Tony Sumodi Mischievous youth becomes iconoclast engineer
Tony was born in Cleveland in 1942 at what was then St. Luke's hospital. His father had been orphaned at birth and adopted by a Hungarian couple. They took him back to Hungary where they stayed until he was in his early teens, when they returned to the states. His mother was Italian, of the Campobasso region.
He grew up in Cleveland in the Mount Pleasant area. "It was a great neighborhood - an old fashioned one. We were poor but we didn't know we were poor." He recalls hand-me-down corduroys which he wore to school, St. Cecelia's.
He smiles a mischievous smile and says "It was run by Sr. Persecute-us... and I think it was really Our Lady of Perpetual Motion... but I digress."
Tony Sumodi First Communion
When he describes what he calls a traditional neighborhood he remembers tremendous ethnic diversity. "Slovenians, Italians, Lithuanians, Blacks, Jews, some German in there, Croatian, Serbians - and surprisingly they got along. The north side of Kinsman was predominantly Italian, Slovenian, Serbian and that kind of stuff. The south side was all Jewish. The neighborhood had these great stores; green grocers and open air fruit markets so during the summer you had all these aromas."
He remembers the original Alesci's Italian important store on 138th and Kinsman and "you know when the bread was coming out of the oven because the whole neighborhood...well you know. It was amazing." It was the same, he says, at Joseph's Jewish Bakery on 142nd.
Young Tony Sumodi - Note the mischievous smile
Tony recalls the woman known only as "The Chicken Lady". She was a Hungarian woman in a 1937 open-sided truck filled with crates of live chickens. She and her husband would drive up and down the streets ringing a bell and periodically they would stop when someone came out. The woman of the house would grab a chicken and "knead the hell out of it" to make sure it was not all feathers.
Once they chose a chicken the husband would tie twine around its feet and hang it up on a scale and the family would buy the chicken by hanging weight - two to three cents a pound. The family would take the chicken home, kill it and clean it and make dinner. He remembers his mother taking the cleaned carcass and holding it over a flame to get rid of the little pin-feathers.
"I still remember that smell to this day. That was some of the best chicken. The feet and neck made one hell of a chicken soup. Altogether different taste then what you get today."
Tony also remembers the junk man who would come around in a horse drawn wagon and buy your old pots and pans and scrap iron. "While he was in somebody's back yard with his hand held scale and this burlap sack that he put your pots and pans in to weigh, we were on the truck taking things off the truck and running four streets down and selling it back to him. Well, he knew. We kept an eye on the horse for him. We knew the time he was coming around. If he was late we would put the feedbag on the horse for him. He'd give us a penny - maybe two pennies and we were happy as a clam. That would buy a couple of Mallo Cups and everybody was happy."
The milkman was also subject to the pranks of Tony and his friends. They waited for the milk man to leave his truck and go to the apartments. That meant "the truck was fair game." They would not take the milk or dairy products, but instead took a big block of ice. They would take the ice someplace out of sight and hit it with a big rock until it broke it small pieces. "We would eat ice under the trees the rest of the morning."
Then there was the morning they found a bullet - a live 38 caliber bullet. They knew they could drop a rock on it or hit it with a hammer, but then the bullet would be gone. So they decided to go to East 140th and Able. That's where Mr. Albert's Jewish Variety Store was. "He sold everything… you name it and there it was, from Bisquick to eggs that weren't refrigerated."
They decided to take the bullet and rob Mr. Albert. They calmly walked into the store and declared their intentions, "Mr. Albert - we're going to rob you."
They each wanted a Powerhouse candy bar, a Nehi grape and two comic books. Mr. Albert pointed out that although he acknowledged they had a bullet, they seemed to be missing the gun. They didn't see a problem - they would merely push the bullet into him.
"The neighbors all said it was the funniest thing they'd ever seen. Five guys being chased down the street by this guy in his black apron and the kids were getting the living crap beat out of them with a broom stick!"
The story doesn't end there. They had to be home at 4:00 because that was when Tony's dad got home from his construction job and dinner would be soon. Tony knew he was in trouble because "every woman in the neighborhood was on their porches with their arms folded giving me that stern look. Needless to say for the next two months my world was encompassed by the small wrought iron around our porch."
Tony Sumodi in 2010
As Tony started to grow up his family moved to Mayfield Heights, which at that time was a big open field. "The only thing that was out there was May-Green, the big shopping center and the Mayland Shopping Center over by Lander and Mayfield." Tony was about 13-14 years old at the time.
