On Monday, October 12, 2020, Joel Ray Anderson passed away peacefully at his home in Florence, Alabama at the age of 76. He is survived by his wife, Carmen Hemmer Anderson, daughters Ashley Ruth Anderson and Kristen Lore Anderson, son Joel Ray Anderson II (Sophie), brother, Charles Caine Anderson, sister, Jan Anderson Wiggins (Bob), grandchildren Kate Brooklyn Billingsley, Grant Ray Billingsley, and Stella Ruth Chanin, niece Catherine Foss Wingfield, nephews Anderson Malone Wingfield, Charles Caine Anderson, Jr. (Moll), Terrence Carroll Anderson (Susan), Clyde Barbour Anderson (Summer), and Harold Myron Anderson (Amber). He was preceded in death by his father, Clyde W. Anderson, mother Ruth Keenum Anderson, and sister-in-law, Hilda Barbour Anderson.
Joel was born on March 22, 1944 in Florence, Alabama. He grew up in Florence and attended the University of North Alabama. Joel spent most of his life involved in the family-owned businesses established by his late father, Clyde W. Anderson.
Joel's childhood in Florence was filled with science experiments, paper routes, road trips to Daytona with his family, tinkering with engines, and much mischief with his favorite (and only) sister, Jan. Joel has always had a deep curiosity and work ethic which allowed him to have meaningful conversations with anyone on topics such as astronomy, mechanics, computers, world cultures, construction, and so much more. In middle school, Joel entered the world of coin and currency collecting early by brokering rare coins out of the back of the family bookstore on Court Street. Anytime you ran into Joel you could count on him greeting you with a huge smile and a story ready to tell.
Joel loved nothing more than spending time on the water. His boat, Freedom, was the place where he was always happy and relaxed. While there, you could count on seeing him in his uniform of shorts, a pocket t-shirt, sunglasses, and his favorite cap that reminded those around "no sniveling". You could also count on hearing some truly incredible stories from his full life, told with Jimmy Buffett music playing in the background.
In addition to being a brilliant businessman and generous philanthropist, Joel was a good husband and wonderful father to his three children and grandfather to his three grandchildren. He taught them to be kind to others, to enjoy every moment life has to offer, to always be curious, to take in and care for every stray dog they see, and to leave the world a better place than they found it.
Joel and his brother Charles have founded hundreds of companies over their career together. Joel served in various roles of the Anderson Companies including Chairman and Director. Today, the principal Anderson Companies include Anderson Media Corporation, TNT Fireworks, Anderson Press, Whitman Publishing Company, and Books-A-Million. Together the Anderson Companies employ over 11,000 associates throughout the United States, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and China. For many years, Joel has dedicated himself to creating a new generation of business leaders in the Shoals by providing mentoring and capital for young entrepreneurs starting businesses.
Joel was the original founder and chairman of the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory. The AFSL worked together with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to create standards providing safer fireworks. The AFSL is widely credited for substantially decreasing firework injuries in the United States.
Joel's lifelong passion was helping others in the Shoals and beyond. He served his community as director and chairman of the board of Riverhill School and as a trustee of the University of North Alabama. He acted as director of the Shoals Chamber of Commerce; director of First National Bank; director of First Southern Bank; founder and chairman of the Florence Lauderdale Library Foundation; chairman of the Shoals Literacy Council; director of the YMCA; and the Florence-Lauderdale Industrial Expansion Committee. He was a major supporter of The Salvation Army, United Way of Northwest Alabama, the Children's Museum of the Shoals, Nick's Kids Foundation, the American Heart Association, New York City Police Athletic League, and many other community organizations.
Joel's contributions to industry and philanthropy have been recognized by the Anti-Defamation League when they honored him with their Distinguished Service Award on behalf of his work for human rights. He also received the National Distinguished Community Service Award from Brandeis University. In 2003, he was the first recipient of The 25 Year Club Frank Herrera Award, the prestigious national magazine industry award. In 2006 Joel was named Shoals Citizen of the Year. In 2016 he was inducted into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame and received the Lifetime Achievement in Innovation Award from the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.
Finally, here are some words of wisdom Joel shared in a letter to his grandchildren that exemplify his life philosophy. We hope living by these words will provide a way for all of us to honor his memory: "Always smile and feel happiness and it will become a part of you. Always be positive and if you are sometimes defeated in something, don't pout, don't complain, just turn around and take another path to winning. Always respect others, always be honest with others and very importantly, yourself. Always go out of your way to do the right thing in any situation and always remember to be nice and share with others, especially persons who need a helping hand."
There will be a drive-through visitation Friday, October 16, 2020 from 1:00 P.M. until 3:00 P.M. in the Greenview Memorial Park. A private immediate family graveside service will follow at 3:00 P.M.
Honorary pallbearers will be Martin Abroms, Tim Corley, Dan Corcoran, Tim Henry, Ross Hightower, Steve McClanahan, Dr. Lyman Mitchell, Donnie Oldham, George Pillow, and Frank Stockard. The family welcomes donations as an expression of sympathy in lieu of flowers to the American Heart Association, University of North Alabama, or United Way of Northwest Alabama.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Joel Ray Anderson, please visit our floral store.