Joseph Hitzel, III

Obituary of Joseph M. Hitzel, III

Joseph Michael Hitzel III, 87, flew west, as they say in aviation, on September 18, 2023, the birthday of the Air Force.  The eldest of three sons, born on June 29, 1936 in Easton, PA to parents, Edith and Joseph M Hitzel Jr., Joe grew up in Atlantic City.  In high school he “worked” at the hotels his dad managed and flew model toy airplanes from the roofs of the hotels.  He graduated from Atlantic City High School in 1954.  He was an ROTC candidate and subsequently graduated from Lehigh University in 1958 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering.  While at Lehigh, Joe’s enthusiasm for aviation led to his flying lessons on grass fields.  His first job after graduation was for Boeing in Seattle.  He then flew the T33, T37, and T38 and was a flight instructor in the US Air Force from 1959 to 1964.  As a credit to his integrity and teaching ability, the base commander sought out Joe to ensure the new Air Force Academy graduates were assigned to him.

After his discharge from the Air Force as a Captain, he began a 32-year career with Trans World Airlines and lived in what he described as “the best time in aviation.”   He began his career at TWA flying the Constellation, AKA the “Connie,” before moving to jets.  He flew the Boeing 707, 727, and 747 and subsequently earned his Captain’s status.  He ultimately became a flight instructor for TWA.  In time, he supervised all the 747 training in the NY domicile.  In his final years with TWA, he flew as Captain as part of a team of leased pilots for Nippon Air, flying a myriad of cargo ranging from racehorses to strawberries all over the world. He truly loved what he did and made lifelong friends amongst the stellar group of fellow pilots at TWA and especially those at Hanger 95.  Even after retiring, he maintained his TWA friendships by participating in monthly Quiet Birdmen meetings.

In 1955, he was set up on a blind date with the perfect gal, who at the time was advancing her studies in nursing at the University of Pennsylvania.  It was the beginning of a 65-year long love story for the ages.  Together with his wife, Georgeann (Whitehill) Hitzel, they started a family in Marianna, FL and Big Spring, TX, ultimately settling in Bridgewater, NJ, raising five self-reliant children.  Joe and Georgeann currently have 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. 

While raising their kids, Joe was active in St. Bernard’s Catholic Church serving as a Eucharistic minister.  He and Georgeann were involved in both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts as their kids grew up resulting in all four of their sons earning their Eagle Scout awards.  For many years, Joe served as a scoutmaster to Troop 88 which was active in camping, hiking, and backpacking.  Their passion for scouting and leadership led them to remain active in scouting long after their kids were out of Scouts.  His involvement in scouting led to family backpacking trips from Yosemite to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  He became more “civilized” after their children flew the nest, transitioning to cycling on a tandem bike in bright orange t-shirts with his best girl!  They biked well into their 80s, all over the world.

Joe and Georgeann moved to Glen Gardner in 1994 after finding a lovely wooded lot, and designing and building their dream house where they have enjoyed 29 years of watching the birds at their backyard feeders, spoiling their grandkids and making “flat pancakes” on Sunday mornings.  Their days were filled with attending book club, enjoying community theater, biking the back roads of Hunterdon County, playing Sequence, and enjoying a good margarita!  Instead of Christmas parties, for many years, they hosted annual Wright Brothers parties in mid-December celebrating the birth of flight (and a wee bit of Christmas too!) with friends, neighbors, and fellow aviators.  

Joe loved history, had a treasure trove of flying stories, was a vivacious reader and an engaging storyteller, and loved to talk politics, no matter one’s affiliation.  Whether it was scouting or parenting or pilot/simulator training, Joe always wanted his “students” to succeed and strived to inspire them to be their best. He will be forever missed by his family and friends.

He is survived by his wife, Georgeann (“Hello, Beautiful”), his five children: Joseph Hitzel IV, wife Jennifer, of Fountain Hills, AZ, Dr. George Hitzel, wife Alison, of St. Petersburg, FL, Susan Welch, partner Ralph Ruffolo, of Glen Gardner, NJ, John Hitzel, wife Laurie, of Richmond, TX, Simeon Hitzel, wife Janet, of Johns Creek, GA, and his grandkids: Janaya, Joseph V, Michael, Miranda, Nicholas, Kaitlyn, Jonathan, Savannah, John, Alexandra, Geneva, Patrick, Jillian, Amy, and Alyssa, and great-grands: Andrew III, Everett, Makailyn, Eloise, Athena, and William, a Grand Legacy, indeed!

He is predeceased by his parents and his two brothers: John Ludlow Hitzel and Edward Raymond Hitzel and a daughter-in-law, Martha Thober Hitzel (Joseph IV).

Friends and relatives are invited to visit with Joe’s family on Thursday, September 21st from 5:00 PM until 7:00 PM, at the Martin Funeral Home, 1761 Route 31, Clinton, NJ 08809. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church, 32 Main Street, Hampton, NJ on Friday, September 22nd, 2023, at 11:00 AM, with a burial at the church cemetery immediately following. To send condolences to the family please visit

In lieu of flowers, raise a glass, take a flying lesson, donate to the charity of your choice, or do something special with the one you love!




5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Thursday, September 21, 2023
Martin Funeral Home, Clinton, NJ
1761 Route 31
Clinton, New Jersey, United States

Mass of Christian Burial

11:00 am
Friday, September 22, 2023
Church of St. Ann
32 Main Street
Hampton, New Jersey, United States
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