He remembers there was a swamp behind the Mayland Theater. Every year in the winter the swamp would freeze over and there would be "a godzillion number of kids out there with ice skates." There were also bon fires. The police would always come, but did not try to stop the kids as long as there was no fighting or damage being done.
Tony remembers having his shoes kicked into the fire by mistake one night. He had to walk home in his skates and explain to his parents why "we had to go to JC Penney and dad had to spend $8.00 of his hard earned money to buy me another pair of shoes to go to school. That was really tough."
Tony went to St. Clare's Elementary School "Discipline Central" with the late Fr. Fitzgerald and the principal, Sr. Carlotta. Every morning the P.A. system would call a group of them, including Tony, to the principal's office to deal with the events of the previous day.
Tony finished grade school and went to Cathedral Latin where he says, "I think that's where we really started learning. We had brothers, priests, and laymen and they were all about your age. These were young brothers and we had a great time. But when they said 'that was enough" they meant that was enough. It was rare that they had to evoke corporal punishment because you just knew that the power was there if they needed it."
While at Cathedral Latin Tony experienced what he calls "the longest day in my life." He recalls a particular English teacher who was on the receiving end of pranks and such from Tony and his friends. The teacher finally had enough and reported them to the principal who gave them ten days to have counseling with this teacher or they would all be expelled.
"The tuition at that time was $250 and dad was paying every penny of it. So that meant that a lot of money, because his son was a screw up, would be wasted." Tony and his dad went to the meeting with the teacher and his dad ended it by giving the teacher carte blanche if Tony acted up again.
Looking back at it now, he admires and respects his father and "I have nothing but the fondest thoughts of dad and mom and I'm sure they're in heaven. Dad never did anything that wasn't warranted."
Tony says his dad had "an old world moral code written on his heart." He says it bothered his father a lot that times were changing and people weren't adhering to that moral code any more. His mother was a homemaker who went to work at the Glastic Corp. after they moved to Mayfield Heights.
There were two brothers at Cathedral Latin that had a major influence on Tony and his future. It was as a result of these men that he fell in love with the sciences, and specifically chemistry, mathematics and the natural sciences.
He graduated from Cathedral Latin in 1960 and then applied to and was accepted to Fenn College. He was the last of the graduating classes at Fenn before it became Cleveland State. "It was tougher than graduate school. Tougher than the professional schools."
He made himself a little office in the basement of his house with a Samsonite® card Table, a small gooseneck light and some pencil bits. It was here he studied and did his work. "When I die that's what I want - a little place I could work on Tensor Analysis because I think I understand it but not as much as I'd like".
Almost by mistake Tony was enrolled in the Engineering Science program. This program was geared toward one thing - graduate school. The dean was not sure Tony could handle being in that program, but since he was there told him he would watch him carefully and pull him out if need be. Tony graduated five years later with a 3.89, was on the dean's list for three consecutive quarters and had the undergraduate prize for research.
Once at Fenn he had the opportunity to study Quantum Mechanics. "And for me that just set off everything." Out of the thirty-three students in his program, only five graduated. Tony was the only one who went on and earned an advanced degree.
Tony's studies earned him acceptance at Carnegie Mellon, Rochester Institute of Technology and Case Institute (now Case Western Reserve University) and he chose Case. His decision was based on respect for the school as well as falling in love. He and six other students were interested in a class on SU (8) now called the standard model i.e., The Theory of Everything.
Nine students were required to be in the class. Tony and his friends tried to convince two biology students to sign up by taking them to Libido, a local college bar. The students never signed, and the class couldn't be offered at that time. In order to stay in the program he needed hours and the only open course was Comparative Religion. His advisor strongly suggested he take this class to relieve some of the pressure of the science/mathematics classes.
While he was studying one night a friend asked him to go on a double date with him because his girl friend had a roommate at St. Alexis School of Nursing. His girlfriend wouldn't go out if there wasn't a date for her friend. Tony is sure that if he were taking one of his science or math classes he would not have gone. But he did. His date was Veronica Rose Dorothy Thompson (Ron) also a nursing student and the woman who would be his wife.
Tony and Veronica (Ron) Wedding
In Tony's last quarter at Fenn they got engaged. This is what ultimately decided for him that he would be going to Case. Their first apartment was on Murray Hill near the Case campus. He says he never forgot his wedding date (August 6, 1966) because August 6, 1945 was the day we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
"There's a cosmic comment there. Another thing about it - the date is 8-666 - that's three sixes in there too." Joke as he might, Tony and his wife are still very happily married.
