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The Dash Between: WWII vet Paul Dziak received diploma at age 80

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Paul Dziak got the call from the school board in 2003, informing him that he was finally going to graduate from Clearview High School. He was 80 at the time. “He was beaming from ear to ear,” his son Ron said. Paul had dropped out of high school in the early 1940s to serve his country as a soldier in World War II.

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Following his wartime service, he snagged a job at Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co.’s Avon Lake power plant. His wartime service superseded his need for a diploma. His Bronze Star Medal for heroic action didn’t hurt either. The Sheffield Township widower, who died September 28, 2010, at age 87, served as a radio operator with the 44th Infantry Division’s 71st Infantry Regiment during the war.

The Dash Between: About this feature

The Dash Between is an obituary feature written by Alana Baranick about regular folks from Lorain County and adjacent areas. Baranick wrote her first obit in 1985 when she was a reporter for The Chronicle. She wrote obituaries for Cleveland’s Plain Dealer from 1992 through 2008.

She is the chief author of “Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers” and director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers. She won the 2005 American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award in the Obituary category. Today, Alana Baranick examines The Dash Between January 25, 1923, when Paul Dziak was born in Cokeburg, Pa., and Sept. 28, 2010, when the CEI retiree and World War II veteran died at age 87. The Dash Between is scheduled to appear in The Chronicle every other Sunday. To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com. Read more of The Dash Between:

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“When they first landed, they were in their trenches,” his son said. “The commanding officer said, ‘I need a radio man,’ and pointed to my dad. Whatever was needed, he was there. Always. You didn’t have to ask him.” Paul voluntarily left his post of cover near Gros Rederching, France, early in 1945 and made his way through a barrage of enemy fire to repair vital communications lines that had been severed. This action resulted in his receiving the Bronze Star. He also took home battle stars, showing he had served in three campaigns in the European theater of operations, and the long-lasting effects of trench foot, evidence of his having been holed up for a month in subfreezing temperatures. “His feet were absolutely frozen,” his son said. “He never went without shoes because he was ashamed of his feet. It affected him standing and walking, but he never let on.” On June 5, 2003, Paul strode into the spotlight at the Lorain Palace Civic Auditorium during the Class of 2003 commencement ceremonies to receive his high school diploma. “When they recognized him as being a World War 2 vet, he ‘stepped to,’ like he was standing at attention,” his son said. “One of my best friends was on the school board. She said, when she shook his hand, she could feel the pride and the love.” Paul was born January 25, 1923, in Cokeburg, a mining town in southwestern Pennsylvania. He was the 5th eldest of 14 children born to Slovak-immigrant parents. Two of his siblings died in early childhood. His father moved the family to Lorain before Paul was out of diapers. Paul was 12 when the family settled in Sheffield Township in 1935. Paul’s brother, John, said, “My dad worked in the mines (in Pennsylvania), then Thew Shovel in Lorain, then at CEI. Six of his sons got there too. They used to call it the Dziak Illuminating Company.” Paul worked his way up to a plant shift supervising engineer and retired in 1983. He had a second job with the Sheffield Township road crew. In the 1950s and ’60s, Paul served on the newly established Sheffield Township Volunteer Fire Department. A pole holding the siren/whistle that called firefighters to emergencies was erected between the backyards of the Dziaks and the Tardio family. Paul’s wife, Judy, served as a leader of the Blazettes, the fire department auxiliary. The couple met while roller skating at the Lorain Arena roller rink. “Dad was on a date with some other gal,” his son said. “He asked a friend to take her home,” so he could pursue Judy. They were married on Jan. 25, 1947 – Paul’s 24th birthday – and raised two sons: Ron and Jeff. Paul helped Judy with laundry, shopping and other duties that were considered women’s work by people of their generation. “My mother didn’t drive until the ’70s,” their son Jeff said. “She never knew how to pump gas because Dad always did it for her.” After Judy’s death in 2002, Paul did things for other women. He used his riding lawnmower to cut the grass of a widow across the street. He delivered bags of tomatoes and cucumbers from his backyard garden to women he saw at church. “He was a flirt,” said Patty Echko, a neighbor who grew up with his sons. “He would flirt with me. He had his lady friends that he would have dinner with. He was somewhat of a ladies’ man with a sly little smile. He was ‘suavé.’ ” Paul was a past council president, usher and anniversary chairman at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Lorain. After the parish closed last year, Paul attended Mass at St. Vincent DePaul in Elyria Township every Sunday. He had served as president of First Catholic Slovak Union Branch 228, as auditor of National Slovak Society Assembly 160 and on the board of directors of the American Slovak Club in Lorain. Paul had been a precinct committeeman for the Democratic Party and a member of the Sheffield Township Board of Appeals. “He was in a lot of things,” said Echko. “As he became older, he became a porch critic. He kept his finger on the pulses without being there.” Echko described him as a great father, loving husband and good neighbor. “He was truly a gem.” Contact Alana Baranick at (440) 731-8340 or abaranick@chroniclet.com. [smugmug url="http://elyriact.smugmug.com/hack/feed.mg?Type=gallery&Data=14082826_RpWTA&format=rss200" imagecount="100" start="1" num="100" thumbsize="Th" link="lightbox" captions="true" sort="true" window="false" smugmug="false" purchasable="false" size="M"]

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