Tag: grandpa


20 years ago. April 18th, 1999. That dates holds a few key moments in my life and in my genealogy research. My paternal grandfather, Richard Zalewski, passed away on that day. He was the first grandparent I had lost, so it was a life milestone. Also, I always use that day as the day I started my voyage into genealogy. I’ve told that story before.

Last year I made the realization that it was the same amount of time from when I was born to the day he died and that same day until last year, 19 years. I had known my grandfather as much as I was without him. So, now the realization is that this year the balance is tipping in the latter direction.

Since that day in 1999, I have now lost all of my grandparents, but fortunately that has only happened recently, so I was able to enjoy their company for many years. His death was always harder on me since it was the first major death that directly affected my life, which made the later ones a bit easier to swallow after experiencing it once.

For the longest time (almost 20 years) my Zalewski line was the shortest and most difficult to crack. A few years ago I did make some headway into that brick wall and then only a few months ago I finally slammed through it and made many more discoveries (and ran into another one of those infinite brick walls.)

I always wonder how much quicker I would have made it through that brick wall if I was able to talk to him about his family history. A lot of his ancestors were mysteries for awhile and some of them may have had some interesting stories. I really would have loved to talk to him about his mother, Emily (Troka) Zalewski, who passed away in 1941 when he was only 19 years old and away in Florida in Navy school.

I would’ve loved to talk to him about his grandfather, Frank Zalewski, and about his personality and other small things since he lived until 1941, also, and my grandfather would’ve definitely known him well. He lost his grandfather at the same age I lost my grandfather.

There is this thing I heard somewhere recently, but I forget where, about imagining how far back you can connect to your ancestors by visualizing each ancestor that was able to hold hands with their grandparents, and so on, which in turn connects you to them since you held your grandparent’s hand. If you think about it, based on how long some generations lived, you can sort of feel that connection to your deeper ancestors.

Me, my grandfather/Santa, and my older brother.

So, today is a bittersweet type of day. I fondly remember my grandfather and everything he means to me, but I also thank him for sparking that fire in me that has brought me joy and mystery and challenges and meaning to my life for the past 20 years. Miss you every day, Grandpa.

LeRoy Arthur Thielke

16 November 1925 – 1 November 2015

Today we lost a wonderful, hard-working, funny man, my grandfather, LeRoy Thielke. Growing up, he was one of the funniest people I knew, and his wit and sense of humor was still sharp until the end. The bright side is that he wasn’t without the love of his life for very long before being reunited with her. My son is indirectly named after my grandpa, who was usually called Lee, which is my son’s middle name.

LeRoy Arthur Thielke was born on 16 November 1925 in Chicago, Illinois. His parents, Arthur & Madora (Last) Thielke, had moved to the area from Wisconsin a few years prior. They probably moved to the area to follow a job of some sort. The family including his older sister, Eleanor (who is still alive) and his two younger brothers, moved back to the Ozaukee County, Wisconsin area by 1930. Sadly, he was only 2 weeks shy of his 90th birthday. He married my grandmother on 28 August 1948 and they were married for 67 years before she passed away in February 2015.

What I remember about Grandpa from when I was younger is that he always seemed to smell like motor oil. He was constantly working on something around the house or at the cottage on Pike Lake. To this day, the smell of motor oil reminds me of him. I like to think that my quick wit and sense of humor partially came from him as he was always fast with a quip or a joke. I always liked when he said “Hi, Grandpa” on the annual Christmas home video in response to “Say ‘Hi’, Grandpa!”

Within the last few years, I learned a little bit about his time during World War II in the European Theater traveling through England, France, Belgium, and Germany. A few years ago, I did a large post about his service that I am extremely proud of. I do regret not asking him more about his service before he died, which is a lesson to everyone else out there. Ask early and ask often.

His passing is also a sad milestone in my life as I have now lost all four of my grandparents. It’s an odd, empty feeling, I guess. I do plan to post more about that aspect in a day or so.

Grandpa, thanks for making me laugh, teaching me to fish (even though it didn’t really stick), showing me all of your machines, pointing me down the right path, and just being an all-around awesome grandpa. We’ll miss you everyday, but we’re glad that you’re now taking care of Grandma and, honestly, probably giving her a hard time.

Here is the video I created for his memorial. (Video will pop-up on site.)

And as I float along this ocean
I can feel you like a notion
That won’t seem to let me go
‘Cause when I look to the sky
Something tells me you’re here with me
And you make everything alright
Train – “When I Look to the Sky”