Jan. 18, 2007
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Joseph Signaigo (’48) played many successful roles during his lifetime. He was a respected businessman and community leader. He was a decorated Memphis high school athlete. He was a professional football all-star.
But all had to compete with the passion he displayed for his alma mater, Notre Dame.
Signaigo died Tuesday of complications resulting from a Christmas Day fall. He was 83.
After a successful prep career at Catholic High, Signaigo was awarded a football scholarship to Notre Dame. He started on the offensive line and played on national championship teams in 1943, 1946 and 1947.
“The fact he was most proud of was his college career at Notre Dame and playing on those national championship teams,” said his daughter, Janet Signaigo. Among his many civic roles was serving as president of the Liberty Bowl Festival Association.
“He was a huge supporter of the Liberty Bowl and went to cities to help select the teams,” she said.
Bill McElroy, also a past president of the Liberty Bowl Festival Association, said Signaigo accompanied him on his first trip to Notre Dame.
“When we got on campus we couldn’t move 10 feet without someone coming up to Joe and saying ‘hello.’ There was a reunion of some of the teams that weekend and everyone knew Joe.”
During World War II, Signaigo served three years in the Marine Corps then resumed his football career at Notre Dame, graduating in 1948.
Signaigo played three years of professional football — beginning with the New York Yankees of the All-American Conference. In 1950, the All-America Conference and the National Football League merged and Signaigo earned All-Pro honors. With so many players playing both ways, the squad fielded just 11 people, including Signaigo and former Notre Dame teammates Johnny Lujack and George Connor.
He was recalled to active duty with the Marines during the Korean War. When he returned from military service, he began a business career in the beer industry. He later formed his own company — Premium Brands, Inc. — in Memphis after working in Wisconsin and Georgia.
Just this past June, Signaigo received a special honor, a lifetime achievement award from the Notre Dame Club of Memphis at Universal Notre Dame Night along with his fellow alums, Bud Dudley and Bob Kuehner.
Signaigo, the husband of 58 years of Thelma Pieroni Signaigo, also leaves another daughter, Sharon Thompson, and a son, Stephen Signaigo, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 5-8 p.m. on Friday, January 19, with a rosary at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Park Funeral Home. Funeral Mass will be said at 11:00 a.m., Saturday, January 20 at the Church of the Holy Spirit with burial to follow at Memorial Park Cemetery.
— ND —