Joseph N. DuCanto (1927-2013)

It is with great sadness that Schiller DuCanto & Fleck (SDF) announces the death of founding partner Joseph DuCanto. A lawyer and man of many pasts, Mr. DuCanto, 85, died after a brief illness Friday evening.


Joseph (“Joe”) DuCanto, a founding partner of the Chicago law firm Schiller DuCanto & Fleck LLPbio-joseph-ducanto in 1981,  devoted himself professionally to the elevation in status of the practice of matrimonial law. In 2003, he was inducted by the Academy of Illinois Lawyers as a ”Laureate” of the Illinois State Bar Association, a rare and highly distinguished title, in recognition of his many outstanding contributions and achievements. With his dedicated guidance, love and support, shared equally by his partners, Schiller DuCanto & Fleck has become the most distinguished matrimonial law firm in the country, having been named the number one Family-Law divorce law firm in the United States. Many of its 45 members have participated legislatively, judicially, as well as in law practice, initiating progressive solutions for those facing divorce and transition.

Mr. DuCanto was known throughout the country for preparation and distribution of divorce-tax related materials, including his annual Federal Income Tax Charts, dating back to 1977, that are circulated and in use today by lawyers, judges, accountants, bankers and financial planners.

Joe, a prolific essay and technical writer, authored and contributed to state and national publications including the Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. From 2000-2008 Mr. DuCanto wrote “All in the Family”, a monthly column for the Chicago Lawyer,  where he examined newly issued cases, movements, trends and ideas in the practice of family law. Ultimately, those articles were published in book form, entitled “All In The Family”.

During the 1970’s and 80’s Joe was frequently invited to lecture to state bar conventions, continuing legal education programs and law schools, urging changes in federal tax law which would ease the heavy burden of families undergoing divorce and teaching lawyers how to make the most of the deficient system then available.

These efforts lead ultimately to substantial revision of divorce taxation rules within the 1984 Tax Reform Act, aided considerably in passing by the backing and assistance of Geraldine Ferraro, a former candidate for Vice-President of the United States.

Mr. DuCanto received a great many awards and public recognition throughout his career, including being named in The Best Lawyers in America for many years. Recognized during his career as a “Leading Attorney”, he lectured and was recognized as an expert in his field by state bar associations throughout the country, including appearance as a guest lecturer at law schools throughout the nation.

Mr. DuCanto held a firm commitment throughout all aspects of his life to the utility of education and training. As an Adjunct Professor of Law at Loyola University of Chicago for 26 years he taught Family Law to many generations of students, both in the evening and day programs, and was an active mentor to many former students now practicing, some of whom are also serving as judges of the Illinois courts.

Subsequent to his service in the U.S. Marines Corp., Joe was rejected for appointment as a law enforcement officer because of his small size. He nonetheless continued to demonstrate affection for and support of all aspects of police work. In 1982, he founded Securatex Ltd. a private Investigative security guard force company, and served as its past President  & CEO, and throughout his life as Chairman of the Board.  The company provides security services throughout the Midwestern States. Its long-term success has been being based upon core principles of honesty, integrity and respect for all people, that was so much a part of Mr. DuCanto’s personality.

Mr. DuCanto was one of the founding members of the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, and served as Counsel to the Chicago Police Department helping to develop practical application of the law on domestic violence and stalking.  Joe was recognized for his commitment to education and training in the field of law enforcement and security as well as for his support of numerous law enforcement agencies, including the Law and Public Safety Academy, North West Police Academy, Schaumburg Police Department,(ASIS) American Society of Industrial Security, and recognized by the Indiana Crime Prevention Coalition. Joe served as a member of the Illinois Security Chiefs Association, (ASIS) American Society of Industrial Security, and served on the Boards of the Chicago Crime Commission and of the Special Agents Association. During the tenure of Sheriff Jim Grady of Cook County, Joe was appointed and served as a deputy sheriff as he simultaneously did the same with Mickey Babcock, Sheriff of Lake County, Illinois.

At 16 years of age Joe joined the United States Marine Corps as a volunteer enlistee early in 1944. He was quickly assigned to the Third Marine Division as a replacement, following its conquest of Guam, being assigned to H&S Co., 3rd Pioneer Bn. He served with the Pioneer Bn., assigned to the 21st Marines, through Iwo Jima until the end of World War II. He then was assigned to the First Marine Combat Engineers in North China, where he served with the 7th Marine Regiment, located at various points throughout North China, being returned to the United States and discharged from the Corps in September, 1946, serving a total of 28 consecutive months overseas.

Joe was a recipient of a City of Chicago Proclamation from Mayor Richard M. Dailey, proclaiming February 23, 2005, being the 50th anniversary of the battle, to be Iwo Jima Day in Chicago. On his 80th birthday, in March of 2007, Joe received a resolution, initiated by Alderman, Edward Burke and adopted by the City Council of Chicago for his integrity, commitment and civic contributions.

Mr. DuCanto authored a summary in story form of his military service, “Sea Stories”, that was  distributed to 500 young Marines about to depart to Iraq, a publication which has found its way around the globe and has been translated and printed in several languages.

Over the years Joe has devoted himself unrelentingly to Marine causes, including his service on the National Board of the Marine Corp Scholarship Foundation, which awarded him its “Semper Fidelis Award” in 2005, conferred on him by Navaho code talker Dr. Sam Billiston, an Iwo Jima survivor.  Joe has financed several scholarships in perpetuity for descendants of Marines who have served, honoring all Marines by helping to educate their children.  It is also important to note that two of Joe’s sons also distinguished themselves as United States Marines.

