Joe Toner was an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota from 1935–1939. He was a member of the Interracial Committee of the Negro Student Council and a signer of the Grissom Report on segregated housing. He was listed on Ray Chase’s list of “Radical Leaders,” which focused on the fact that he was a Jew and an activist at the University of Minnesota. While he was a student, he was Editorial Chair of the Minnesota Daily, served as Progressive Party Chair for the All University Council, and was a member of the prestigious Iron Wedge Senior Honorary Society. He attended graduate school in Public Administration at Syracuse University. He joined the Army in 1941 and became a Captain in the Quartermaster Corps. He was awarded the Bronze Star.
After the war, he worked in a series of positions, including as a news writer for WCCO CBS in Minneapolis, Minnesota, an assistant to the Director of the Public Administration Clearing House at the University of Chicago, and as a Program Analyst for the U.S. Housing and Home Finance Agency.
In 1952, he joined the Mutual Security Agency, which was the successor to the Marshall Plan, and went on to become Executive Secretary of the Foreign Operation Administration and then joined the White House Disarmament Staff.
In August of 1958, he left to join the newly formed Development Loan Fund as Secretary, and later as Secretary-Treasurer. Toner joined the Agency for International Development (AID) in August 1961 and served overseas for fourteen years as Mission Director,first in Cyprus, then Nepal, Turkey, and Bangladesh. He dealt with some of the most difficult problems—war, genocide, famine, economic development, population control, the cold war—with a persistent gentle humor and positive attitude. In 1978, Toner was awarded AID’s Distinguished Honor Award for his performance in administering one of the largest U.S. economic aid programs in the world.
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