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Painter Yawor produces portraits of killed military personnel

| Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, 1:42 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
At 90 years of age, artist Alexander Yawor works on his 61st painting of fallen hero soldier Cory Mracek in the basement of his Hopewell home Monday, November 18, 2013.

Having recently finished his 60th portrait, Alexander Yawor of Hopewell still becomes emotional when painting pictures of military personnel killed in action.

“You can't help crying,” said Yawor, 90, an independent artist who began donating portraits to families three to four years ago.

Yawor spends about a week on each 16- by 20-inch, head-to-shoulder painting.

American Gold Star Mothers and other survivor groups reach out to families for photographs that he uses as guides.

“A uniform with medals, badges and ribbons takes longer to paint than a plain one,” Yawor said.

Kimberly Geonnotti of Clayton, N.J., cherishes the portrait that Yawor painted of her son, Army Pfc. David J. “DJ” Bentz III, who was killed in Iraq in 2007.

“When there's (an event) honoring DJ, the portrait travels with me,” Geonnotti said, adding that Yawor “really captured my son's eyes.”

Yawor said he painted only local service members, at first.

“Alex and I created a letter to introduce him to other organizations,” said Bonnie Phillippi, founder of the Yellow Ribbon Girls of Lawrence and Beaver counties.

The Western Pennsylvania Families of Fallen Heroes Foundation advertises the portraits on its website.

“Alex does remarkable work,” founder Bill Tomko said.

Yawor, who retired from a pipe mill 30 years ago, receives donations to pay for supplies, framing and shipping.

Fellow members of the Beaver Valley Woodcarvers are among those who donate.

“We try to let people know there is a man who is so kind to others,” said Theresa Napoli, secretary of the group.

“We'll give $200 or $300, which he's reluctant to take,” treasurer Rita Gallagher said.

Yawor, a Marine veteran who took up painting after returning home from World War II, considers his work a calling.

“I feel certain people are here for a certain reason,” Yawor said. “Since I knew how to paint, I should do portraits for the families.”

Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.

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