WILMETTE – To many people, Joseph Moss was a savvy businessman and real estate pioneer who owned Plaza del Lago in Wilmette. But to those who knew him well, Moss was a family man who always remembered his roots growing up in an immigrant neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side.“The thing about Joe was that he was really a humanitarian first, and a businessman second. He never forgot where he came from and his door was open to anyone,” Gail, his wife of 37 years, told DailyNorthShore.
Moss, 90, died of complications from a heart attack March 16 in Baptist Hospital of Miami, according to Gail.
Moss’s own parents immigrated to Chicago from Israel, and he grew up on Chicago’s West Side, attending Crane High School and studying at Roosevelt University. He received an honorary degree from Roosevelt years later, according to Gail.
Moss earned his law degree from John Marshall Law School in 1961 — while working full time as a wholesale hardware salesman and raising four children — but he found his career in real estate. Moss’s focus on condominium conversions, first in Hyde Park and on Lake Shore Drive and later on Sheridan Road, is what ultimately led him to Plaza del Lago.
Moss was converting one of the high-rise apartment buildings on the east side of Sheridan Road in Wilmette into condominiums when he met one of the owners of Plaza del Lago. “He just fell in love with (Plaza del Lago). It was an architectural little gem,” Gail said. In 1971 Moss purchased the historic shopping center.
Over time Moss attracted several restaurants and other high quality businesses to Plaza del Lago.
“It was just a labor of love. He added architectural artifacts. He added sculptures, gardens, fountains and benches for people to sit on,” Gail explained. Plaza del Lago became a community center for the residents of Wilmette, where festivals, holiday events and music programs are held year-round. “It became much more than a shopping center,” Gail said.
In fact, Moss recently purchased a modern art sculpture on the Jersey Shore, where he and his wife have a home, and was planning to install it in the shopping center near Sheridan Road. He also had commissioned a statue of Archange Ouilmette, wife of Antoine Ouilmette, early residents the village is named after. The statue is expected to be installed during the summer with a presentation by the Wilmette Historical Society, according to Gail.
Moss’s service to the larger good was a value he carried with him throughout his life. He donated time and resources to many charitable causes, including scholarships to St. Ignatius College Prep. Moss was also involved with the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and was a life trustee of the Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis. “He was incredibly generous and giving and really a people person,” Gail said.
While Moss and his wife spent a portion of the year in Florida, he always found time to return to Plaza del Lago, which his daughter Laura Moss helped oversee. Whenever he was in Chicago, Moss took time to meet up with old friends from Wilmette and Kenilworth. “They would meet every morning (at the Starbucks in Plaza del Lago),” Moss said.
Moss described her husband as someone whose family was a priority. He would always take a break from a meeting to speak with one of his children. “He was first and foremost a family man. They came first,” Gail said.
Moss is survived by his wife, Gail, daughters Laura and Ruth; sons David, Josh and Augustus, and 10 grandchildren. His previous marriage ended in divorce.