“Charting the future while preserving the past”

Joe Rafool

Joseph E. Rafool

I first met Joe Rafool in the late 1970’s when he spoke to the East Peoria Rotary Club.  Joe was a member and he always referred to me as “Kid”.  I had moved to this area in 1963 and was only aware of the Par-a-dice Club from stories related to me by residents.   I do recall Rotary Club members relating how Joe came to be a member when the club was organized in 1937.  Rotary members have always been inducted according to their professions and Rotary at that time was very particular about what professions were eligible.  Joe being involved in a tavern and gambling did not qualify.  While sitting in Joe’s establishment one of the prospective members noted that Joe had a number of bottles behind his bar with contents produced from grapes, apricots, pears, and peaches and several others flavored with limes and lemons.  Joe was inducted into the club as a charter member; his profession – “Fruit Peddler”.

When East Peoria celebrated its centennial in 1984 I was surprised and disappointed that the organizers chose to ignore mention of the gambling operations that had flourished in East Peoria and were a colorful and intricate part of its history. When I was made aware that Joe’s daughter lived in Peoria I saw an opportunity to rectify this oversight. I have attempted to document as much information as possible on East Peoria’s gambling era from interviews with Barbara Rafool Patterson, and am grateful for the information she has been willing to share along with photographs from both she and Randy Couri.

Joe was born October 13, 1911 in Itoo, Syria (Lebanon), to Thomas and Mary Abraham Rafool.  His father immigrated to the United States in 1907 with Mike Couri and Thomas worked on the Rock Island Railroad for a number of years to gain enough money to start a business, Rafool Grocery, in East Peoria.  Mike Couri later joined him and the business became Rafool- Couri Grocery.  Joe and his mother joined his father in America in 1920.  Mike Couri later started a grocery of his own and Joe added a restaurant to his father’s business.  Later Joe and Mike Couri’s son, Joe, opened the Glee Club together. It was here, with the introduction of slot machines from Pekinite Clem McKinsey, that gambling was introduced.  Roulette and gambling tables were added and when Peoria started cracking down on gambling, Joe himself opened the Paradice, at 1206 West Washington Street in 1941.    This establishment was just outside East Peoria’s city limits and the close proximity to Peoria coupled with Tazewell County’s lack of enforcement made it an ideal location (Barbara Patterson recalls that the Par-a-Dice straddled the city-county jurisdictions and the patrons would move from one end of the building to the other depending on which governmental unit was performing a raid).  Joe often related the story of how he handed to keys to his establishment to Bernie Shelton and walked out when the Shelton Gang tried to muscle in on his operation (daughter Barbara adds that he later reached an agreement with the Sheltons and they were involved in his operation). The Paradice closed in 1951 because of tax problems and reopened a year later as the Par-a-Dice Wine rack operated by Joe’s brother-in-law George Shady.  The building was razed for the construction of the Bob Michael Bridge.  When the riverboat gambling was legalized years later Joe permitted the owners of the local gambling boat to use the name Par-a-Dice.

Joe was the President and owner of Associate Realty Brokers for 46 years.  Among his developments were Fondulac Heights, Vue du Lac and Fondulac Terrace subdivisions in East Peoria and Celestial Gardens and St. Joseph’s Court subdivisions in Peoria.                 Joe’s philanthropy was legendary.  He was an initial donor to St. Francis Children’s Hospital and donated the first iron lung to St. Francis Hospital, paid for the  construction of a number of waterlines in East Peoria when the City did not have the money and donated the land for St. Philomena and St. Monica churches.

Joe married Elizabeth C. Shady September 14, 1938 in Newark, New Jersey and was the father of three sons, Joey, Thomas and Michael and two daughters Terry and Barbara.  His residence in East Peoria was 500 Fondulac Drive overlooking  Lake Peoria.  Joe died July 25, 1996 and is buried in Saint Joseph’s Cemetery in West Peoria.

When his daughter, Barbara, questioned her father as to what became of fortune he had earned in his lifetime.  He answered:  “The government and the mob got it all”

Frank Borror – April 2013