PUB CHAT: Tribute to a special man | Opinion


The writing is cathartic for me, so this column is a bit more personal than usual. I think you will understand, and being the holiday season, I hope you make me happy.

This is my stepfather, John Gawlik, who passed away the day after Thanksgiving, nine days before what would have been his 94th birthday.

My colleagues and I read obituaries every day, just like our readers do – obituaries being, in fact, among the most popular articles in the newspaper. And often we are struck by the fascinating stories of those who have died.

“If only we had known that Jane Smith had done these amazing things, we would have written about her by now,” is a common refrain.

Well, our family knew that John had led an incredibly interesting life – originally from Poland, several times commander of the American Legion in Lyon, veteran of the United States Army and Korean War, 40 year old employee at GW Lisk, where he was a close friend of the late owner Drew Morris.

As we scrolled through the years in real time, however, many of the details of those accomplishments faded into the background as more immediate things took precedence – like what type of cake you want for. your birthday this year and what time works best. for Easter dinner?

However, the task of praising John required me to step back and really focus, and my first thought was: six minutes from the pulpit in the church?

As noted, John was born on December 5, 1927 in Poland and lived there happily with his family until tragedy struck on Christmas Day 1943, when he was torn from his family by the Nazis. Although he would never see his mother and father again, he himself was spared because a Nazi soldier needed help on his family farm in Germany, and the soldier’s son chose John to be that assistant. . To put it more bluntly, he was essentially kidnapped and forced into bondage, but it was this bondage that kept him alive.

Eventually, he escaped from the German family and met American soldiers who developed affection for him and helped him come to the United States.

As the family were browsing through John’s belongings the other day, they came across a vintage military green storage chest that was filled – literally – with hundreds of personal letters, quotes, certificates and other memorabilia from his days in service. . His wife Josie, my mother-in-law, knew about this trunk, but as is the case with so many vets from horrific wars past, John never really wanted to talk about it or its contents. So it stayed closed in a closet for all of their years together.

We only took a cursory glance – with more study to come – but one interesting item we discovered near the top was a yellowed 1950’s paper granting John “permission” to leave the room. ‘Germany for the United States of America. Interestingly, he noted that if John did not follow through on the offer and emigrated within seven days, it would be canceled.

Apparently he acted pretty quickly as he actually served in the US military during the Korean War, which lasted from 1950-53. We don’t think he saw any overseas actions, but l one of its functions was to guard General Eisenhower’s residence here on his national soil. He met and got to know Mamie Eisenhower during this time; Also during his service he met a number of other celebrities that he proudly told us about, including Bob Hope, Doris Day, Elvis Presley and Dean Martin. I joke that he made my wife jealous when he talked about meeting Elvis, and that he made Me jealous when he talked about meeting Dino.

After the war John settled into civilian life in Lyon where the goal became to raise a family, forge a career as a tool and die maker at Lisk in Clifton Springs, and to serve his community. , both as a member – and commander – of the Lyons American Legion Collins Cassavino Post 227 and as a dedicated communicant of St. Michael’s Catholic Church.

I said in my eulogy, “You know these days we talk about the dash in people’s lives, the dash that connects the year they were born and the year they died; for John, it was 1927-DASH-2021, and the question usually raised is, “How did the person spend their dash?” For John, it improved the lives of so many people around him. There was nothing he couldn’t fix or understand. He was humble, he was a gentleman AND a gentle man, he was a devoted servant of God, and he was, most importantly, I think, a kind soul.

We hope that this trunk full of memories will allow us to discover many tales and dramas that are new to us, but in the meantime we will savor the many wonderful memories we already have of a very special man who will live in our hearts forever.

It was my extreme privilege to be your son-in-law. Rest in peace John. You deserve it.

Mike Cutillo is the publisher and editor of the Finger lakes time. Contact him at (315) 789-3333, ext. 264, or [email protected]