BY BOB GELIK
In the spirit of Father’s Day, five of NEPA’s well-known native sons agreed to share the influence their dads had on them, sometimes with words, sometimes with the eloquence of their actions, sometimes with both.
All men shared their stories by email during the stay-at-home period of the coronavirus pandemic.
Frank Pazzaglia, a son of Frank and Clara Pazzaglia, is a retired high school teacher and football coach from Peckville. His father was orphaned in Italy at 12 and then served in the Italian army in World War I. After moving to the United States, he worked as a coal miner and became a naturalized citizen in 1926.
He showed his son the importance of “attention to detail, compassion and acceptance of all people on merit, rather than appearance.” Pazzaglia recalled a day in the 1940s when an African American man, a stranger, walked past their home and asked his dad for a glass of water.
“My dad responded immediately by inviting him into the house and prepared a lunch for him,” Pazzaglia wrote. “The man ate and drank his fill, thanked us and continued on his way. The simple act of non-judgment kindness to a stranger has remained with me to this very day.”
Bernie McGurl, a son of Bernard and Catherine Jane McGurl, lives in Scranton and is executive director of Lackawanna River Conservation Association. His father was an Army Air Corps veteran of World War II who went on to engage in a wide variety of interests, including serving on the board of Lackawanna Historical Society, which fed his son’s interest in local history and restoring the Lackawanna River. He worked as a professor of English and public speaking at University of Scranton and taught his son by example.
“My father told me that ‘it is essential to your manhood that you must always and in every way have and demonstrate the greatest respect toward women.’ He told me that he raised me to be a gentleman and as such, I ‘must first and always behave with the honor of a gentleman.'”
McGurl’s dad also stressed the importance of “having personal integrity in relationships with all people.”
“He left me one very intimate treasure that allowed me to get to know the inner man he was,” McGurl explained. “He had kept a journal that … gifted me with a stronger appreciation of who the man was who taught me what it means to be a gentleman.”
Gary Drapek of Scranton, a son of Stanley and Rosemary Drapek, is president and CEO of United Way of Lackawanna & Wayne Counties. His father was a pharmacist mate in the Navy in World War II who later worked in pharmaceutical sales. He died 24 years ago and, Drapek wrote, “a kinder, friendlier and more giving person you would never find.”
“A long time ago, when I was at a bit of a crossroads in my career, he said to me, ‘Always remember, there’s more to life than zeros at the end of your paycheck. And if you love what you do and the people you’re doing it with, it’ll never be work,'” Drapek recalled. “Over 30 years after he said those words to me, I realize it was the best advice ever given and how very right he was.”
Dave Hawk of Dunmore, a son of Elmer and Louise Hawk, co-owns Gertrude Hawk Chocolates. He is a native of Dunmore where he continues to reside. Hawk’s father joined the Army Air Force at 18 and was shot down on his first mission in World War II, becoming a prisoner of war for 17 months.
“On his return home,” Hawk wrote, “he saw my grandmother making chocolates in her kitchen, and asked if she would accept him as a partner in her then-paying hobby.
“It would be great to say the rest is history, but that’s simply not so,” Hawk continued. “He struggled to develop the business into a going entity, only getting to a reasonable level of success 16 years later.”
Hawk’s father asked him to be his partner in 1971, and the 21 years they worked together “were some of the happiest years of my business life,” he said.
“He never said, ‘This is the way to be a good partner.’ But he demonstrated it, lived it,” Hawk wrote.
“I respected him, and he respected me,” he added. “He didn’t always agree with me, but he always gave me enough rope to run with my ideas.”
“What I learned from that experience, something that I carry with me to this day, is that in a real partnership, you are there for your partner, and your partner is there for you. Through good times and bad. Through agreements and disagreements. And just as importantly, no one person has all the answers. It’s important to listen to the thoughts of others, because they certainly have a point — and may even be right.”
Doug Smith of Dunmore is a son of Carl and Lucille Walter Smith who works as full-time musician, leading the house orchestra at Skytop Lodge and the Dixieland All-Stars Band. His dad grew up on a farm, joined the Merchant Marines during World War II, later enlisted in the Navy and was a member of the Civil Air Patrol in addition to his work as a machinist and car-carrier driver.
Although he and his dad had different interests, Smith explained, his parents were supportive of and happy about his musical career. With his “strong work ethic and genius-level mechanical abilities,” his dad taught him mostly by example, Smith wrote.
“I learned from him to support my own child (Melody) in whatever endeavor they might decide to pursue,” Smith wrote. “Don’t try to control your offspring’s choices if they are sincerely interested in something, even if it is vastly different from your own interests.”
Smith said his father was actively involved in his non-music projects, such as model rockets and helping “resurrect my first car, a ’52 Chevy.” He also had a sense of humor, he wrote, and would let loose one of his favorite sayings from time to time. For example, when guiding him as he would back up a trailer to a building, he wrote, “If you didn’t stop him in time, he would say, ‘Try to get the whoa before the crash!'”
Parents are children’s first teachers, often remaining in that role, regardless of whether they realize it, long after kids head off to school. And, as these men show, some of life’s most important lessons aren’t necessarily learned in a classroom.