PLYMOUTH — It was the spring of 1972 and I was bouncing a basketball past the S.J. Grontkowski Funeral Home on West Main Street in Plymouth.
I was on my way to Huber Field for our daily basketball game when Stanley Grontkowski stopped me.
Stanley said he needed a manager in the Plymouth Teeners’ League. I told him I wasn’t sure because I was still trying to figure out where my life was going. But Stanley persisted and he invited me to a meeting at the Plymouth American Legion on Center Avenue.
At that meeting, I was appointed manager of the United Pants team. We practiced every day and we took a run at the title in that Agnes flood-shortened season.
This was the beginning of a long run for me in volunteering for several organizations — Teeners’ League, American Legion Baseball, Make-A-Wish, Junior Leadership Wilkes-Barre, Challenger Little League, Victory Sports, and others.
And it was all because Stanley Grontkowski saw something in me that I never saw before.
Stanley Grontkowski, my friend, my mentor and one of the best damn human beings I have ever known, died Sunday, April 7. He was 86.
There are so many stories I can tell about “Stash” and baseball and cars and Old Shawnee and his beloved Cleveland Indians. Each will make you laugh, no matter how many times they are told and re-told.
Like the time Stash sent our loyal friend Mike Mihalchik to Golden Quality for banana splits. It was a busy night at the funeral home — Mike was watching the parking lot, I was helping at the door. Stash was in his office — if you ever were in there, you would know how meticulous he kept everything. Each drawer contained specific items so Stash would know where to find what he needed when he needed it.
Anyway, Stash said he was craving a Golden Quality banana split. So off went Mike to Golden Quality, soon to return carrying three banana splits into the office. As he approached the desk, Mike tripped and flipped — actually heaved — the three banana splits right onto the desk and into Stash’s lap. There was ice cream, chocolate syrup, pineapple, strawberries, bananas and whipped cream everywhere — including in every one of those meticulously filed drawers — and all over Stash.
And in typical Stash style, he laughed — we all laughed — as we would every time we told that story for years after. And again today.
There were many times like that at 530 West Main St. Those are days, months, years I will never forget.
But what I will remember most about Stash is his dedication to his family, his friends, his church and his community. I can’t tell you how much money Stash put into Plymouth, but it was a heckuva lot. He supported every organization that came knocking and he always went above and beyond.
Like I said, he was my role model, my mentor when it came to volunteering and learning the importance of giving back to the community. My parents instilled that in me when I was young — Stash showed me the way to get it done.
Just a few years after he convinced me to manage a Teeners’ baseball team, he came to me with another request. He said Teeners’ League Baseball, Inc., needed someone to take over as president of the Luzerne County group. The true story is that they asked Stanley to take it over, but with his business and family to attend to, he just didn’t have the time.
“I told them I had a guy for them,” he would tell me.
That began a 25-plus-year run as the TLB president. It gave me a deep sense of what it means to volunteer and to help your community. There has not been a year, a month, a week, or a day that I have not been volunteering with some group in this community since.
Stash not only showed me how to be a good volunteer and a good community member, he taught me why it was so damn important. He certainly led by example and he enjoyed every single moment of it.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the new uniforms Stash purchased for the Plymouth American Legion team. Red and black were the colors, of course, just like Plymouth High School’s Shawnee Indians. And a Shawnee Indian patch was on every shirt.
But it was the pants that caught everybody’s eye — wide alternating stripes of red, black and white. Very spiffy.
And the away uniforms? Well, they were light blue. Why? I guess because Stash liked the way they looked.
And I won’t even get into the process Stash had when buying new vehicles for his business. Those that were around him during those times know all too well.
I will miss Stash forever. I will never forget him and all he stood for and all he did for so many.
And I will always be thankful that it was me, a confused kid with an unclear future, bouncing that basketball past his house in 1972.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email [email protected]