Local Folks: Joque Soskis

Local Folks: Joque Soskis
Joque Soskis

Long time Riverside resident Joque Soskis (who mentioned that the surname was probably shortened at Ellis Island in the 1800’s then continued his commentary with a short lesson on standardized English) was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on July 12, 1941. The quick witted Soskis remarked that makes him “about the same age as dirt.” Soskis got to Jacksonville by a circuitous route; After his father Elbert J. Soskis’ cardiology residency at Tulane, he moved his family back to Florida where he distinguished himself as the Jewish Chief of Staff at a Catholic Hospital in Tampa. Soskis’ mother Margaret Hall was an artist of “local note” who stayed busy with her art and raising her three boys. He recalls summers of his childhood saying, “We got up at sunrise and vanished into the woods. We caught every kind of reptile, made a raft of packed hyacinths, and swam in Blue Springs. Today’s helicopter parents would have a fit, but our mother didn’t bat an eye.”

Soskis attended first grade in New Orleans, school in Tampa then Sewanee Military Academy in Tennessee for his junior and senior year of high school and progressed to the University of the South which he described as beneficial since the school had about 450 students, classes were small and there were Sunday night visits to the professor’s homes for cookies and conversation. The raconteur tells amusing and interesting tales of one “famously irascible professor” and a chat with the dean which led him to join the army in 1962. He came back to school as he put it, “a whole different student. I fell between the cracks; I got in before and out before the Vietnam experience. It deprived me of an opportunity to give a demonstration of my cowardice. Afterward it no longer occurred to me to complain.”

After his time in the army in the “unbearably charming Bavarian town” of Bad Kissingen, Germany where he picked up the language and a life-long love of the German countryside he returned to school and majored in German. “Why? I don’t know. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to teach but it finally occurred to me to go to law school, so I turned down a scholarship to Tulane and went to University of Florida where the tuition for residents was $125.00 a quarter at the time.” Soskis overlapped his law classes with pre-med working about 85 hours a week on his studies! “I had a permanently startled expression on my face, but I had a lucid moment when my father helped me understand that practicing medicine was no longer fun. Too many impingements.” So, he graduated in 1972 with a “bright shiny law degree.” Yet practicing law did not appeal to him either so he joined the Alachua County Police Department in the Division of Youth Services. It wasn’t long until he joined the faculty at Eastern Kentucky University where he taught law, police administration, search and seizure and criminal evidence. From there It was a hop, skip and jump to teach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In 1978 there was an opening at the University of North Florida, and he arrived in Jacksonville and taught at UNF until his retirement at age 62. Despite all these varied accomplishments he laments not adding a PHD to his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree saying cheerfully, “If I’d only applied myself. I’m not complaining but I got old too quickly and smart too late.” Soskis remarked in his wry manner that his favorite medical instrument is the “Retrospectroscope.”

Presently, Soskis’ life has a slower pace. He enjoys reading and is enamored of his Kindle. “I read more than I did in law school and my Kindle weighs the same whether I have one book or 1,000 books on it. I read mostly non- fiction which addresses political circumstances, the environment, current events, and science.” Ever the professor with a love of learning and sharing his knowledge, he manages to interject a small educational lecture on wave detectors and the marvels of technology into the conversation saying, “My sense of awe is still intact.”

Health problems and covid have cut into his travel time although he visits Texas to spend time with his daughter Anna (from a previous marriage) and grand-daughter Zoe and maintains a long-distance relationship with significant other, Edith Pillsbury, who lives in Oregon. Previously, he traveled to Oberstdorf, Germany every year to stay with folks who own a B and B and have become close friends. There he and Edith enjoyed hiking, good food, side trips to hear live music in the little villages, afternoon festivals, a brewery started in 1395, and a “generally delightful environment, where people and things are safe, and no one is up in arms about teaching history.”

Joque Soskis with Edith Pillsbury
Joque Soskis with Edith Pillsbury

He told of a phone call about 10 years ago from his daughter which interrupted his nap. He said a voice on the phone said, “Want to go to Hawaii? He responded, “Hell, yeah! Who is this?” His spontaneity may be diminished at present, yet he is hoping to travel to Spain and Germany soon.

Soskis’ Riverside home is a treasure chest of art, tomes on lofty topics, and two desks stacked with interesting looking folders and papers. He said, “My musical taste runs to classical-Mozart, Verdi, Tchaikovsky – which leaves me out of most conversations.” He watches MSNCB and an occasional college or pro football game, cooks simply or goes to his favorite restaurant Trent’s. He is a supporter of Doctors Without Borders and Kids in Need of Desks- a part of UNICEF.

Admittedly “ruthlessly honest,” Soskis is annoyed that people are so uninformed and uneducated although he claims that he has become more tolerant. As a member of the Free Thought Group, he takes a philosophical view of life stressing one’s rational capabilities to come to decisions. As father, grandfather, loyal friend, companion, educator, and philosopher Soskis has a wealth of information to impart and loves to do so in his lively, amused at the world manner. Pillsbury stated, “He does not suffer fools gladly yet has great equanimity; he is the voice of reason, can trouble shoot, stay calm, and take the correct action in stressful situations.” Years ago, she mentioned that her aunt wanted flowers for her birthday, so he sent flowers. Not once but for 15 years. Soskis could be described as an amiable curmudgeon whose commentary does what an effective professor and intellectual does naturally – inspire learning and thinking while examining and exposing the foibles of humankind.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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