By Romi Carrell Wittman
Prioritizing Children Requires Teamwork
As the first president and CEO of Sun Corridor Inc., Joe Snell’s days are often intense – but one day in particular stands out in his mind.
Snell’s granddaughter, Olivia, was visiting and had her heart set on swimming. However, a burgeoning monsoon storm meant that swimming would have to be postponed. Kay, Snell’s wife, told Olivia they would try again the next day.
Early the following morning, Joe and Kay were in the kitchen preparing for the day when Olivia emerged from her room, fully dressed in her swimsuit and toting her pool toys.
With a one-track mind that only an 8-year-old can have, she said, “Let’s go!”
“So at 6:10 a.m., I was out there swimming,” Snell said, laughing at the memory.
Fatherhood is something Snell holds close to his heart, but he admits that wasn’t always the case. “In my 20s, I didn’t think twice about kids. I was focused on career and success, but now at 55 looking back, I just love it.”
Snell grew up in Denver and, after earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska, eventually returned there. Soon after, Joe met Kay and Alyssa, then Joe and Kay married. Life was good for the family of three.
A business trip shook things. “It was the mid- to late 1990s and I had come back from China,” he said. “I had a photo of a bunch of little kids, maybe first graders, standing in a square. They were so cute with their little sweat suits.”
Snell mentioned to his wife that he missed the days when their daughter was that small. “My wife said it’s probably not too late for us – and that led to Jacob,” he said.
Alyssa was 12 when Jacob was born and proved her strength at his delivery. “Jacob was a tough birth,” Snell said. “Alyssa was the strong one. She kept me calm.” His daughter also encouraged the Snells to have a third child, Samantha. “She said, ‘Don’t just have one. I was kind of lonely.’ “
Snell is humbled to be named a 2019 Father of the Year by the Father’s Day Council Tucson. “I’m honored beyond words,” he said. “For me, nothing is more important than being a parent. This award (tells me that) my efforts, my focus and my priorities with my kids have been right.”
When asked if he has a parenting philosophy or words of advice for other dads, Snell paused. “Just remember that none of us gets a roadmap,” he said. “We’re a steward for their lives. It’s their life and we’re here to guide them. And know that there will be a lot of bumps along the way.”
Snell added that it’s important, too, to have a good partner. “The most important day of the year is Mother’s Day,” he said. “I’m serious. It’s really that important.”
Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mother, Kay was an accountant for one of the Big Six accounting firms. At the time, Joe was traveling much of the time for a venture capital firm in New York and he said there was a lot of pressure to move to the city.
“We couldn’t see raising a family there,” he said.
One night, over a glass of wine, Kay told Joe that she knew he wasn’t happy being on the road all the time and that she wanted to be home with the family. The couple then made what Snell called a team decision. “There is nothing more important than your kids – not money, not success, not work.”
Kay left her career to focus on the family and Joe decided that, after his stint with the venture capital firm, he wanted to get back into economic development. He spoke with leaders in a few cities, including Seattle and Phoenix, before deciding that Tucson was the best place to raise a family.
The Snells have called Tucson home ever since and, though his kids were born in Denver, the two younger Snell kids consider themselves Tucsonans. Today Alyssa lives in Denver with her daughter, Olivia, now 11.
Reflecting on his fatherhood journey, Joel said, “You have to make it a priority. I see too many who don’t. I love being a father. For me, life would not be complete without being a father.”