Eulogy for Eugene Edward Stopha June 26, 2021
September 2, 1935 – January 31, 2020
–Written and delivered by Joel Stopha
Dad was born in 1935, in the heart of the Great Depression. His early childhood in Blasdell, NY, included the second-half of the Depression and the the entirety of World War II. Imagine if that was the world as you knew it the first 10 years of your life. If you ever wondered why my Dad always collected “pop” bottles and cans or why he was always looking to ‘re-purpose’ items rather than throw them away, consider his childhood. Also consider that Dad graduated from high school just a month before the end of the Korean War.
Many of you may not know this, but when Dad started working at the Bradford Club and NY state instituted the 5 cent can and bottle deposit, Dad found “party spots” in Pennsylvania, and on his way home from Bradford, he would stop to collect hundreds of discarded beer cans each week. He turned others trash into his weekly allowance (just like when he was a kid). From the time I could remember, Dad’s entire paycheck went to Mom to pay bills and provide for our family. His spending money was always made on side-gigs such as can collecting, firewood sales (my dad cut his fair share of firewood!!!), and misery utilization of his “gas allowance” from the Bradford Club. (If you want that story, see me at the reception).
Dad, affectionately known as “Sonny” by his parents and close family members, found that he enjoyed and had a knack for the food service industry. As a teenager, he would get up at 4:30 in the morning, and work at a bakery from 5:00 – 7:30, then go to school. Can you imagine any 16 year old in the last 40 years doing this? Me neither, but Dad always did the things he needed to do to without complaining.
Dad’s high school nickname was “Jet”. Dad would never tell me what the nickname stood for, and when I asked my Uncle Dickie what was in the name, he said, “your dad could run like the wind” (I said, “Yea, probably from the authorities”). Considering the source, Uncle Dickie, God Rest His Soul, and the fact that no other Stopha was ever fleet of foot, I conclude that “Jet” was not for his ability to run, but for his Slicked Back, Jet Black hairdo!!
When I spoke with my cousins who spent a lot of time with Dad at their remote cabin on the Georgian Bay in Canada, that said that Uncle Gene was a “Comfort Person” to them. Always making sure everyone who wanted to fish had a pole that worked properly, untangle fishing line with patience, and most of all teaching them how to Gut and Fillet a fish when they caught it. Dad’s attitude was, “If you were going to catch it, then you were gonna learn how to clean it.” They knew that when Uncle Gene was around, everything was going to be OK.
I mentioned Dad’s knack for the food service industry. I say knack, because he never wrote anything down. His brain was a “Recipe Rolodex”. In 1971 when Caroline Cash and Jake Schreiber wanted Dad to prepare for 250 people for their wedding reception in Caroline’s parent’s back yard, Dad knew exactly how many pounds of meat to prepare, how many pounds of pasta to purchase, and how many rolls to buy. Dad was just flat out “good” at pulling things together and preparing enough food for large events. He picked that up in the Army and by catering so many large events. Anyone here ever remember ever running out of food when Dad was around? I can’t!
One skill Dad never learned was kitchen clean up!! His attitude was, – he cooked it and so it was someone else’s responsibility to clean it up. That simple! But his cooking was so good, it was ALWAY worth cleaning up after him.
Dad volunteered to prepare the food or cater countless graduations, wedding receptions, parties, event. Raise your hand if you ever attended an event my father catered.
Dad struggled in the classroom. When I was in high school, he would check in on me when I was studying in my bedroom. Dad would always ask, “What are your studying?” No matter what subject I was studying, Dad would always say, “Sorry I can’t help. I wasn’t very good at Geometry, Chemistry, Biology, or whatever subject I named. He would say, “I only got a “C” in that in High School.” Physics was the only exception. Dad told me more than once, “I don’t get that Physics stuff. I had to take it twice. Got an “F” the first time and a “C-” the second. Dad was living proof of what Uncle Mark tells all of his nieces and nephews, “C’s get Degrees”
While Dad struggle in an academic setting, he saw formal education as a bright path for his kids. On many occasions, Dad told me, “I will do whatever I can to help you and your brother and sisters get an education. If that means I have to work 3 jobs, then I will work 3 jobs.” Fortunately, Dad didn’t have to work 3 jobs to get us all through college, but knowing that he was willing to was always comforting.
Dad loved short sayings, nicknames, and terms of endearment. Dad coined the term, “Pizza – Pizza” with the Schreiber kids in the early ’70’s, long before Little Caesars existed. After the kids repeated his , “Pizza – Pizza”, Dad would follow that up with, “Tasty – Tasty”. Is it any wonder that one of Dad’s favorite words was, “Tasty”. Raise your hand if you ever heard my Dad say, “Taaaasty”
Dad loved nicknames.
my brother-in-law, Glenn, was “Glennie”
and my sister, Paula, was “Pea Picker”
my sister Julie’s friend, Stacy Manning Richardson, a West Point Grad, was “The General”
Julie, a Naval Academy Grad, was “The Admiral”, and their friend, Erin Webb Kearns, was “The Queen” (a term of endearment)
Not to be mistaken with Bonnie Davis, who was “Queenie” (also a term of endearment) My son, Clay, was “Opie”
Eileen Schaffner was “The Rich Lady” (again a term of endearment)
Dad’s friend, Brian Belden was “Mr. B”
and finally, Gary Baker, another one of Dad’s friends, was Coop De Grassie – the phonetic pronunciation coup de grasse (leave it to Dad)
Most men of Dad’s generation wanted to “make a difference” by being good providers for their families, good “fix-it Fathers”, and good, loyal friends. While Gene certainly “made a difference” in many of our taste buds and stomachs with his wonderful cooking, I can certainly say that he “made a difference” in my brother and sisters lives by being a good provider, a good father, and our biggest encourager. Thanks Dad. And when Dad entered Heaven, I am sure the Lord said, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” – Thank you.