Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Remembering Dad

there was a memorial mass today for my dad at chanel high school. mom, grandma, mary, joan, uncle stan, uncle dennis and aunt mary ann were there with the whole school. it was a beautiful tribute to dad.
fr. jeff was saying mass. his homily was great. it was all about how it takes much longer to build something than it does to tear it down. he said that dad was a builder and cited the school as an example.
then some of my dad's friends and colleague's spoke. mr. parris (my spanish teacher) talked about how long he'd known my dad and how he was his best friend. he told this story about how my dad wanted to have the cross country team run in a meet down in cincinnati. he said the meet wasn't the real reason dad wanted to go seeing how they ended up at king's island amusement park. he mentioned that dad wasn't interested in the big coasters and instead chose to ride the kiddie rides (i find this hard to believe b/c dad and me were always coaster buddies and we rode EVERYTHING. nothing said us. although neither of us liked the stand up variety (the harnesses can be a might uncomfortable for dudes.)) mr. parris went on to say that chanel would not be around today had it not been for dad. there was a point in the 80s where the school was in dire financial straits. my dad was one of the guys who stood up and took charge. his work reviving the failing bingo game saved the school. he concluded by saying he'll always miss kaz and never forget him.
next up was mr. coleman (my world history teacher - sidenote: if you said something stupid in his class he made you run outside the school to get a leaf from the tree or if you were late you had to do pushups). He said he knew "the legend" for thirty years. mr. coleman said kaz was like the 7th president andrew jackson, whose nickname was "old hickory" b/c he would bend but not break. He recounted many times going to ask dad for something and dad would stare at him and break into his million dollar smile and laugh his infectious laugh and that was it. He spoke about how the social studies exams were always the last day of finals. Three days of testing and social studies was always last. So Mr. Coleman went to dad to ask if it could be moved to Wednesdays. Dad smiled and laughed and said, "we'll see." A while later Mr. Coleman ran into dad in the hallway. Dad was smiling and said he had good news, the social studies tests would now be on Thursdays.

mr. abood (the principal) was up next and said NO ONE has done more for St. Peter Chanel High School than Kaz Szczepanik. he also mentioned that the Tuesday after dad died was the first time in the history of Chanel High School that there was not a Szczepanik present. Then he asked us, the family, to come up for a special presentation from the football team.

Coach Stupka said that on Sept. 8 the team attended the funeral and still had to play that night against Holy Name. They didn't talk a whole lot about what had happened that day. But after the game which he said was a phenomenal effort by the whole team they got together and decided to give the Szczepanik family the game ball (which they all signed.) He said normally it's 11 players against 11 players on the field but that night it felt like 12.

After communion, Fr. Jeff asked if we'd like to say anything we said no. (I don't think I could without completely falling apart) So, I was shocked when Mom went up there. She expressed her and our gratitude to the entire Chanel and St. Rita communities and said how Chanel was my Dad's second home. He loved the students and celebrated each of their victories and mourned each of their losses. And each of the students can rest assured knowing that my dad loved them as though they were his own children. She went on to tell them the best way to remember my dad was to follow an old Bohemian saying - No Ostuda (pronounced voos-ta-da) which means "no dirt on the family name." They should make wise decisions that won't reflect poorly on the Chanel tradition which my dad worked tirelessly to establish and protect. I don't know how mom did that without being reduced to tears, b/c I was.

Chanel reminds me of dad so much. Growing up we were always trailing after him in the halls, going to football games, helping out at bingo. I've been going there for as long as I can remember so it's strange to be there without him. Although if his spirit resides anywhere it's inside that building and inside each of the students and alumni.

Afterwards, mr. abood invited the family to the library and said the students could come and pay their respects personally. So many did. I felt like a politician shaking so many hands and thanking so many people. One student that stood out said, "I never got a chance to thank your dad. I just transferred in as a senior and he did so much for me." That was great to hear b/c I typically think of teens as these angst-filled nincompoops who thinks the world owes them something. But this kid was genuinely appreciative of my dad simply doing his job. It's moments like that that kept my dad at the school for 40 years.

It was a beautiful mass and a nice tribute to dad. Unfortunately, it was like going through the funeral all over again. I was sitting there thinking, "Oh, my God. I'm in the Chanel Gym at a mass for my dead father. They're talking about my dad. This isn't supposed to happen." But I guess it was supposed to happen. Sure, he won't be there in body for many events we were all expecting him to be at. But he'll be there in spirit and he gave us MANY great memories and an amazing family and community. He left the world a better place than he found it, which is the best any of us can hope for.

Afterwards, we went to Applebee's and I showed Grandma that they named a drink after her. It was something like "the mango-apple passion 'rita." (Her names Rita.) She asked me if they would give her a free one b/c of her name.

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