It was on November 7, 1917 in Manhattan, New York that John (Jack) first came into the world, the son of Michael and Mary.
He was the second child, his sister Frances Reinach is two years older and now lives in California. Jack and Frances were later joined by a sister, Elsie, who died as a child from meningitis.
Jack served in the Navy during WWII.
He was married to Anne for 55 years before she died in 1995. They have one daughter, Diane who is married to Phillip Pekarik. They have Jack's only grandchild, Anya and Anya is the mother of his great grandson Andre.
Jack and great grandson Andre
Jack and his new bride were living in a two room apartment in New York City and Jack was working for the publisher of the phone directory. The war in Europe had started, but the United States was not yet involved.
The war still had an affect on businesses in the United States and Jack, like so many others at the time, was laid off. He found himself newly married and out of work. His wife was working in a factory making cigars.
Anne and Jack Petrusiak
Anne's sister and brother-in-law lived in Cleveland on 140th Street and Coit. Jack went to visit them and was "amazed at the quality of life here." Their home was diagonally across the street from Donavon's Loop which he says "I patronized rather regularly."
He enjoyed every minute of his trip. He especially remembers seeing Euclid Beach and being amazed. After about a week he went to see his brother-in-law at work on East 22nd Street and Payne Ave. at the Bonnell Tool and Dye Shop.
While he was visiting him, the boss offered Jack a job in the cutting room. Jack took the job and sent for his wife. They got an apartment in the same building as her sister.
After a very short time he was offered a chance to work in the tool and dye room as an apprentice.
Jack and his wife lived on East 143rd Street off of Coit Road for years. It was walking distance to the Plant. "We had Street Clubs and Block parties. It was really wonderful."
His wife especially loved the house, the neighborhood and the neighbors. "We never considered moving when the neighborhood changed. We made such wonderful friends. We had tremendous neighbors and we all lived in peace and harmony."
He felt the change in the neighborhood not because the people changed, but because drugs were introduced. "As children grew up and got into drugs it was devastating what happened to the street. We were all affected by it."
Jack would drive down his street and "my arm would get tired from waiving at people - all friends of mine. They called me 'Mr. Jack" and we had mutual respect for each other."
About a year after his apprenticeship began the United States entered the war and Jack joined the Navy.
He went to boot camp at The Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago. From there he was sent to Amphibious Training in California. His wife came out to visit him, but when he went overseas she came back to Cleveland.
Jack's wife gave birth to their daughter while he was gone. "I never came back until the war was over. The child was almost walking by the time I came back."
In the Pacific, Jack became a motor machinist mate. He was based in Oahu (Pearl Harbor). Part of what Jack did was help train troops for invasions in the Pacific.
"They never show everything in the movies you see. I remember trainees going through maneuvers getting sea sick on simulated invasions. We were at the mercy of the elements. One reason for the problem was because they used gasoline engines in maneuvers, but in actual combat they would use diesel engines. There were often casualties due to the elements. You never see that."
After the war Jack came back to Cleveland and went back to the job to finish his training. He became a Tool and Die Maker and Processor and spent the next 20 years there. Bonnell was finally sold and eventually closed up. Jack was invited to intern at the General Motors Coit Road Plant. He started as a Tool and Die Processor, then became a foreman and stayed there for the next 20 years as well.
Jack Petrusiak with friends the Carneys
Jack is a friendly man, easy to get along with, but he is passionate as well, and will do whatever he can to fight for something he believes in. This became very evident when the city of Cleveland wanted to put a prison on the old Fisher Body site. He formed a group called COPS "Citizens Opposed to Prison Site" and went to work to prevent the building.
Jack Petrusiak with great grandson and
Cleveland Senior John Murphy
At one time then Senator Mike White went on television and spoke about "statistics". "He said statistics shows this and statistics shows that. He never once told where those statistics came from or what study he was referring to." So Jack requested equal time in the television to present the opposing view - and it was granted.
