Marti's Theory

A Simple Man, A Life Well-Lived

Posted on: April 28, 2016

An early 20th century arranged marriage – as was the custom in the “old country” – resulted in a son born in Yugoslavia, a move to America and five more children, three boys and three girls. The move was timely, as Dan was born smack in the middle of the Great War.  His mom, Yeka, was a sweet woman/borderline saint and his father, Juro,  was a rather abusive old fart who made some money and bought up some land through bootlegging and a few other questionable ways. Juro (George) was not very respectful towards his wife and kids.  Since he was the baby of the family, Dan managed to miss the brunt of his father’s ways. and was even a little spoiled, according to his first cousin.

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George (Juro), Milan, Duchin and Daniel Wukelic

When growing up “in the sticks”, the main mode of transportation was horseback.  But Dan learned to drive an old model A when he was still in short pants, and managed to ditch school after the eighth grade in order to help on the farm.  Neither school nor farming was his thing, but he loved all things mechanical.  Cars, trucks, tractors, motorcycles, you name it.  Dan was just barely literate, but he could take apart any engine and put it back together just right.

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Dan and the gang at the Wukelic farm

He helped start a coal company with his brothers and father, and married Bessie Tepovich while in his early twenties.  Initally, the Wukelic Brothers Coal Company was a success. But the auto accident that claimed the life of his revered elder brother Milan did not have a positive effect on the company and the decisions made thereafter. But that came a little later.  For now, Dan became a father at twenty-six, and named his son Milan, after his beloved late brother.

 

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Sonny in the middle. Not sure who the toddler is, on the left.

 

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He was devoted to his little boy.  But that love was not enough to keep the contentious marriage alive, and it soon ended in a divorce – unusual for the times.  Dan continued to drive a coal truck for the family business.  When the US got involved in WWII, the government informed him that providing coal was a necessity to families in the cold Ohio region, so he would not be joining the armed forces.  We never really talked about it, but I can only assume that was fine with him.  Dan was a simple man, driven by routine, and conducted his life as such.

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In 1945, a nineteen year old part-time bookkeeper named Anne Vein caught the twenty-nine year old’s eye and they eloped to Virginia in October of the same year.  They lived in a tiny apartment at the opposite end of the building inhabited by his brother Duchin and his family.  It wasn’t ideal, but it was okay.  Shortly after the death of his first wife, his son came to share the apartment as well.  Initially, the boy slept in the kitchen.  Or at least, I think that’s what I was told.  During these years Dan’s hobbies included all things motor-oriented, particularly race cars.  He was not the driver, simply the car owner and sponsor.  Although he stopped racing in the early 50s, the race car lived in his garage – covered and up on blocks – for another decade.  I can still remember how it smelled of burned, hard rubber. But I’m getting ahead of the story again.

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Dan and his Caddy (pre-Hudson days)

The coal company continued for a few more years, but due to questionable decisions on the part of his other brother and to changing demographics, he left the family business and began making coal deliveries for Pier Coal Company.  Nine years later, Dan and Anne (yes, they rhymed) were about to have child #2.  Claiming the acre that was his and perhaps purchasing the second one from his father, Dan and Anne built their own home.  Red brick and sturdy – no straw houses for them!  In January of 1954, Dan became the father of a daughter.  Yes, that would be me.  He continued to haul coal, fix motors, help family and friends with car issues, wheel and deal by buying and selling items like industrial grade air compressors, and just pretty much being “Dan.”

He was a collector.  Not art, or anything of value.  Just … stuff.  Tools, parts, antique oddities, you name it.  By the early 60s, he had to build a second garage on the back acre to hold all the … stuff.  It was forever known as Danny’s Back Garage.

“Where’s that riding mower?”

“Oh, it’s in the Back Garage.”

“Hey, Dan . I need a winch to pull the transmission up out of the Buick.  You have one?”
“I think.  Let’s go look in the Back Garage.”

That garage was legendary.  It was like Felix’s magic bag.  It held everything anyone ever needed..

In the mid 60s, Dan went through a couple career changes.  First, he franchised two Texaco stations the first in Bloomingdale, then second on Sunset Blvd. I loved that phase, loved having our “stores.”  Or maybe I simply loved the never ending access to Nehi Cream Soda and Ice Cube chocolate squares. He was a hard worker and totally committed to customer service.  But he did not have a head for business, and had to give them up after a couple of years.

