George LoPatka (later given as LaPatka) was born in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, on Sunday, May 5, 1901. He was the first child of 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).
George’s parents had both resided and met on the south side of Pittsburgh, not far from the PL&E train station that is now part of the modern-day Station Square complex. They had come to Pittsburgh from other areas of Pennsylvania - John had made his way from Johnstown and Charleroi, while Mary made her way down from the small town of Chewton near New Castle.
John paid $.50 for a marriage application on February 2, 1901, when Mary was six months pregnant with George. Mary was 18 years of age but lied on the marriage application to make herself appear to be four years older (she apparently would need extra documentation to get married if under age 21). On the marriage application John listed both their addresses as #521 6th Street, Southside, Pittsburgh. They lived near and attended St. John the Baptist Byzantine Church - just east of the Liberty Street Bridge and Liberty Tunnel.
They completed the application, but there is no record that they were ever married in St. John’s or the Allegheny County courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh. It appears likely that they never got married at all. Two days after George was born he was baptized at St. John’s by the Reverend Stephan Jackovich, with his sponsors being Michael Vrabel and Maria Brindza.
Soon after George was born Mike Burik, Mary’s half-brother who had brought her over from Austria-Hungary, apparently convinced John to move his family up north to Chewton. Mary, who did not get along with Mike’s wife, was not happy to leave the big city to return to rural Chewton.
John and Mary lived in a house on Plum Way in Chewton, about a block off the square where the ball field is located and right behind Robertson’s general store (later Kubinski’s store). John worked various jobs while Mary stayed at home as a homemaker. Many more kids followed: Anna in 1902, Mike in 1903, and John in 1904-05 (but died at birth), Mary in 1907, Joe in 1909, Frank in 1910, John in 1913, Steve in 1915, Andrew in 1916, and Pete in 1917 (but died at birth).
George, who attended the Chewton Public Schools, was an extremely smart child and could play several musical instruments. During the 1914-15 school year he was in a combined fifth and sixth grade class and had Ms. Nancy Crawford as his teacher. His fellow classmates included Tony Biega, Jack Guy, Edna Houk, Mary Powell, Joseph Burik, Jimmie Butchelli, and his sister Anna.
Sometime during the timeframe 1913-1917, when George was a teenager, his 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.
Sometime about 1920, 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.” All the family members generally 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. Five more kids were born out on the farm between 1920 and 1924 and the LaPatka’s ended up having the largest family in Chewton. George, who apparently had a genius IQ, went to work at Mathews Conveyer in Ellwood City and helped devise ideas to improve their conveyer products. It seems he was not a hard physical worker but was a great idea man.
Sometime prior to 1920, 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.” All the family members accepted this change except for Frank, who kept the LoPatka name for the rest of his life.
Tragedy struck in August 1923 as George’s brother Mike, at age nineteen, died after sustaining a serious head injury - possibly after falling and hitting his head during a fight with another boy. George was very close to Mike and was completely heartbroken. He withdrew from most activities, started to fight with his father a lot, and even refused to work after this. One day (I believe in 1930 or 1931) they had a terrible fight and the next day George left town without a word.
He traveled from town to town and often wrote to his mother to let her know he was ok. This apparently went on for years and the family really had no idea where he was at most times. One day in 1937, Charles Repman, who had a store in Wampum, came out to the farm. He said he had received a call asking him to notify the LaPatka family that George was being held at Willard State Hospital in upstate New York.
It seems George was picked up as a vagrant by the police in the town of Seneca, New York, and (per custom) taken to the local mental hospital. The hospital staff said he had tuberculosis and was receiving treatment. The family hired an attorney in New Castle and unsuccessfully attempted to gain his release. The hospital management said he was under observation and would be held there indefinitely.
Many of the residents of the hospital, which was a virtual self-supporting community with its own farms and manufacturing buildings, were required to work. George refused to cooperate, often clashed with the staff, and said he was beaten on several occasions. The family visited him several times over the years. During one of the visits he told his mother he wanted out because he feared he would become crazy like many of the other patients there.
He was finally granted his release in 1952 and made his way home to Chewton. Both of his parents had since passed away and he stayed with his sister Josie (and her husband George Teck) at the Connor House on Oswald Street in Chewton. George refused to work and was apparently a handful to deal with. At night we would have terrible nightmares and would have to be restrained so he did not hurt himself. Unfortunately, after spending fifteen years in the hospital, George was apparently institutionalized and not able to return to normal society. After less than a month the family decided it was best to send him back to Willard.
George spent the rest of his days at Willard and died there at 12:30am on Saturday, November 25, 1972. He was seventy-two years old. Later that same day his remains (apparently in a body bag) were flown from Buffalo, New York, to Pittsburgh and then transported by hearse to Marshall Funeral Home in Wampum. A viewing was held on Sunday from 7:00-9:00pm. At 10:30am the next morning a Mass of the Resurrection, presided over by the Reverend John Flaherty, was held at St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Wampum. Afterwards he was buried next to his parents at the St. Nicholas Orthodox Greek Catholic Church just outside New Castle in Slippery Rock Township.