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Life's a song for Joe The Hat

| Saturday, May 12, 2007

While many retirees are content to spend their twilight years in quiet neighborhoods, Joe "The Hat" Altemara is living it up in Sin City.

Altemara, 80, lives in Las Vegas, where he is an award-winning karaoke singer and host.

Born and raised in Monessen, he graduated from Monessen High School in 1944. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Altemara tried working in a steel mill after graduation, but quickly decided it was not the life for him.

"I went to California and got a job working for the Howard Hughes Air Craft Co.," he said.

He married and had five children, raising them in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He has 20 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren.

Retired, Altemara decided to move to the Las Vegas area in 1990 - because his wife had a love for casinos.

After his first wife Bunny died in 2001 -...after 54 years of marriage - Altemara decided to stay near Las Vegas because he had grown fond of the area.

But when he least expected it, he received a second chance at love.

He met his second wife, Jean Brady, 70, a native of Canton, Ohio, at a casino hosting a karaoke night.

"I'll never forget, she was singing Pasty Cline," he said. "I asked her to dance and we just started talking and laughing."

A widow, Jean Altemara was married for 30 years. Her husband died on Christmas Day in 1999. She also lived in California and decided to start over in Arizona after her husband died.

Altemara and Brady endured a long distance relationship for a while, as she was living in Bullhead City, Ariz. The couple married on Nov. 1, 2003, and she moved to Las Vegas.

The couple lives in Henderson, a suburb about 20 minutes from the famed Las Vegas Strip.

Both considered themselves to be "karaoke junkies," and often frequented the Greek Isles Hotel & Casino to watch and participate in karaoke shows.

After taking in a "Rat Pack" show, Jean Altemara encouraged her husband to ask the owner about hosting a karaoke show. Her husband previously worked for seven years as the karaoke host at the Barbary Coast Casino on the Strip.

After a week-long trial, Altemara received a permanent job as host and his wife joined him onstage.

The couple now hosts shows at the Greek Isles Sunday through Tuesday nights. They have met people from all over the world at the casino, which is located about a half block from the Strip.

Even after his shows are over at 11:30 p.m., the couple is still not ready to go home and will often take in shows and concerts.

"One night we decided to go see Barry Manilow and didn't get in until 2 a.m.," he laughed.

Altemara jokingly says they've been to "every dive bar on the Strip."

Along the casino circuit, the couple is known for their singing talents. They have won contests and accumulated many fans over the years. When they aren't hosting their own shows, they enjoy going to other casinos and bars to sing karaoke.

Although he doesn't get back to his hometown often, Altemara has fond memories growing up in Monessen and keeps in touch with an aunt, Rose Altemara, of Monessen.

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