Six months ago today, my father died. I didn’t expect it to happen — eventually, of course, but not eight days after I wished him a happy Father’s Day. In addition to the magnitude of the loss, in the days that followed I experienced an overwhelming sense of gratitude for not only his life and his role as my father, but also for his ancestry. My father never knew his grandparents; two were dead years before his birth, one died when he was 3 years old, and he had only a vague memory of his Polish grandfather who died when my father was six years old.
But my father loved his parents and his aunts and uncles and the stories they all told about his Polish and German roots. From their names, I pieced together a much larger story — a history of their ancestral origins and the places from which they came. Dad loved hearing about my discoveries and was continually surprised by what I discovered about his family.
After Dad’s death, I thought about all of those ancestors and felt profound gratitude for being the custodian of their memory. My father’s ancestors made him the person he was, and, in turn, made me. I am grateful to all of them as I am grateful to him.
On my last visit to my father (who, due to Parkinson’s Disease, lived in a nursing home for the last three years), I actually swabbed his cheek for a DNA sample. I had the kit for about six weeks before I finally took it over to him. As this was the last time I saw him, it was rather providential, a last (and lasting) gift.
Over the last nine years I’ve written here about my genealogical adventures, I’ve posted many tributes to my ancestors. I’ve written about Dad’s parents, his grandparents, and several ancestors much farther back. But it has taken me six months to finally write this particular ancestral tribute. I wish that all of my friends and readers could have known my father, and there is no doubt he would have made every one of you laugh out loud. But since that wasn’t possible, I’d like to introduce you to him via this too-short biography so that you will know a little bit about him. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to adequately convey in words just how much of an honor and a blessing it was to have called him “Dad”.
James A. Pointkouski
03 August 1934 – 27 June 2016
James Albert (“Jim”) Pointkouski was born on August 3, 1934, the first child of James and Margaret (Bergmeister) Pointkouski. His parents were both first generation Americans born in Philadelphia, PA. His father, James, was the son of Polish immigrants, while his mother, Margaret, was the daughter of German immigrants.
James, or “Jimmy” as he was then called, was baptized on September 2, 1934 at St. Peter’s Church at 5th & Girard in Philadelphia. The parish would remain important to his family for years to come. Jimmy attended St. Peter’s grade school, served as an altar boy, and also received the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation.
Jimmy’s only sibling was a sister, Jean, born in 1942. Their father worked as a truck driver to support the family while their mother maintained the household.
Jim attended Roman Catholic High School and graduated in 1952. As a teenager and young man, he loved attending neighborhood dances. One night, March 13, 1955, Jim attended a Sunday night dance at St. Boniface’s church — he had never been to that particular dance. Just over one year later he would marry the girl he met that night, Anita Pater. They were married at Resurrection of Our Lord parish on April 7, 1956.
Jim served in the U.S. Navy Reserves after high school, and in 1958 he was called upon for two years of active duty. He served aboard the U.S.S. Cadmus as the ship’s storekeeper. Although he didn’t enjoy it much at the time, his Navy experience and memories stayed with him for the rest of his life. He had fond memories of a Mediterranean cruise during which he visited Rome and Barcelona. Jim was very proud to have served in the Navy.
In 1958, Jim and Anita had their first child, a daughter who was stillborn. Their son, James Drew, was born in 1959. The family was completed with the birth of their daughter, Donna, in 1967. Jim and Anita’s first home was in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia, but in 1960 they moved to the “Far Northeast” section of the city.
After various jobs such as time-clock repairman (one of his personal favorites), blueprint machine operator, and a “customer engineer” for IBM, Jim became an accountant. In 1968 he started working at Wenczel Tile Company in Trenton, NJ. While working full-time at Wenczel and part-time at a gas station, Jim began attending Rider College at night. After fifteen consecutive semesters, he proudly obtained his B.S. in Commerce and Business Administration in 1975. Jim worked at Wenczel for twenty-five years until the company went out of business in 1993. Afterwards, he worked as an accountant at other companies and was also the business manager of a Catholic parish in South Philadelphia for a few years before retiring.
Although Jim was an accountant, he learned a lot about tile while working at the tile factory. As a “hobby” he began to remodel bathrooms and kitchens with new tile. He often helped friends in exchange for their remodeling talents.
In the 1970’s, Jim and Anita became active in “show business” at Archbishop Ryan High School (for Boys). The school’s “Mother’s Association” used to put on a show every year, and many of the dads joined in as well. Both performed in dance numbers, but then Jim branched out with his best friend, Frank, into comedy routines. The pair eventually became the comedy directors of the show. One year they performed as Elton John (Jim) and Kiki Dee (Frank) performing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”. They were also the Tin Man and Scarecrow in a “Wizard of Oz” skit, and the “Tinettes” — backup dancers for an Ike and Tina Turner rendition of “Proud Mary”. Jim and Frank’s final performance in the shows occurred in 1977, and it was their piece de resistance. The two performed technically correct dance steps in women’s ballerina costumes to “The Nutcracker Suite” without so much as cracking a smile. It was a huge success!
Jim was very active in his parish, Our Lady of Calvary. Over the years he served as an usher, a lector, and a Eucharistic Minister. He was among the first class (along with his friend Frank) to complete a ministry training program at St. Charles Seminary. Both men wanted to become permanent deacons, but at the time the parish didn’t have a need for any. Jim and Anita also sang in the choir for many years.
Jim became a grandfather for the first time in 1995 with the birth of his granddaughter, Natalie. More grandchildren followed: Ava in 2005, Nicholas in 2007, and Luke in 2009.
In September, 2013, Jim moved into Wesley Enhanced Living retirement home. He kept his nurses and caretakers entertained right up until his death. He passed away on June 27, 2016.
At Jim’s funeral, many friends gathered to honor his life. Jim would have been delighted to see four priest friends concelebrate his funeral Mass! Jim was known in many different roles. He was a faithful Catholic, a proud veteran. He was a loving husband for sixty years and a dedicated father and grandfather. He was an entertainer who loved bringing joy to others by making them laugh.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.
Those who live in the Lord never see each other for the last time. (German proverb)