Shortly thereafter, Dan began working for Steubenville Transfer, owned by friend of the family Howard Bowers, as a delivery truck driver for Sears & Roebuck. He continued to deliver furniture for Sears for the next next twenty years or so. It offered good benefits, a Teamster wage, and great “markdown” opportunities.  Seriously. We had a top of the line pool table that he got for peanuts.  I’m still not sure why.  Perhaps it had a scratch.  Perhaps it was simply because he was Dan.  My mom and I had lots of nice clothes and a never ending parade of interesting vehicles to drive.  He worked hard for this blue collar existence, but provided well for us.

By the early 70s, both kids had moved out.  His son lived locally, but didn’t really visit much.  I kept in touch weekly, but generally lived at least a thousand miles away. Our distance was augmented by frequent visits to wherever I lived at the moment:  A father/daughter Disney World adventure, watching the Aspens turn to gold in Colorado and his lifetime dream – a trip to Hawaii.

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On our way to see Gallagher and the Spinners – Denver, late 70s

 

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Dan and Anne at City of Refuge, Kona late 80s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dan became a grandfather in the late 60s, early 70s to his son’s children, and then again in the 90s when I caught up.  And throughout his life, he was Uncle Danny to many – both literally their Uncle, but also from his heart.

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The last grandson

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Tim and his Pap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the mid nineties, two unfortunate events occurred.  First, Dan began to show signs of Alzheimer’s.  Secondly, Anne developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  Each situation was bad.  Happening at the same time, however, was exponentially worse. His son worked round the clock at two jobs and has his own family to deal with.  Plus, relations between father and son were strained.  And I was a continent and an ocean away, with my own family.

Luckily, Anne’s large group of siblings rallied around them, as did his son, and the support was welcome.  After an “all clear” signal and nearly three good years, Anne had a relapse and succumbed to cancer in October of 1996.  With the help of his sisters-in-law and son, he continued to live alone for another year or two.  But eventually, the disease became too great and I went to Ohio to get him settled into a nursing home and to liquidate a lifetime’s worth of … stuff.

The next couple years were basically without incident, if that’s the right phrase for those sit-around-and-wait final years. A nursing home life for an Alzheimer’s patient is an odd existence, but it was what it was.  He and his elementary age grandson got along famously during our annual visits.  I figured they were on the same wavelength.

Somewhere in late 2000, Dan was transferred to a different nursing home and died a few weeks later.    Interestingly, he made it to the 21st century, which was something he aspired to. When my dad passed away I was a single mom struggling to get by in one of the most expensive, farthest away parts of the country, so I wasn’t able to make it to my own father’s funeral.  But that’s okay because – to the best of my ability – I made it to his life.

Like every other human who has ever existed, my father had traits that could drive a person nuts.  He could be obstinate, was given to pouting, and made corny jokes that weren’t even in the same galaxy as being funny..  But mostly, he was kind, loving, sentimental beyond measure, Mr Fixit for a huge extended family and our friends, always up for jumping in the car and exploring the newest flea market, friendly to EVERYONE, totally dedicated to his family and I’ll tell you – this man could spot a screwdriver on the side of the road while traveling 50 mph and would totally commit to turning around to retrieve it.  Yes, that was Dan, in a nutshell.

So why chronicle this simple, humble life?

Because today, April 28, 2016, would be his 100th birthday.  And I thought you should know about him.

 

 

 

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8 Responses to "A Simple Man, A Life Well-Lived"

What a great gift you have here.

This is a man that I took for granted for essentially most of my life. Never realized what a stable, loving, caregiving “behind the scenes” force he was.

Wonderful, Marti. Made me smile and shed a few tears. Hugs for you today, my friend.

Beautiful story, beautifully written. Thanks! I didn’t realize how much older your brother is – explains a lot, although not how your dad could have let go of the Hudson convertible. Happy birthday, Mr. Wukelic.

Man, if only that Hudson was still around … Do you remember the one he had when we were in high school?

Marti, Marti. I loved your dad–always kind, always smiling, patient with us kids. And I always liked his corny jokes, like “cookie duster”. It still make me smile. It’s a breed of gentleman that is hard to find now. Lucky to call him dad.

Marti, mahalo for sharing your beautiful tribute to your father. Coincidentally, my father’s birthday was April 29, and reading your piece made me realize that he would have been 99 years old today. He was a good man, like your father, but without one lick of mechanical sense. Ben passed from Alzheimer’s in 2000 after years in a nursing home. But knowing the end was near, my mother brought him home, and I was able to take family leave from my job to help her care for him. It was the best thing we ever did together. God bless our fathers, who gave so much of themselves for us. ❤ ❤ ❤

And of course…there was always the long distance phone call where he would predictably ask, “honey…how’s the car?” Lol. Love you, Dan, &Anne!

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