Joel Locketz, a veterinarian for more than 40 years who began treating pets out of his Uptown Minneapolis home before starting the Animal Medical Clinic a block away on Hennepin Avenue, died May 12 at age 70.
He had been struggling with depression for the past six months, and “his passing was unexpected and a complete shock to his friends, family and community,” said son Garrett Locketz.
As a boy growing up on the North Side of Minneapolis, Joel Locketz went through one surgery after another on his left hand to repair damage from a severe burn suffered in a clothes iron press at the family home.
Through it all, Tippy, a loyal mutt, kept him company.
“That dog helped get him through a hard time,” said his son.“He had the dog till his early 20s. That’s what drove my dad to get into veterinary medicine.”
Damaged hand notwithstanding, young Joel dove into life with a vengeance, Garrett Locketz said. At 16, Joel lied about his age so he could sell beer in the stands during Minnesota Twins games at Metropolitan Stadium. When Joel doubted that he could play sports because of his mangled hand, a friend “roughed him up a little bit [and] made my dad play football and basketball” at North High School, Garrett Locketz said.
Joel Locketz, a bear of a man who topped out at 6 feet 5 and well more than 200 pounds, threw the shot and discus at the University of Minnesota in the early 1960s, earned his veterinarian medicine degree and started his practice by treating the pets of friends and neighbors in his Uptown home.
He soon found larger quarters for his business in 1972 at 2603 Hennepin Av. S., taking the homespun touch with him to the bustling thoroughfare for decades to come.
“He really, really understood the meaning of the relationship of pets and people,” said Garrett Locketz, adding that he heard one touching story after another from clients after his father’s death.
Among those was a woman who brought her dog to the vet. The pet was dying of cancer, but the woman couldn’t miss work to stay with the dog.
“Dad stayed with that dog for three days” around the clock, Garrett Locketz said. “He was in the same clothes, hadn’t shaved or anything. I never knew anything like that.”
In the late 1980s, a woman and her 10-year-old girl brought in a spaniel mutt with a serious illness. They feared for the puppy’s life but also said they didn’t have the hundreds of dollars for the necessary medication. Locketz told them that the clinic would cover the costs, and the puppy grew up strong and healthy. The mother was so touched that she would bring in a few dollars every now and then.
“I treated the dog without any idea we would ever be paid for it,” Locketz said years later in an interview with the Star Tribune. “Most vets will help people out sometimes because you know what pets mean to people, it’s a member of the family. You see people in these circumstances where they’ve lost a loved one, or they are disabled, and the pet is a gateway to a more fruitful life.”
Garrett Locketz said his father “was never seeking any credit” for those kinds of sacrifices as a veterinarian or as a contributor to his community.
Away from the clinic, Joel Locketz helped bring free medical and mental health care to his neighborhood and was involved in food drives and other outreach for the needy. He also was one of the original shareholders in the Wedge community grocery in south Minneapolis.
More informally, “we’d always have these people working around [the] house,” Garrett Locketz said. “He’d take people in, give them a job, get them started.”
Joel Locketz was preceded in death by his first wife, Jan Locketz Dolejsi. Along with son Garrett, Locketz’s survivors include his wife, Sheila Gittleman Locketz; daughters Mara Locketz and Ellen Gittleman Noll; son Marc Gittleman, and sisters Rochelle Landy and Clarice Rice. Services have been held.