Claridge postmaster served his country in war and peace
Charles Ocepek served in the Army during World War II and worked as the postmaster for his hometown of Claridge in Penn Township.
“He served his country in times of war and served his country in times of peace,” said his son, Karl Ocepek of Downington.
Charles Ocepek of Claridge died Tuesday, March 12, 2019, at UPMC Heritage Place in Squirrel Hill. He was 97. He was able to continue to live at home until last fall, according to his son.
Mr. Ocepek was born March 3, 1922 to John and Mary Ocepek of Claridge. The son of Slovenian immigrants who came the United States around 1900, he was the last survivor of their 12 children.
Mr. Ocepek graduated from Penn Township High School in 1940.
He was drafted into the Army in 1943 and served in the Headquarters Battery of the 681st Glider Field Artillery Battalion attached to the 17th Airborne Division.
With the Germans on the offensive in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium in what would be known as the Battle of the Bulge, his unit crossed the English Channel on Christmas Eve 1944. He slept in a pup tent in France that Christmas Eve, Ocepek said.
The battalion was involved in Operation Varsity in March 1945. They flew in gliders over the Rhine River and into Germany. When the war was over in May 1945, he was sent to bombed-out Berlin as part of the U.S. occupation forces, Ocepek said.
“He did not talk too much about the war,” Karl Ocepek said of his father, but he did serve as a cook while stationed in Berlin.
Back home, President Harry Truman appointed him in 1951 to be the Claridge postmaster. It was a fortuitous job because he met a young woman, Wilma Rizzardi, while handing out mail. There was no home mail delivery, so Claridge residents had to go to the post office to get their mail.
The couple were married in May 1955 and remained married for 54 years, until her death in 2010.
Mr. Ocepek enjoyed seeing the youngsters come into the post office and pick up their family’s mail after school. He served in that position for 35 years, retiring in 1987.
He also served his community as a member of the Penn Township Planning and Zoning Board in the 1970s.
“He had a small-town peaceful life after coming back from Europe,” Ocepek said.
In his spare time, he loved to golf with his family.
In addition to his wife, he also was preceded in death by one son, Mark Ocepek, and a granddaughter, Claire Geraghty.
He was a member of the Bushy Run American Legion Post 260 and was a faithful participant in their Memorial Day observances, Ocepek said.
Surviving are two daughters, Andrea Ocepek Geraghty of Point Breeze, Pittsburgh and Renee Ocepek Parsley of Milford, Del.; three sons, Karl Ocepek of Downington, Jon Ocepek of Ben Avon and Thomas Ocepek of Reading; and eight grandchildren.
Friends were received at the Lindsay-Jobe Funeral Home Inc., 3343 Route 130, Harrison City. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Saturday, with interment at Denmark-Manor Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to the Westmoreland County Food Bank, 100 Devonshire Drive, Delmont, PA 15626.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .