Lynnwood nonagenarian still loving life
It took 92 years, but John Krempasky finally received a standing ovation.
In late May, Krempasky attended commencement ceremonies at Benedictine High School in Cleveland – 75 years after the Lynnwood resident graduated from the Roman Catholic prep school.
He was one of two surviving members of the Class of 1938 personally brought in for the event by high school president, the Rev. Gerard Gonda. The other was Joe Banas, also 92, of Parma, Ohio.
“Whenever he introduced us (to the congregation) and said, ‘You know these guys graduated 75 years ago,' we got a big hand; I mean a big hand,” Krempasky said. “I was just about to drop over.”
Krempasky lived his first five years of life in the Perryopolis area before his parents moved to Washington Township. His father had been born in Slovakia and married his mother when she was 17.
When young John Krempasky was old enough, his father sent him to St. Benedictine for high school after seeing an ad for the school in a newspaper. The family also had roots and family in the Cleveland area – his father's sister lived there – where Krempasky had been baptized. This high school was founded by Slovak Benedictines, he noted.
“My father wanted to send me to that school so I was in high school and graduated from there while my family was here,” he recalled. “I commuted back just like you would in college. I came home about every three months or so.”
In 1942, Krempasky was drafted into the Army during World War II. He excelled at math and soon found himself calculating coordinates for long-range bombing.
“They sent us to Ft. Meade. We took tests and they separated us, Company A, Company B, Company C, and Company D. I was in A Company because of my grades,” he said. “I had six weeks of basic training, then eventually I was sent overseas.”
He traveled with the Army through northern Ireland, England, France, and eventually into Germany after the American invasion.
“We didn't have computers, just a hand calculator, pencil and paper. There was another guy and we checked each other's work,” Krempasky said of calculating bombing coordinates. “We would help artillery be able to fire on any site they wanted miles away. I remember all night hearing long blasts going off.”
Krempasky came home and worked for the Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh, before retiring as a landscape architect 32 years ago.
He never married, but “came pretty close once.” Krempasky's brother, Dan – six years his junior – lives next door. His sister also comes over often and helps with chores. Krempasky is close with his siblings' families.
“The thing is, we have a tremendous family on both my sister's and my brother's sides and I live for that. … They are the love of my life and I pray every day for all of them,” he said. “I have a house to take care of, and really, sometimes, you don't have enough time. My mind isn't 100 percent now, I forget things on occasion, but I manage.”
Krempasky still attends daily services at St. Sebastian in North Belle Vernon and the unassuming nonagenarian wears this fact like a badge of honor.
For 30 years, he walked nearly one mile to the church every morning before injuring his leg playing golf. Now he simply drives.
“I'm a good driver, honestly. You might not believe it, but it's true,” Krempasky said, laughing. “Going to church every morning, that's a part of me. I think I'm the oldest one there, but I don't make a big deal of it because it's no big deal to me.”
If he has one boast, Krempasky said he's often told he does not look his age – or even close to it. (He'll turn 93 in October).
“I'll bet you money, if you saw me, you wouldn't say I'm 92 years old,” he said with a laugh. “I don't brag about it because people keep telling me I'm not that age and I'm always surprised and pleased to hear it.
“My health is not 100 percent, but it's close enough, let's put it that way. I appreciate that and thank God every day I wake up in the morning.”
Krempasky's quiet existence took a turn when – in mid May – he received a phone call from Gonda, saying the priest would drive in and pick him up in five days for the graduation ceremony in Ohio – where Krempasky would end up shaking hands with every member of the all-boys' school's Class of 2013.
“At the school they have pictures of every graduating class and he tracked me down,” Krempasky said of Gonda.
Before being driven home the next day, Krempasky got to visit the very church where he had been baptized nearly a century ago: St. Wendelin, located in the west side of the city and established in 1903. The parish was reopened in July 2012.
“I went in there and the secretary said they had the book. She invited me to sign my name,” he said. “The actual baptismal font is still there after all these years. I was amazed.”
Krempasky's lone regret was missing his grand-niece's graduation from Belle Vernon Area High School while he was in Cleveland, but he cherishes hearing his first prolonged applause during the 75th anniversary of his own commencement.
“It was too much excitement. Nobody every clapped at me for anything,” he said. “I mean, really, who am I? It was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me, and I've been around awhile.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2635.