Joseph LoPatka (later given as LaPatka) was born in the small town of Chewton, Wayne Township, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, on Monday, April 19, 1909. He was the sixth 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).
The LoPatka family lived on Plum Way just off the ball field in Chewton. While growing up Joe and his brothers and sisters attended the Chewton Public School, a collection of three wooden schoolhouses located where the Chewton playground stands today. Sometime during the timeframe 1913-1917, when Joe was a young boy, 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 on Plum Way 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. 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.
In June 1917, the LoPatka’s moved to a sixteen-acre farm on the outskirts of Chewton (on Tony Dytko Road). With nine total children including Joe (another two died in infancy) the family had a lot more room to grow out in the countryside. Five more kids would be born out at the farm from 1920-1926.
Joe was very tough and while growing up (and later as an adult) was feared for his fighting prowess. Joe probably went to school only through the eighth grade. He would have been age sixteen in mid-1925 and most likely ready to venture out into the workforce. Joe soon found employment (probably joining his father) at Cavert Wire Company in Ellwood City. I believe he was employed there for quite a few years.
Joe, at the age of twenty-four, was married to twenty-one-year-old Frances “Francie” Baser, a devout Catholic from nearby Rochester, on June 15, 1933. I am not sure where they were married at, but based on the fact that she was very religious it was probably in a Catholic Church. I believe they resided in New Castle, Ellwood City, and maybe Rochester over the next ten years. Their first child, a girl named Patricia Ann (“Patty”), was born on October 2, 1936. It was another nine years before their second child, Joseph Michael (“Sonny”), was born on July 27, 1945.
At some point, I believe in the late 1940’s, they took up residence at a house at #657 2nd Avenue (now in the #2600 block of 2nd Avenue) in Koppel, Pennsylvania, right next door to the old Koppel Public Schools. They attended St. Teresa’s Catholic Church in Koppel. While growing up the kids attended the Koppel Public Schools, St. Teresa’s Catholic School, and Lincoln Junior-Senior High School in Ellwood City.
For a time Joe managed the Slovak Club located near the ball field in Chewton. The Slovak Club, a members-only establishment affiliated with the National Slovak Society (NSS), was the scene of some wild happenings and I think this led to some strain on Joe’s marriage. Several of Joe’s brothers and friends worked for him as bartenders or doormen. Joe and Francie had a turbulent marriage and were known to have separated a few times over the years. They always seemed to remain together and lived in the Koppel house for many years.
At some point Joe experienced some eye discomfort while employed at Cavert Wire. Unknown to him a tiny sliver of wire had become lodged in one of his eyes. The pain continued to worsen and he eventually lost his vision as the wire cut into his retina. Perhaps due to the loss of his vision he later began working at a stone quarry in New Beaver Township and then with Insul Company in Wampum and East Palestine, Ohio.
Joe soon lost both of his parents, as his father John died in July 1949 and his mother Mary passed away a few years later in February 1952. They were both laid to rest at the St. Nicholas Orthodox Greek Catholic Cemetery in Slippery Rock Township just outside New Castle.
Joe’s kids grew up and started their own lives. Patty later attended Kent State University in Ohio and met a fellow student named Dino V. Sposato. They both graduated from the college in June 1956, were married in October 1961, and eventually settled in Columbiana, Ohio. After graduating from high school Sonny attended Kent State and then joined the U.S. Army in 1968. He saw action in war-torn Vietnam and Cambodia in 1969-1970. Sonny returned home, was married to Sherrie K. Ehrenberg in July 1973, and settled in the Koppel area.
By the early 1970’s, Joe had his share of health issues and had a leg (below the knee) amputated due to diabetes. He also was diagnosed with colon cancer and had to be hospitalized. He died in the Beaver Falls Unit of the Beaver County Medical Center at 8:30pm on Monday, August 19, 1974. He was sixty-five years old. A private viewing was held at Marshall’s Funeral Home in Wampum and a public memorial service, presided over by the Reverend John Flaherty, was held down the street at St. Monica’s Catholic Church at 10:30am on Thursday, August 22. Afterwards, Joe was interred with is parents and his older brother George at St. Nicholas Cemetery.
His wife Francie, who was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, continued to live in the Koppel house for many years. I believe two of her sisters resided with her for at least several years. In about 1999, as her condition worsened, she temporarily moved in with her daughter Patty in Columbiana, Ohio. Before too long she moved into the St. Mary’s Alzheimer’s Center in Columbiana for more advanced care. The house in Koppel was sold in the coming months.
Francie passed away at 11:15pm on Wednesday, April 30, 2008. A public viewing was held Saturday morning, May 3, at the Warrick-Kummer-Rettig Funeral Home in Columbiana. Afterwards a church service, presided over by the Reverend Thomas Zeigler, was held at 12:00pm at the St. Jude Catholic Church. She was laid to rest at the Mount Calvary Cemetery in Leetonia, Ohio.