GetGo worker's positive attitude will be missed
When they were growing up in Arnold, Amy Ignozzi's younger brother, Jeffrey Malak, was known as “Amy's brother Jeff.”
But as they grew, Jeffrey's personality emerged, and he became known for his goodness and caring.
“All of a sudden, everybody knew Jeff. They said, ‘There's Jeff's sister Amy.' It all flip-flopped,” she said. “They know me as Jeff's sister.
“I could not be prouder of that.”
Jeffrey Roman Malak of Arnold died Sunday, April 21, 2013, at home from a heart attack. He was 48.
Malak was known by people throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley who encountered him at the Giant Eagle GetGo station in New Kensington. He worked at Phar-Mor and Giant Eagle before GetGo opened in May 2004.
He helped people at the car wash, worked inside the convenience store and forged relationships through interactions that otherwise could have been fleeting.
“Jeff treated every single customer as if they were long-time friends,” said Fred Lukac of Lower Burrell, one of many who left condolences for Mr. Malak at the Ross G. Walker Funeral Home website. By 5 p.m. Wednesday, there were a dozen pages of such condolences left in remembrance of this gentle giant.
Lukac would see Mr. Malak at GetGo when getting his morning coffee.
“He initiated the relationship by talking to me when I went through the car wash or pumping gas. He really treated everybody so well,” Lukac said. “He always had a positive attitude about life. It didn't matter that he was standing out in 90-degree heat or zero-degree cold: It was always a happy day.”
Deanna Gatto of Lower Burrell gets her morning coffee and newspaper at GetGo. Mr. Malak would be at the car wash or behind the register.
“He'd tell me what kind of new sandwiches Wendy's (across the street) had and what I should try,” she said. “If he had coupons, he would give them to me.”
GetGo team leader Diane McIntire said Mr. Malak got to know customers by starting conversations.
“He'd ask anyone if they needed help. That's how he got to know everybody and everybody got to know him,” she said. “He would always ask everybody how they were. He'd always brighten everybody's day.”
In his obituary, his family noted his relationship with those he met at work — listing them along with the family as his survivors: “… his extended family at Giant Eagle GetGo, who watched over him and cared for him almost as much as his family does.”
Ignozzi, 54, believes her brother's demeanor came from the loss of their father; Mr. Malak was only 2 when his dad, Robert Malak, died. Their mother, Mary Bernadette Calderini Malak, raised them both.
He had no memory of his father, only home movies.
“The loss of my dad had a big impact,” she said. “That's what kept him the way Jeffrey was. I think that loss made a difference, but not in a bad way.
“It made Jeffrey very spiritual,” she said. “He said, ‘If anything happens to me, I'm going to be with my mom and dad.' He always missed (them).
“His love for his mom kept him grounded. He didn't need to go to bars. He didn't need that. He did everything his way — his very spiritual, simple way. He didn't expect a lot, and he didn't demand a lot.”
Mr. Malak was known for walking or riding his bike. McIntire said she once saw him walking in the rain, but he turned down a ride.
“That's what he loved to do, was walk and ride his bike,” she said. “He was looking forward to getting his (driver's) license. He had his permit. He was looking forward to getting that.”
Mr. Malak never married and had no children. But he was more than an uncle to Ignozzi's three sons.
“He was like a brother to them, and a mentor,” Ignozzi said. “Jeffrey was such a big part of their upbringing.”
At Giant Eagle, Mr. Malak portrayed Santa Claus.
“He loved doing it because he loved the kids,” McIntire said.
Mr. Malak was like a father to children in his neighborhood who didn't have one, or whose fathers maybe weren't around as much, said his oldest nephew, Anthony Ignozzi, 27.
“He was just so generous and compassionate and kind,” Anthony said. “They say they take the good ones young. He was needed ‘up there.' He had already helped so many people down here.”
Ignozzi said he learned from his uncle never to be too angry or upset, and to never let anything get the best of him. His uncle's smile and happiness stay with him.
“God put him on this earth specifically for everybody else — to help everyone else and make everybody else happy.”
The outpouring of condolences from the community has been comforting for Mr. Malak's family.
“We just all want to make Jeffrey proud,” his sister said. “We know he's watching over us and he's with our mom and dad. We love him more than anything, and we'll miss him.”
Viewing is scheduled for today at the Walker Funeral Home, 217 Freeport Road, New Kensington. A service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the funeral home, with burial following at Union Cemetery in Arnold.
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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