While in graduate school his daughter, Anastasia Marie (Stacey) was born. Times were not financially booming but they did what they had to do. Both sets of parents helped with babysitting or whatever else they could. Four years later their son, John came along.
"Things got very intense at that time. And the studies got really intense." But Tony had a keen analytical mind and a love for the subject and he did very well.
During this time, his wife went on to get her degrees in cardiac nursing and is now a Nurse Practitioner in Advanced Cardiac Trauma Care. "Quite frankly she has gone beyond what I was able to do"
Tony earned his PhD in Medical Physics and stayed on at Case to do research and teach.
He went to work for Polytech Inc. It is Ohio's oldest consulting company with offices throughout the country, designing everything from medical facilities to scoreboards to detention centers. He went there in 1977 with the intention of staying a few years and then starting his own company. He is still there today. "Every day is different. It's never dull. I think I need that."
Stacey married Ken and now Tony and Ronnie have a grandson, Niko. Stacey is also a nurse in cardiology. Ken is an investigator for Worker's Compensation Bureau.
Tony Sumodi walking daughter down the aisle
Tony also has a new granddaughter, Gianna born to John and Michelle. John is in hematology at University Hospitals and a part time firefighter in Willoughby Hills.
Tony and Ron like to spend time together and do things together, but they have no problem doing things on their own either. When their interests overlap, they share events and conversations. When the interests are their own, they have no problem going their separate ways and enjoying things separately.
Ron and Tony Sumodi
Tony is very involved in the Scottish-American Community, particularly Clan Grant and the SHANO (Scottish Heritage Association of Northern Ohio). SHANO was established in 1990 and lists its purpose as "the express purpose of cultivating "fond recollections of Scotland, its history and traditions, its literature and ideals, its minstrelsy and song, and its customs and amusements". "
Tony and friend in Scottish garb
The Clan Grant badge can be worn by any clansmen, regardless of rank. There is a belt and buckle creating the outside border which symbolizes the wearer's loyalty to the Chief of the Clan.
The center picture, without the belt, can only be worn by the chief.
The lion among the thistles is the logo of SHANO. Both the lion and the thistle are well known and easily recognizable symbols of Scotland. Tony is a past Chief, Tannist (Second in command) and Chaplain of SHANO.
Tony and Ron Sumodi at the 250th Robert Burns Banquet
He and Ron travel to Scotland every second year. Their first trip was actually the result of one of Tony's other favorite hobbies - drinking single malt whiskey. He is an aficionado of the finest whiskeys and belongs to an association of fellows, who, like him, appreciate quality beverages.
He and Ron have a ritual they enjoy every Saturday at 4:00. They work hard all week, and all day Saturday, until 4 at which time they sit down together - Ron with a tray of veggies, maybe some shrimp and other appetizer type foods she especially enjoys. Tony uses this special time to enjoy his whiskey and a fine cigar.
They have been partaking in this pastime for many years. It is truly quality time for the couple and something Tony looks forward to.
Humor is also a very important part of their lives. Nothing is "sacred" to Tony - he can find humor in anything. Whether it is a story, a prank, a joke or just a facial expression, Tony uses all possible methods of making people laugh. He is happiest when the people around him are happy.
Tony describes himself as a Conservative Christian anarchist. He wants to be remembered as someone who "left a footprint - made an impact somehow, someway. Maybe there's a student out there who would say 'if it wasn't for him...' Who knows? I hope so."
There are many brilliant men who are so entwined in their thoughts and their work that they miss out on life's joyful moments. There are many fun men who are so caught up in the next joke or prank that they forget the serious side of adulthood and family life.
It is not often you find a truly brilliant man who has achieved the right balance. Tony is such a man. He is able to talk about things most of us will never truly understand. Yet as he speaks, he makes you feel like maybe, just maybe, you are grasping what he is saying.
In the next breath he will be talking in an exaggerated voice and joking about just about anything. You will laugh - it is just not possible to hold back.
Tony's serious/intellectual side is important in so many ways. His intellect is quantitative - measurable in tests and numbers. Add to the equation that he is a man who, like his father, has a moral code written on his heart and who can make you laugh.
It would seem that Tony Sumodi has the answers to the important questions in life.
Would you take a lighter to the Mona Lisa? Watch this short video of Tony Sumodi's advice for life.