By Laura Stassi
April 27, 2015
Paul Peter Stassi was a man of faith, kindness, great humor and fun. He constantly challenged himself physically and mentally, and he possessed an infectious zest for life.
Newly minted Army Air Corps cadet Paul P. Stassi, circa 1943.
Dad was also an unassuming man. When he was stationed in Okinawa during the Korean War, he was awarded the Bronze Star, which is given for heroic or meritorious acts in a combat zone. But we don’t know exactly what Dad did to earn it. We think it had something to do with a jeep crash near the border. Dad wouldn’t talk about it, though. The most he ever said was that he didn’t think he deserved the honor. In his mind, whatever he did shouldn’t have been considered extraordinary.
Most of all, Dad was a family man. I could go on and on with stories describing his unending love and devotion…
How he worked throughout his childhood to help support his brother and sisters and after graduating from high school in 1938, went to work at Rockford (Illinois) Mitten and Hosiery for two years, at 35 cents an hour, so he could save money for college tuition and help his family pay the household bills. Then he almost didn’t go to the University of Alabama because he didn’t want to leave his baby sister, Therese, whose first word was not “mom” or “dad” but “Paul”…
How he went out of his way to make each of his six children feel special, and established family traditions that we’ve passed down to our own kids..
How he raved over my mom’s home cooking and long before any study came out touting the benefits, insisted we eat dinner together as a family every night…
And how, when faced with the prospect of paying for six college educations – most of them overlapping — he worked his veterans benefits and found a way to get paid for going back to school. Dad took night classes to earn extra money and wound up earning a second bachelor’s degree, in accounting. (And by the way, he also tutored, for free, a West Point cadet who was in danger of flunking out.)
There is not enough space here, nor words in the dictionary, to fully convey the measure of this man.
In these past few years, Dad often wondered why he was still alive when people far younger were dying every day. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings were especially upsetting to him; Dad always had a soft spot for children.
About three months after that tragedy, in early March 2013 after a joint birthday celebration with his sister Bena – she was turning 94 to his 93 — Dad fell and broke his neck. He searched for the meaning of his survival, and finally concluded he was spared by God because he was supposed to accomplish something else in his life.
Then Dad joined a Bible study group and discovered Genesis 6:3. Dad now was even more convinced he was supposed to accomplish something else because according to this verse, he said, he was going to live to the age of 120. So we probably had been a little premature, Dad added, in taking away the car keys.
Paul Stassi on his 95th birthday. (Photo by Laura Stassi)
But on March 22, 2015, the day Dad turned 95, he told us he missed his own father, and he missed his mother, and he was ready to go home. Several hours later, he had the stroke that launched him on that final journey. He died on April 12.
To my loving dad’s dismay, I’ve never been one to go along to get along. And so I’ll tell you that I think Dad got it wrong. I think God gave Dad these final two years not so he could do more, but so he could receive more. Hadn’t he earned it?
In the Bible, five is the number that represents God’s grace. And during these past two years, Dad experienced the joy of welcoming a fifth great-grandchild and a 15th grandchild. For a man like my father, for whom family was everything, these were surely the greatest gifts he could receive on this Earth, and proof of God’s grace.