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Joe Stortini believes everyone can help end the COVID-19 pandemic. It all starts with getting a vaccine.

Before Joe Stortini was the Pierce County Executive or a successful restaurant owner, he was a history teacher at Mount Tahoma High School where he also coached football and baseball.

When he taught history and civics, he’d often encourage his students to get involved in their communities knowing that service is not a spectator sport.

At age 88, Stortini spent the past year-and-half battling the economic and personal realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he leans on those lessons.

“One of my favorite sayings is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson,” Stortini said. “Jefferson stared at an uncertain future 200-plus years ago and said, ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.’ Same thing applies today. We need to do everything we can to get back to normal and the very first step is being vaccinated.”

Stortini still makes regular appearances at Joeseppi’s, the popular Italian restaurant in Tacoma that bears his name. He’s no longer the primary owner, but he likes to visit with guests and share stories. The COVID-19 restrictions have taken a toll on the restaurant, just like the pandemic has on so many businesses.

“It’s been tough,” he said, “Eighty percent of the businesses in Pierce County have 20 or fewer employees. We’ve all suffered.”

But COVID-19 vaccines bring hope, he said. And with that, he sees a sense of duty. 

“It’s our part to make sure we return to normal,” he said. “To do our part, means listening to the experts. And the experts say, ‘Get a vaccination.’”

Joe Stortini

We can do it.

Stortini hasn’t just taught history, he’s lived it.

“We’ve come a long, long way since I was born in 1932,” he said laughing. “That was a long time ago.”

The former history teacher believes there are valuable lessons from back then that we could all benefit from today.

“My wife and I both grew up during The Depression,” he said. “More people back then worked together than ever before. It was a time of no one making any money—World War II—but we were united together. We’re not doing that now, but we need to.”

As a former politician, Stortini sees too many people pointing fingers instead of offering a hand.

“A lot of people are more concerned about what their side of the political aisle is saying instead of what needs to be done,” he said. “We’ve got to work together.”

Stortini says that starts by trusting science and medicine. 

“It’s OK not to be like everyone,” he said. “But when you look at what’s happening in America today, we’re getting new evidence every day that vaccines are working.”

Smarter together.

As Pierce County’s executive from 1984-’92, Stortini was also a board member of Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, even serving a term as the chair.

“We didn’t always agree on how to solve problems. Just like today, there was controversy,” he said. “But the majority of people were willing to listen when doctors and professionals stepped forward to offer their recommendations. I’ve always been one to listen to the experts.”

Stortini said the vaccine is the result of great minds coming together. 

“We have 200-plus countries in the world working together to put an end to the pandemic,” he said. “We’re getting smarter every day. We just need people to listen to what they are saying.”

Whether it’s politics, coaching or cooking for a large number of people, Stortini knows it takes a team effort in order to succeed. The same goes for crushing a pandemic. 

“I tell people who aren’t vaccinated, ‘You know you owe it to yourself, you owe it to your family,’” Stortini said. “’You owe it to your children and the future generation.’”

Getting back to normal.

Stortini has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for some time, and because others in his family have gotten the vaccine, he’s slowly returning to many of his old routines.

“I got vaccinated. My wife got vaccinated. I know very few people that haven’t gotten vaccinated,” he said. “We need to do all we possibly can to get as many people who are eligible to get vaccinated for COVID-19.”

He recently traveled to New York with his son Mike to visit his grandsons. He’s also made it back to many of his favorite Tacoma hangouts as well, like the Cloverleaf Tavern.

“When it comes to feeling comfortable out in public, vaccines make a huge difference,” he said. “For example, we planned a Father’s Day party  at our house. We wouldn’t have done that a month ago.” 

He encourages anyone who is waiting to get vaccine or has questions about it to talk to someone they know and trust.

“Even though we’re not where we want to be yet for vaccinations, I’m hopeful,” he said. “My old philosophy during coaching all through high school and college is that 10% of life is what happens, 90% is how you react to it. You’ve got to have that positive attitude and we need it now more than ever.”

Find your dose. 

Find your vaccination today at tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture. Everyone 12 and older is eligible. You can register online or just drop in at any clinic and get vaccinated without an appointment. 

If you need a ride to an appointment or can’t easily leave your home, we can help! Call us at (253) 649-1412, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 7 days a week.

Your role to stop the spread of COVID-19 remains critical.