Not Your Average Joe
In Memory of Joseph Paluch: February 28, 1932-April 30, 2019
A couple weeks ago my Grandpa Joe passed away after a long and fulfilling life. This past weekend I attended his funeral and spent quite a bit of time reflecting on what I learned from my grandpa. I wasn’t always the best at keeping in touch with him or any of my extended family (shoot I struggle to call my parents and sisters on a regular basis). The time I did spend with my grandpa however, helped to shape me as a person and an athlete.
My grandpa was born in the early 1930s, toward the beginning of the Great Depression. His parents were Polish immigrants and Joe was the youngest of 13 children. The Paluchs lived and worked on the south side of Chicago. I believe they were all factory workers. My grandpa grew up in a strict household which also overflowing with love and care. When WWII came around, several of Grandpa’s brothers joined the military and served in Europe. After all, WWII began with the invasion of their homeland, Poland. Initially during WWII, US citizens all came together to massively support the war efforts in Europe and the Pacific. The war helped bring us out of the depression and create a generation of hard working, passionate, and patriotic Americans.
In the late 40s, Grandpa was in high school and played sports such as basketball and baseball. I distinctly remember him being proud of his high school athletic career. His basketball team had a couple of future NBA players on it. Grandpa saved an article from a Chicago newspaper telling about how Joseph Paluch pitched a 1 hit shut out during the 1950 high school baseball season. Supposedly Gramps was drafted by the Chicago Whitesox and offered the opportunity to play in one of their Minor League organizations. However, he didn’t take the opportunity instead electing to go into the Airforce and serve his country during the Korean Conflict.
After that I really don’t know much about my grandpa’s life until my Mom’s memories of him begin and even those are just snippets and fragments. I know my grandpa was a disciplinarian and liked organization. He pushed his kids to not just be theirbest, but to be thebest. I remember him reflecting with my mom saying “You know Annie, you were a great golfer in your early teens, but you could’ve been a pro if you’d just practiced more and worked at it a little harder.” My mom did go on to be a distinguished student in school and was enrolled at Arizona State University before meeting and marrying my dad.
I knew my grandpa was a very successful businessman. He was the President of Fulton County Cold Storage in Chicago, and served as the President of the International Association of Refrigerated Warehousing. When Dad got out of the Marine Corps he was planning to work for United Airlines but United went into a hiring freeze and Grandpa Joe offered him a work opportunity. That opportunity?…Cleaning toilets and doing other maintenance tasks around Fulton.
Grandpa didn’t believe in handouts. He believed in “hand ups”–helping out family by giving them a chance, but they needed to earn their own way. That’s what happened: my dad scrubbed toilets and worked in the engine room at Fulton County Cold Storage until one day an employee passed away from a heart attack. Grandpa needed someone to step into this logistics role and offered the opportunity to Dad. He took it and moved his way up. My grandpa taught my dad a lot about business in those early couple of years at Fulton so when Dad was offered an opportunity to manage a chain of Cold Storage warehouses in Florida, Grandpa encouraged him to take the opportunity and make the best life possible for his family.
Over the next several years grandpa was involved in our lives. He and his first wife (my Grandma Dorothy) helped out where they could as my parents dealt with numerous hospital visits for the first six years of my life. They didn’t smother us. Grandma and Grandpa had more of a “be with each other in the moment attitude” rather than a “be involved with everything attitude.”
It was around this time that I started developing my own memories of my grandpa. He could be stern and strict, but he was also fun. He loved playing card games with us kids. Early on it was things like Go Fish and Uno. Once we got to be teenagers the games changed to Gin and Gin Rummy. The most memorable thing about Grandpa was his competitiveness. I couldn’t beat him in a game of cards until I reached my teens when I finally bested him at a game of gin. Every time he won a game he had this little victory song he’d sing. As little kids we hated it. “Grandpa, that’s not fair. You should let us win because we’re kids. This isn’t fun.”
“Of course it’s not fun,” Grandpa would say as he munched away at a Louigie’s Italian ice, “Winning is fun! And someday you’ll beat me and you can sing the victory song and you’ll realize that.” The day did eventually come for all of us grandkids whether it was in a game of cards or a board game. We all eventually beat Grandpa at least once, but we had to bust our butts for years to do it. When we did win, we sang that victory song with gusto and realized that Grandpa was right… Winning is fun – when you earn it.
That lesson in particular has defined my athletic career. There are some who’ve asked me why I’m so hard on myself when I take 2nd or 3rd in a race. “That’s an incredible result,” they say. Or, “as long as you’re having fun, nothing else matters.” If you’d grown up doing everything you could to beat your Grandpa at Gin, you might understand. Grandpa taught that lesson to a lot of people and everyone has their own “winning is fun” story, but Grandpa taught us a lot more than the value of winning.
The want to win certainly taught me the value of perseverance and persistence. It also taught me the value of good sportsmanship because after the first time I beat Grandpa in cards I definitely rubbed his big Polish nose in it. He then proceeded to absolutely obliterate me in every card game for a long time. I eventually learned how to both win and lose a little more gracefully and not toot my own horn when I did win (most of the time at least).
Grandpa also taught me the value of family. Grandpa Joe wasn’t always physically present in our lives but he was always a phone call away and when we visited him in Naples, Fla or he came to Jacksonville to visit, it was like no one else mattered.
In 1999, my Grandma Dorothy passed away from colon cancer and in 2004 Grandpa Joe married a wonderful Italian American woman named Roz. To this day Nanna Roz still makes the best Chicken Parmesan I’ve ever had—and that includes what I’ve had at high-end Italian restaurants, as well as my mom’s own chicken parm which follows the exact same recipe as Nanna’s, but still doesn’t compare.
Roz softened Grandpa up as he got older. He became a much more fun loving and easygoing man. As I grew up I enjoyed sitting at the table listening to Grandpa reminisce about days at Fulton and how proud he was of my mom and dad for doing so well with the opportunities they’d made for themselves. He was always quick to tell us all when we made him proud.
It was through my Grandpa Joe that I got my biggest speaking engagement—the 2004 International Association of Refrigerated Warehousing International Convention. I was 12 years old and had spoken at some Rotary Clubs and American Cancer Society Board meetings and events. I’d spoken in front of schools and churches, but nothing compared to speaking in front of nearly 1000 business professionals, many of whom English wasn’t their first language. Fortunately I didn’t have to give the speech alone. My dad was going to anchor the keynote presentation. I got the first 30 minutes (the event organizers thought 60 minutes was a bit much to ask of a 12 year old boy) and Dad would tie everything back to business for the last 30 minutes. The topic on which Dad and I chose to talk was “Values”.
As a kid I vaguely understood the importance of having a value system, but I wasn’t an expert. I knew that family was important; hard work yielded results; it was always better in the long run to be honest; trust in people and yourself is critical to success; staying humble will yield more rewards than bragging; showing respect made others respect you; and so much more. Nearly 15 years after that speech, the value topics I barely understood are more prevalent in my life. Those values are what has molded me into the person I am. I think many of those values were the very same ones my Grandpa lived his life by and passed on to his children and grandchildren.
Some might say that you have to be cut throat, nasty, or a jerk to truly be successful and make a lot of money – only the average people bother with that moral compass shit. My Grandpa wasn’t an average Joe yet he proved that sticking to your core values will help you become successful in business and life. I will continue to live my life based on the values my Grandpa Joe exemplified. This is how I will honor his memory.