Pat Ziroli couldn't speak a word of English when he emigrated with his family from Italy to Lorain at age 12.
He and his then-14-year-old sister, Bice Ortenzi, were sent to Irving Elementary School where they were integrated into a classroom full of English-speaking kids and forced to learn the language to survive.
"For me, it was very hard," his sister said. "I cried. I wanted to go back (to Italy). My brother? He was OK from the first day. Nothing bothered him."
|The Dash Between: About this feature|
The dates of birth and death that appear like bookends on a tombstone do not matter as much as the dash between those dates. Award-winning writer Alana Baranick has made her living writing about the dash between. She’s focusing on Lorain and Medina counties and those who have made our area the unique and interesting place it is. Look for her stories on alternating Sundays and visit
www.chroniclet.com to find additional photographs.
The Dash Between is scheduled to appear twice a month in The Chronicle-Telegram. To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at email@example.com or (440) 731-8340.
Today, Alana Baranick examines The Dash Between July 31, 1946, when Pat Ziroli was born Pasquale Ziroli in Montenero Val Cocchiara, Italy, and Dec. 29, 2010, when the retired Lorain English teacher and soccer coach died at age 64.
Years later, Pat would become so proficient in the language that he taught English at Admiral King and Southview high schools.
The Lorain resident, who died of complications from cancer Dec. 29 at age 64, also went on to coach two Admiral King boys soccer teams to Erie Shore Conference titles in the 1990s.
He was born Pasquale Ziroli on July 31, 1946, in Montenero Val Cocchiara, Italy, where his parents, Adelfo and Filomena, farmed. His father also did construction work in Italy.
The couple took their kids to Lorain and lived in the neighborhood near the old St. Peter Church, where they had relatives. Adelfo ended up working at Lorain Community Hospital as a groundskeeper and maintenance worker. Filomena worked as a seamstress at Joseph and Feiss Co.
By the time Pat roamed the halls of Admiral King as a student, his accent wasn't terribly noticeable. After graduating from Admiral King in 1965, he majored in English and Latin at Bowling Green State University. He joined the teaching ranks in the Lorain Schools after receiving his degree from BGSU in 1969.
Initially, he taught English and coached basketball at Hawthorne-Boone Junior High. In the late 1970s and early '80s, he taught at Southview High School, where he became acquainted with fellow teacher Elizabeth Doraski.
"His family knew my sister's husband's family," Elizabeth said. "They used to tell me about 'this man' at Southview."
He won her over with his kindness, gentleness and morning conversations over coffee.
"He would never hurt anybody," she said. "He was a very loving man. He wouldn't kill a fly. He would catch a fly and throw it outside the window."
They were married July 4, 1981, at St. Stanislaus Church in Lorain. Their only child, Anthony, was born the following year. Pat mastered the art of fathering as he had mastered the English language - with focus, determination and practice.
Pat gave Anthony instructions and hands-on experience in everything from painting a living room wall with a paint roller and using a handsaw to even out the bottom of a Christmas tree to throwing a baseball and swinging a baseball bat.
He helped coach LEA, his son's Lorain youth baseball team. He indoctrinated Anthony as a fan of his own favorite professional sports teams. Together they watched countless televised games, rooting for a certain American League baseball team from Cleveland and for ACF Fiorentina, a soccer team from Italy, in its international match-ups.
"We followed Fiorentina, an Italian national team, during the World Cup," his son said. "He liked the Cleveland sports teams, too. He was a diehard Indians fan like anybody else."
Pat also served as an umpire at local baseball games and officiated at junior high and high school basketball games.
In the 1990s, Pat proved to be an exceptional soccer coach, guiding Admiral King boys soccer teams to an undefeated regular season, conference titles and divisional playoffs. He was named Erie Shore Conference Boys Soccer Coach of the Year in 1992, 1993 and 1994.
"He had probably the best rapport I've seen with student athletes as a coach," said his friend Jim Allen Popiel, who reports on hometown sports for WEOL radio. "They just adored him. They respected him very much. They were very much in tune with what he wanted them to do. You never heard anyone on the team or any other students speaking ill of Pat. He loved people, and they loved him."
Of course, his love for family trumped all else.
"He was a very private man and didn't do a lot of actually visiting, but he was like everybody's guardian angel," his wife said. "When he was needed, he seemed to be there."
After his aunt Elia Riegel was widowed, Pat routinely checked on her and offered his services to run errands for her or take her shopping. She said that although everyone in her extended family helps one another, "Pat was special. He was respectful. He wanted to take care of everybody."
Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday. Relatives from both his and his wife's side of the family converged at their Lorain home.
"We all ate and played together and just enjoyed each other," his wife said.
Pat especially doted on the children in the family, often teasing them and presenting them with silly gifts to endear himself to them. His sister recalls him giving her daughter oversized earrings, a fake Xbox 360 and garlic, which he decorated to hang on a Christmas tree.
Many mourners in the reception line at Pat's funeral apologized to his widow for smiling so much.
"They said they didn't mean to be disrespectful," she said. "He made them smile. He didn't say much, but, when he did, he brought happiness."