A great dad from the greatest generation
  • 87 years old
  • Born on March 10, 1925 .
  • Passed away on December 24, 2012 .

     Despite the fact that he won’t be listed on any “Who Died in 2012 List,” my father was a great man.  You don’t have to believe me. You can ask Tom Brokaw. The former NBC news anchor coined the phrase “The Greatest Generation” to describe the men who saved the world through their collective war effort, produced the strongest economy ever known through their labor, and ensured the nation’s future through their often very large families. For the most part, this generation did all this quietly and under the radar, working hard and sacrificing so their children could have better lives. This combination of physical effort and moral virtue carried out neither for recognition or reward qualifies as greatness if anything does, and it certainly describes the life of Francis Vernezze, or "Shorty" to those who loved him--and many did.
     First the war. Two days after his high school graduation, my dad found himself drafted into the army and on a train to Milwaukee. Eventually, he wound up in the Philippines, where he would have been part of the invasion of Japan had not Truman short-circuited that option.  Shortly after his discharge, while serving as the best man at his cousin’s wedding, he met and fell in love with the sister of the bride, DeLoris Tenuta. They were married a year later, on Jan 10, 1948, and raised five children. (The song in the Audio Gallery, "Scatterbrain," was the song my dad would have the orchestra play for my mom).
     He worked as a delivery man at Kappus Bakery for forty years, getting up at three in the morning to drive a bread truck. It’s not only the postal service that delivers in rain, sleet or snow. It was my dad as well. I frankly don’t know how he did it, but I know that he did it so his children could have a better life--and they did. It’s no coincidence that although he only finished high school, four of his children attained post graduate degrees, including two PhDs. We knew he was working in this back breaking way so we would not have to, and we felt driven to succeed in school to give his effort meaning. We knew this even if he never told us this; or rather, he taught us this lesson through his daily determination and quiet dignity.  Indeed, no effort or expense was too great for him to spend on his family. When he got an inheritance, his first thought was not to do something for himself but to give it to his children, and when he could barely walk at the end he insisted on going to the store and shopping for the holidays. He was especially fond of the meat department.
      And though I said he did all this so his children could have a better life, in a truer sense I do not think anyone had a better life. Again, don’t take my word for this. You can believe 1.4 billion Chinese people, or at least the large and representative sample of Chinese I have talked to about my family. In China, where I’ve spent a good part of the last five years, there is literally no higher good than family. Everything else—success, fame, fortune—pales by comparison. In a country where no one is allowed to have more than one child, raising five loving and successful children is an unimaginable blessing (and having to bury one as he did an unimaginable sorrow). And among a people who believe American children do not treat their elderly parents very well, to have a daughter to live with in one’s old age seems incredibly fortunate. And they are right. He was incredibly fortunate and unimaginably blessed. 
     Eighteen months ago, as he was dealing with a serious medical condition, my father went into septic shock and wound up in Intensive Care. After a week, the doctors decided there was nothing they could do. He was placed on hospice care and sent home to die. At one point, we were told he had less than 48 hours to live. Well, my father was a stubborn man and never listened to doctors anyway. Six months later he became one of the rare people who “graduate” from hospice (no diploma, unfortunately). It sounds simple, but I was with him during this period, and it didn’t just happen. Indeed, the strength and courage he displayed in bringing himself back from the edge of death in July to shopping for Thanksgiving dinner at Albertson’s is something I will remember and draw from the rest of my life.  And he seemed on the verge of getting kicked out of hospice once again after being placed back on it as the result of a setback a year after the original incident.  But it was not to be.   When he finally succumbed on Christmas Eve, it was at home and surrounded by family. Athletes talk about leaving everything on the field or the court, expending all your effort on the game and leaving noting in reserve. And that’s what he did with his life. He used it all up in going to war, in raising a family, in driving a bread truck for forty years, in surviving triple bypass surgery, in burying a daughter, and finally in this last valiant struggle; he used it up in living a decent, honest and good life and in leaving behind so much more than he was given. And in so doing, leaving a model for us all to follow.

    [Note: The stuff from the "His Life" section were responses he wrote down in a book I gave him to fill out a few years ago. I sure wished he'd written more. If you feel like it, leave a story in the "Story" section. It would sure be appreciated. And if you have time, go into the audio gallery and listen to the song  'My Old Man," by Steve Goodman. That's what I'm going to do.]

Posted by Bob Hogan on 4th January 2013
My condolences to all the Vernezze family. A special place in heaven awaits him. I recall the many sleepover's Pete had with us guy's from St. Anthony's. And, boy, did we make the noice. Yet, through it all Mr. & Mrs. Vernezze never led on of our mischievousness. Thanks for the great memories. With love, Bob Hogan
Posted by Jack Kappus on 3rd January 2013
I knew Shorty first as Mike's dad. Then I knew " Joe" as a co-worker for over 20 years,then I knew him as a friend. He was a great man and wll be missed. my condolences to all.
Posted by Marty Hogan on 3rd January 2013
My deepest and most sincerest condolences on the loss of your beloved husband and father. I have known your father since grade school and have many fond memories of him. I hope as I do, that all the beautiful memories you have of him will help you throughout this most difficult time. My sympathies and thoughts are with you and your family. Fondly, Marty Hogan
Posted by Bill Evans on 31st December 2012
Tremendous tribute to a "Great Man"; condolences and our prayers to your family.Hug your mother for me;she shares a special place in my heart! God Bless.
Posted by Mary Moore on 28th December 2012
Mary Jo, your Dad was a very special person. I was sorry to hear of his passing and will always remember him for his big heart, great laugh and love and caring he showed for DeDe and you kids. Loved the photo gallery! He will be missed by all. Shorty, May you rest in Peace.
Posted by Marie Serpe on 27th December 2012
Heartfelt Condolences to the Vernezze Family. Remembering Uncle Shorty with fond memories of his welcomes and smiles. Thank You Peter for the enlightening memorial. What a full and sacrificing life. Your Family was Blessed with such a loving Husband and Father. Thank You for sharing. Prayers for Comfort in this Sad time.
Posted by Ken Ade on 26th December 2012
"Joe" was a solid, honest man. I saw and talked to him almost every day for 20 years. During that time I don't remember him uttering a single prideful word. His gift to me was his family; each of whom I consider my friend. Truly a life well lived. My thoughts and sympathy are with the entire Vernezze family especially.
Posted by Glen Puterbaugh on 26th December 2012
I was impressed with the early loving family pictures. But my personal favorites were the ones taken at Sunnyside Club, particularly with Paul Malko at the bar next to him. He always had a ready smile and was warm and personable with a wisecracking side, common at the Club, everyone was fair game. His family was clearly his priority in life and he will be sorely missed by all.
Posted by Dawn Bergin on 25th December 2012
Shorty, you will live in my heart forever--your smile, your laugh, your love for your family and all of the kindness you showed me over the years. You were one of a kind. All my love, Dawn

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