Mr. DuCanto admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1955, graduated that same year from the University of Chicago School of Law. His first job in his legal career he worked with a group of Union labor lawyers who represented unskilled packing house workers, most of whom were African American and part of the large wave of Southern African Americans who moved from the South during and following WWII. In the early sixties Joe specialized in Matrimonial law, working at the same time in estate planning and taxation. In 1982 Joe and Donald Schiller became partners, later were joined by Charles Fleck Jr., the result —– Schiller DuCanto & Fleck.

Mr. DuCanto participated in many civic functions, including service as President of Hyde Park’s First Unitarian Society of Chicago, President of the 60 Club of the Chicago Bar Association, National President and Charter Member of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, The Covenant Club of Chicago, The Union League Club of Chicago, Cliff Dwellers, Tavern Club, Member of the Board of Managers of the Chicago Bar Association and Board Member of the Illinois State Bar Association. He supported many worthwhile causes including; becoming a “Plank Owner” of the Marine Memorial Association in San Francisco, and one of the organizers and a major contributor to the Dr. James Hunter chair at Rush Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. Hunter, one of Joe’s good friends, was a WWII Paratrooper who pursued a brilliant career as a nationally recognized expert in cardio vascular surgery.

Mr. DuCanto, having skipped most of high school for service in the Marines, nonetheless received a bachelor’s degree from Antioch College in 1952.  During his tenure at Antioch his classmates included such notable personalities as Coretta Scott, who later became the wife of Martin Luther King, Rod Serling creator of “The Twilight Zone”, Joe’s roommate, Julius Gikono Kiano, former cabinet member and confident of Jomo Kenyatta, the first President of Kenya as an independent Nation.
During his final year at Antioch College, Joe was awarded a National Honor Law Scholarship to the University of Chicago, School of Law, where he received his Juris Doctorate in 1955. At the University he was President of PSI-Kappa-PSI fraternity.  During his time at the law school he became an assistant to the then Dean, Edward H. Levi, who later became Chancellor of the university and later, Attorney General of the United States, Appointed by President Ford. Dean Levi took an unusual interest in Joe and acted as his mentor and guided Joe in many of his early decisions. In Joe’s third year of law school he received a Ford Foundation Fellowship and devoted much of his time working on the famed University of Chicago jury study, the only such study in depth of the underlying—often deliberately concealed—workings of criminal jury functions and deliberations.

Joe always believed that life was a game of “Put and Take”; that if you needed something, you took it: if you had thereafter some extra, you put it back! In this spirit over the years Joe contributed to and created the “Dean’s Discretionary Fund” at the Law School which enables the resident Dean to have at his/her disposable a sizable sum to aid students in all kinds of unmet needs, and to bring to the school personages and events not otherwise provided for in the law school budget.

Born Annunzio DaCunto, in Utica, New York, to the late Joseph DaCunto and Martha Purchine, Joe, was orphaned at 18 months of age and remitted to St. Joseph’s Infant’s Home in Utica, New York. At age four, Joe left the orphanage and became a foster child and welfare recipient until he enlisted in the Marines.

Joe never forgot how isolated and lonely a child without parents faced life, a feeling which fed his desire to help young people in need. He lovingly devoted a portion of his life time to the mentoring of many young people in all walks of life. Joe has been equally giving of his time, talent and money to those who can often benefit from the simple knowledge that at least one person cares as he urged them on to chase their dreams.  Joe would often profess that “Ordinary kids often grow up to become extraordinary citizens.” Pointing to the early background of many of our President’s such as Harry Truman, whom Joe greatly admired. A true reflection of Mr. DuCanto’s early beginnings, reflected in a lengthy lifetime of good works and good deeds.

Joe is survived by his beloved wife Patricia, and three sons: Anthony, Dr. James, and William. He is also survived by four grandchildren: Christopher, Claire, Cole Nathan, and Eleanore Faye and his Niece Michele DuCanto, the daughter of his deceased older brother, Nicholas DuCanto, who spent much of his life as a medic in the United States Army.
Our Joe was an extraordinary citizen who will be missed by many who carry with them a personal connection to him or have been touched by Joe’s inherent kindness.

Memorial Services will be held at the First Unitarian Church, 5650 South Woodlawn Avenue, Hyde Park, Chicago on the University of Chicago Campus on February 21, 2013 from 1:00-3:00 p.m.


In lieu of recognition in any form, contributions can be made to Joe’s favorite charity; the Deans Discretionary Fund at the University of Chicago Law School.

2 thoughts on “Joseph N. DuCanto (1927-2013)

  1. Elizabeth Ferris

    Words seem inadequate to express the respect I had for Joe DuCanto and his accomplishments. He was a true humanitarian who was committed to making a positive difference in the lives of the people he touched. He will be truly missed.

  2. Lisa Simkins

    Joe was truly one of a kind. He had the kindest heart and always made you feel like you were the most important person in the room. Joe was a great teacher and he also had the best stories. Alot of the stories he told came with a message. I will never forget Joe and the impact he had on my life. He is/was one of the best men I have ever known in my life. God Bless you, Joe. I will carry you in my heart always.

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