By LORI PINELLI - For the Star Beacon
In 1938 Edman Kendzerski was a junior at the former Rock Creek High School, playing on their championship basketball team. The following year he worked at Laird’s Lumber in Ashtabula to help support his family, partly due to his father’s blindness. Three of his brothers, Ray, Leo and Joe, went overseas to serve their country during WWII. Edman joined them in the service as a U.S. Navy -Armed Guard Rank -Gunners Mate from 1942 to 1945. The sacrifices he made in his youth prevented him from graduating with his class in 1939 and receiving a high school diploma. On Kendzerski’s 92nd birthday this April, his daughter, Mary Boczar, presented him with a great gift: an honorary high school diploma.
“I’m still surprised,” said Kendzerski. “I was sitting in a chair at my birthday party when I opened it. The diploma said ‘Rock Creek High School, given in the year 1939.’ My head got so big that my hat wouldn’t fit on me. It (the high school diploma) was something I thought I’d never have. It came 74 years later. I want to thank my daughter, grandkids and the rest of the family for all they’ve done for me.”
Boczar needed her father’s honorable discharge papers because the diploma would be awarded in recognition of his service during WWII. Kendzerski still had the papers, packed away with his awards for distinguished merit during the war, including his Good Conduct Medal, American Area Ribbon, Victory Medal, European-African Middle East Ribbon and Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon.
“We had to tell some white lies to get the papers from Dad. We told him it was for my great niece’s school project,” said Boczar.
Boczar next enlisted the help of Michael Barney, the accounting/technology teacher, senior class advisor and yearbook advisor at Jefferson Area High School.
“It is so funny how things work out in life. I was out of school due to the passing of my 90-year-old grandmother. She was my rock, inspiration and most importantly, she taught me so many life lessons about treating people with respect, kindness and making a difference in society,” he said.
The day Barney returned to work, he was contacted about the diploma. He told Boczar that he would do everything he could to get it in a week’s time, by Kendzerski’s 92nd birthday, April 1. Arrangements were started with Thomas Lucas of the Ashtabula County Veteran’s Service Commission.
Loretta Panzarella, secretary at Rock Creek Elementary School, researched the appearance of the 1939 high school certificate. She is also a former Rock Creek High School graduate who handles alumni information for Rock Creek.
“We needed to get the Rock Creek High School mascot, a pirate, to put on the diploma for Mr. Kendzerski. Mrs. Panzarella had that pirate mascot to me in a matter of minutes,” said Barney.
He next contacted Rick Call, the school’s cap and gown representative from Herff -Jones. Call told Barney that he would work his magic so Kendzerski could receive the diploma on his birthday, along with a graduation cap and gown.
“After finding out that Mr. Kendzerski received the diploma on his birthday, I got a huge lump in my throat. We did in fact make the birthday a success. Making others happy and making a difference is what life is all about. I know my grandma is looking down at me with a huge smile on her face,” said Barney.
Kendzerski married his sweetheart, the late Lois (Bebout) Kendzerski, in March of 1945 while on military leave. He returned home from the war that November, after serving on seven merchant ships throughout the Atlantic and Pacific. The Kendzerskis were married 65 years and reared seven children. The WWII vet retired from Rimes Trucking Company in Chardon in 1982.
“The Merchant Marine ships we sailed on hauled guns, ammunition and even airplanes. I went in with my dog tags on and was lucky to come home with them,” said Kendzerski.