Joe Vaughan

Joe Vaughan, left, with his wife, Karla, and his children Gracie and Danny.

Joe Vaughan, the CEO and Executive Director of the Scott, Carver and Dakota County Community Action Partnership died unexpectedly Sunday evening at age 55. Vaughan grew up in Shakopee and enjoyed spending time with his wife, Karla, and his children Gracie and Danny, those close to him said.

Vaughan’s family said he always showed up for people. Karla said she walked a marathon last year, and when she had to walk eight miles ahead of the marathon for training, Joe walked 10 with her. On the day of the marathon, Karla said Vaughan would walk a few miles ahead of her with snacks, and when she’d reach him, he’d walk backwards with her to keep her motivated.

“That’s just who he was,” Karla said. “He always showed up.”

Joe’s loved ones said he was always prepared with snacks and water. Karla said when the family went camping, he was the person who would pack all the coolers.

“You’d just always count on him,” Karla said. She mentioned Joe was the “coach” to his siblings and those around him — the motivator for many family members and friends.

One of Joe’s sisters, Carolyn Jones, and Karla laughed as they recalled Joe’s seemingly superhuman hearing. They said they could whisper a question from one room and Joe would shout back the answer from the next room. Joe loved winning — especially in basketball and golf. And when his friends would send him one text, they’d get two texts and a phone call in response, Joe’s best friend Matt Keller said.

Another one of Joe’s sisters, Mary Hager, said when her friend’s husband passed away, she reached out to her friend to see if her son needed support. But Hager said Joe had already reached out and offered to help.

“That’s who he was,” Hager said. “Always willing to help anyone. Tireless, positive energy.”

Joe’s children said he never missed an important event, and even though he was busy, he made sure to prioritize his family and work their events into his schedule.

Sanya Pirani, a 13-year-old girl who worked closely with Vaughan with her volunteer work, said Vaughan always believed in her and never missed out on a chance to help her with her next big project. When she was just 7 years old, Vaughan recognized her for her community service work. Soon after, he and the CAP board appointed her as the children’s ambassador for the CAP.

Pirani and Vaughan continued to work together throughout the next five years on community projects that she dreamt up, with Vaughan’s help.

“Joe was the rock star for Sanya,” Pirani’s mother Dilshad said. “He was always available. It’s amazing to believe in a child and support her like (Joe) did.”

“Joe was an inspiration to so many through his selfless leadership, kind humor, and relentless support of those around him. As we grieve and remember our dear friend and coworker, we know that his dedication to CAP’s work and mission lives on,” a statement from the CAP Agency released Wednesday said. “CAP Agency’s Board of Directors and Senior Leadership Team are working closely at this time to ensure the agency continues to serve our community as we have for over 50 years.”

The agency offers a number of services to area residents, including connecting them with local resources for crisis intervention, goal planning, food and nutrition and more.

A gathering of friends and family will be held 9-11:45 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28 at Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church, 3611 North Berens Road NW, Prior Lake. A celebration of life will be held at noon Sept. 28, also at the church.

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.

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