July 3, 2010.

Born March 1, 1931, Azzone grew up in an East Side Italian parish on the edge of downtown when there were still five Catholic churches within downtown St. Paul, not including the Cathedral on Summit Avenue. (Currently three remain, including St. Louis, of which Azzone was a member, Assumption, and St. Mary’s). In recent years Azzone could be found on Friday afternoons lunching with longtime St. Paul boxing community members at Yarusso Brother’s Italian restaurant on Payne Avenue, and other afternoon’s at either Cossetta’s or DiGidio’s, both on West 7th street.

Azzone always had a smile on his face and a cordial greeting for members of the boxing community. Upon hearing of his death I immediately regretted not having seen him one last time to say goodbye. Our last conversation was roughly two years ago but I remember it as if it were last week, still hearing the sound of his voice and seeing  the wonderful welcoming smile on his strong, gentle, and caring face.

Among the many young people who first learned to box from Joe Azzone is Dennis Presley, who trained many nationally and internationally ranked amateur boxers and developed the second of only two professional World Champions to hail from Minnesota. Presley, who himself was a very accomplished amateur boxer, said the priests at the Cathedral brought him to Joe Azzone to box because he’d always fought in school. If there was any chance of him not sticking to the sport when introduced to it, the authoritative encouragement and generous guidance of Joe Azzone was motivation enough for Presley to spend many years in boxing. It is just one example of how Joe Azzone contributed to St. Paul boxing specifically and Minnesota boxing in general, fostering a singular excellence that reached the world class level.

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