He explained that in his opinion the "site was chosen because it would be lucrative to some people." In addition to his view that the prison would be bad for the city he thought it was a waste of tax payers' dollars. "They wanted to put in 500 beds at a cost of $40 million. That's $80,000 dollars and how many thousands more to maintain it. And the area could never be expanded if the prison needed to grow. So it would then be dormant." His committee wanted the prison built in Grafton where there was ample space and costs were less.
Jack Petrusiak with Jack and Sherry Carroll
Instead of a prison, Jack wanted to see Job Corps move in there. But that didn't happen. In 1990 Jack was part of another investigation at the old plant site when 140 drums of hazardous waste, 2400 gallons of PCB-laced fluids; lead paint and asbestos were all found in the abandoned building.
He went on to deal with the people in Columbus, have petitions signed and was part of 4 separate lawsuits. Jack won at least one major battle; the prison was never built there.
Don't I get a Mulligan?
He protested to Euclid City Council when they wanted to raise the cost of senior golf packages "This is our last hurrah... [Golf is] the last physical thing a lot of us seniors can do." He was even on the news talking about the futility of labeling liquor bottles with warnings.
Jack's home tells a number of interesting stories about the man. There is the cement bust of him sitting on his mantel. A friend of his, a die-caster at Fisher Body, made the original for him for an art show. After the show he gave it to Jack who put it in his attic and forgot about it. When he moved he took it out again and cleaned it up and a friend turned it into a cement bust for him.
He gave him four of them. One is at his daughter's house, one he has and the third was stolen. Signs were put up pleading for the return of "Jack". The fourth was at the Allegro Club until it closed and now it sits under a fig tree in Frank Longo's (Club owner) back yard.
Jack and friends belting out a song
Also in his home is a cage with two cockatiels. One bird is a yellow female, relatively new. "She doesn't do much except keep the male company." The male, however, is another story. Jack took his daughter to Woolworth's at Severance once about 26 years ago. The bird (now known as Mr. T) was flying around the pet department, unencumbered. Jack asked why it wasn't in a cage and they said the bird had the run of the place; he had been there a while.
Shortly after that when Jack was visiting his daughter - there was the bird. She had gone back and bought it. When she went on a vacation she left the bird with Jack and he's had it ever since.
Jack Petrusiak and Mr. T
"It has to be at least 28, maybe even thirty years old. When we first got him he was at least two and that was 26 years ago." He's a good companion for Jack. Mr. T talks and sings and Jack takes good care of him.
Continuing your tour of his house you can't miss the collection of baseball caps Jack owns. He has hundreds of hats with sayings, ads, pictures - you name it. He carefully selects the "hat of the day" before he goes out to one of his clubs and organizations.
You'll also see many examples of his Catholic faith from statues to prayer cards to crucifixes.
Then there are his trophies. A bowling trophy from the Knights of Columbus, a softball Trophy, and of course, golf trophies.
Jack is an avid golfer, still playing as often as the weather will permit. He also worked as a ranger at Briardale Greens and Manikiki Golf courses until this year when he fell and broke his hip.
"The hip is healed but the back is degenerating". If he's not playing golf there's a good chance you'll find him playing cards. But whatever he is doing you can rest assured he is surrounded by friends.
He is a member of numerous organizations including the East Side Irish American Club (which he joined through the efforts of his friend Jack Garin over twenty five years ago); Jack is a supporter of the Club's Pipe Band and in fact, has been named an honorary member.
Jack Petrusiak with IAC Pipe Band
Jack Petrusiak with IAC Pipe Band
He is also a member of the Collinwood Memories Seniors, Collinwood Memories Juniors, Retired Executive Club (Fisher Body), Knights of Columbus NE Council 2786, Knights of Columbus 4th Degree, Moses Cleveland, International Order of Alhambra, (specializing in assisting children with Downs Syndrome). He also belongs to PLAV (the Polish Legion of American Vets) and American Legion Post 9.
Jack Petrusiak in
Collinwood Memories Juniors
Jack is a person of passion and compassion. He is sincere and diligent. He abhors injustice and loves people.
He may be seen as a Don Quixote by some, but in the end his windmills are real. If he calls you friend you are indeed lucky.
Update: Our condolences to the family and friends of Jack Petruziak. Jack passed away September 11. 2010.
Profiled by Debbie Hanson
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