Yep, it's the one-year anniversary of my father's death. In his memory, I'm sharing with you the eulogy I gave at his funeral mass.
My father was a character He was a complex man, and it’s hard to sum him up in a few words, but I'll do my best.
John Walter Sulcoski was born on July 1, 1934 to Stephen & Jessie Sulcoski. His father was a coal miner, and his mother worked in laundry. Both parents had exhausting, back-breaking jobs, which made his childhood difficult.
He was looked after by his mother’s mother, Michelene; we all knew her as "Bobcia." My father loved her so much. She didn’t speak English and so my father knew Polish and English when he was a kid. When his first child was born, no other name would do except his grandmother’s, so my brother is named Michael, after Michelene.
My dad was the oldest child. He was joined by a brother Frank and a sister Jean. He took his job as older brother very seriously and always kept an eye on Jean and Frank. You might say he could even be a bit bossy at times. After my grandfather died in 1973, my dad sort of stepped in his shoes, especially for Jean, who was the youngest. And when she was married to my uncle Ed, he walked her down the aisle.
My dad was the quintessential American success story. He was only a second generation American but with hard work and a tremendous brain, he was able to graduate from high school and go on to get a college degree, the first person in his family to do so. He got scholarships and worked lots of jobs to achieve that. He even went on to earn a master’s degree from Trenton State by attending school at night while he taught during the day. He did post-graduate work, too, in Philadelphia and Shippensburg.
Education was important to my dad, so important that he became a science teacher. My dad was an administrator by the time I was old enough to have chemistry, but I remember asking him once for help with a chemistry problem. I really just wanted to know what the answer was, but by the time he was done, I had his handwritten diagrams showing how a rifle shoots bullets, why rock salt makes ice melt and precise detailed instructions for how to create a nuclear fission reactor.
He had many students who learned from him and loved the way he made chemistry come alive for them. He was so committed to education that he even wrote textbooks, workbooks and other items. At his wake, a complete stranger approached us to tell us that he had my dad for a teacher, and my dad encouraged him to go to college. My dad helped him get admitted and helped him find financial aid. The man was a civil engineer, and he came to my dad's wake to let us know that he never forgot what my dad did to help him.
My dad loved to take photographs, and he often had his camera out, taking photos. He especially loved to take photos of his kids, my brother playing baseball or me playing field hockey, and it’s wonderful to go back and see his visual record of our childhoods. He married his love of photography and his love of education when he created Ed Media Tec, a business that produced educational filmstrips for schools. During the 70s and 80s, EMT produced numerous science filmstrips, the MetriLab kit for teaching kids how to use the Metric system (I just want to say that these were really good kits-- it’s not my father’s fault the metric system never caught on), social studies filmstrips, Pennsylvania history filmstrips and some industrial training materials. There was such demand for them that many of them came in English and Spanish versions. It was always a kick for his family members to be in a classroom, either as a student or in my aunt Jean’s case, as the teacher, and have the kids notice that that person on the screen looks just like you, and to say “it is me.” Over the years, Mike and I, our cousins, our best friends, and our pets all modeled in my dad’s filmstrips. Even my mom, who doesn’t like to have her picture taken, appeared in one as “Sandy Goldberg, wildlife photographer.”
My dad was extremely proud of his Polish heritage. All of his ancestors came from Poland, and he loved to repeat the stories Bobcia told him about her village in Poland, Biala Woda. When I started to trace the family genealogy, one of the most meaningful moments was when I found a copy of the ship’s register showing the exact date that Bobcia traveled to the US in 1911. My dad loved the Polish-French composer Chopin, and he always wanted me to play his favorite Chopin piece, The Raindrop Prelude. One of his science heroes was the Pole Nikolai Copernicus, who proposed the theory that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than vice versa. My dad always wanted to go to Poland, and it makes me sad that he never got the chance to. However, he did manage to fulfill just about every dream he had when it came to hunting. My dad was an avid hunter and hunted all over the place; he even took not one, but two, hunting safaris to Africa. I was going to bring in some of his trophies to display at the viewing, he would have really liked that, but apparently the funeral parlor wasn’t crazy about having a stuffed life-size wildebeest in the lobby.
My dad’s first love was always his family. He was married to my mom for 52 years, and he and Mom could never wait to give each other their Christmas presents. When he was in the hospital, he insisted on telling my mom what her Christmas present would be because he just couldn’t wait to see her reaction. My dad was especially close to my brother, they were best friends, and my brother’s 2 boys, Stephen and Mikey. He babysit for them all the time, and never missed one of their baseball or basketball games or school events.
It’s still a bit bizarre to think that my dad is gone, but what gives me a lot of comfort is thinking about how the best of my dad continues to live on in his family. When I see my daughter Grace lost in a book, I’ll think about how she inherited my dad’s love of reading. When my brother steps into a classroom or puts on his camouflage to go hunting, he’ll feel himself carrying on my dad’s commitment to education and his love of hunting. When I hear my older son James, play a Chopin piece on the piano, my dad’s love of Chopin and classical music lives on. When Jean and Linda make pierogis or do all the preparations for the Christmas Eve Holy Supper, my dad’s love of the old country and its traditions lives on. When my mom asks me in November if I want to open my Christmas present now, I’ll see my dad’s excitement at giving someone he loved a cool present and not wanting to wait to see them open it. When my younger son Nick tells us all some random, obscure factoid, the kind of thing that makes a good question on Jeopardy, I’ll know that my father’s quirky memory for trivia is still going strong in his grandson. When Steve and Mikey put on their baseball uniforms, they’ll be carrying on my dad’s passion for baseball.
So as we all go back to our daily lives, let’s try to work through our shock and sadness at my dad’s sudden passing. Look for him, the very best parts of him, living on in the people he loved.