Frank “Shorty” LoPatka was born in the small town of Chewton, Wayne Township, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, on Sunday, September 18, 1910. He was the seventh child born to John and Mary (Brinczko) LoPatka, both of whom had immigrated to the United States in the 1890’s from the Hungarian portion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (an area now in modern day Slovakia). (NOTE: The family name was actually LoPatka prior to about 1920. More on this later).
Frank, whose family lived on Plum Way just off the ball field in Chewton, grew up while attending the Chewton Public Schools. Sometime during the timeframe 1913-1917 Frank’s parents rented out their house in Chewton and moved the whole family by train to Cleveland, Ohio. After only three months they packed up and moved back to their home in Chewton.
Beginning in 1914 the monumental “Great War” (later known as World War I) raged across Europe, but the isolationist-minded United States managed to remain officially neutral for the time being. The LoPatka’s were potentially in a bad spot as their home country of Austria-Hungary joined ranks with Imperial Germany. People deemed as “enemy aliens” later came under the scrutiny and harassment of the federal government and the American public, but those of German descent bore the brunt of this harsh discrimination.
Sometime after war broke out the Reverend Frances A. Maloney, the pastor of St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Wampum, apparently convinced John LoPatka to change the spelling of the family surname to the more Americanized form of “LaPatka.” This was probably suggested as a way to distance the family from their native Austro-Hungarian homeland, which was aligned with Imperial Germany during the Great War. All the family members accepted this change except for son Frank, who kept the LoPatka name for the rest of his life.
On June 7, 1917, John and Mary purchased a 16-acre farm on the outskirts of Chewton (on Tony Dytko Road) from Philip and Elizabeth McConnell. The farmhouse sat in a peaceful valley, with a meandering stream, and at the foot of a series of large coal-bearing hills. The LaPatka’s, with total children including Frank, had a lot more room to grow out in the country. Five more kids were born out on the farm - Kay in 1920, Josie in 1922, Irene in 1923, and twins Pauline and Paul (he died a few months later) in 1924. With thirteen children (another three died at or just after birth) the LaPatka’s ended up having the largest family in Chewton.
Tragedy struck in August 1923 as Frank’s older brother Mike, at age nineteen, died after falling and hitting his head during a fight with another boy. Before too long the oldest kids started to move out into the world on their own. Frank completed the eighth grade in Chewton in about 1925 and briefly attended high school in Ellwood City and then Wampum. He left school for good to find work and help his family out financially. He held several jobs including with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company (B&O) in West Pittsburg. He later found long-term employment with the U.S. Steel Corporation in Ellwood City and eventually retired from there (in the early 1970’s).
While most of the LaPatka children moved out and started their own lives Frank and his youngest sister Pauline continued to live at the farm with their parents. Frank had several offers of marriage from woman, but he did not want kids of his own so he politely turned down their proposals. When the family patriarch John LaPatka passed away in July 1949 his mother, at age sixty-seven, needed him more than ever. Frank made a vow to never leave her and he would remain at the farm for the rest of his life.
Pauline soon moved off the farm and when mother Mary LaPatka passed away in February 1952 he was all alone for the first time. Frank took sole ownership of the farm and lived in the house by himself for many years. He once told me that three different women offered him proposals of marriage, but he turned them down as he preferred to live alone. He never owned a car and loved to walk. In fact he walked all over the place and was a regular fixture strolling through Chewton. Frank attended St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Wampum, was a member of the Polish White Eagles Club in Chewton, had a fondness for Beagles, and was an avid outdoorsman. In October 1972, he flew to Scotland with his sister Irene when she went to visit her daughter (and his niece) MaryAnn (DeMarc) Bales and family.
On January 19, 1979, a fire unfortunately burned the LaPatka house to the ground. Frank lived in Chewton with his sister Irene (and possibly Pauline and Josie) for a while before he bought himself a trailer. Meanwhile, he had the remains of the house completely razed and cleared. He placed the trailer on the same basic spot where the house previously sat. He also sold off about five acres of land for about $5,000.
Frank continued to live at the farm until his health worsened. In the early 1990’s he moved into the Hill View Manor in New Castle. He died at age eighty-three just after being transported to St. Francis Hospital at 7:30am on Wednesday, June 21, 1994. Marshall Funeral Home in Wampum handled the arrangements, but no public viewing was held. A Mass of Christian Burial service was held at St. Monica’s Church in Wampum on Friday, June 24. Frank was buried later that day in the LaPatka family plot, with his parents and brothers George and Joe, at St. Nicholas Catholic Cemetery off Route 422 in Slippery Rock Township. Unfortunately, the LaPatka farm is no longer in the family as sister Pauline sold it for $37,000 soon after Frank’s death.