Our dad (aka Chilly, Chilly Willy, Iceman, The Real Iceman and Conk). There is so much to say about our dad, who lived such a full life it is hard to condense into mere words. If you knew our dad you know exactly what we are talking about when we say it was so much more than spending time together, it was an experience! Dad worked hard, played hard and partied harder.
Our dad met and married our mom, Mary, who many of you may remember, in May of 1957. They spent 32 years together raising us four children (Candee, Kyle, Chris and Kelly) along with moving a family of six twice, building a brand-new house and purchasing ownership of Long Island Ice and Fuel Corporation.
I am not so sure Dad ever slept; as if raising a family and building the foundation at work wasn’t enough, he also loved playing softball, polka music, the RFD Ironmen and was always super active as a firefighter. From my own personal experience, I always say we were raised in, on and around the firehouse. There are so many fond memories of going to tournaments or parades with Dad and watching the amazing camaraderie of the group of guys on the Ironmen and softball team back then. It was self-explanatory why he enjoyed it so much. Riding to fires in the chief’s car was always a thrill and, on rare occasions, listening in on the fire phone.
The business was pretty much in disrepair and had a slim customer list when Dad purchased “The Ice Plant” from our grandfather and needed a tremendous amount of time and attention. Where he found the time to do it all I’ll never know. In the beginning, our family made up most of the crew at work; all of us served in one capacity or another (not always by choice, lol). Dad’s pure love and devotion for everything he was involved in was never pursued for glory, praise or ego, only self-satisfaction. He was a humble man. His passion for fighting fires and helping people was one of his most endearing qualities.
We never spoke about it often, but when we were on a family vacation in Bristol, Tenn., in the early ’70s a man was at the bottom of a pool and a woman, his wife, was screaming frantically. Our dad without hesitation dove in pulled the man from the bottom of the pool and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on him until his breathing was restored, saving his life. He never made a big deal of it and I remember feeling so proud of him for doing what he did; that’s just who he was.
One of his fire experiences he did share with us was when there was a working house fire in the greens. He was in with a younger member who didn’t share the same confidence as dad did that they could get in to where they needed to be because of the tremendous heat. Our dad encouraged the member to keep going and the member was able to locate and pull a child from the fire’s grip. That he was very proud of, that he was able to pass on some of his firefighting experience to another capable firefighter. There were so many core people in Dad’s life we would prefer not to mention names, as some may get missed unintentionally. Dad loved making a good stop on a fire that could have gone either way. He would have a little extra bounce in his step for at least the next day or two every time it happened. I think I can speak for all of us when I say there was more than one occasion where right in the middle of singing “Happy birthday,” the monitor would go off and — poof — off to the fire he would go. His thousands of hours of dedication to the RFD were unparalleled.
Dad loved people, all kinds of people. He loved to talk and, more importantly, he knew how to listen. He had an uncanny ability to always somehow meet the right person at the right time in life. His luck was just awesome and timing impeccable, so long as he didn’t have to be on time, lol.
Since our family was all essentially at our second home (The Ice Plant) with Dad through the early years, we all got to spend a lot of time with him working together. He without a doubt instilled a hard work ethic in us that was second to none. He taught us to show up for life on a daily basis regardless of the circumstances. After many long years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears, Dad had “The Ice Plant” on the right track toward future success. He undoubtedly paid his dues. As the company grew, so did the invaluable list of people who worked with us as well as the cast of characters. The stories are endless of the long, hard, hot days at work over the summertime and his vision of foresight and planning over the winter to ever increasing success. We are so proud of the many people who have come back years later to thank our dad for sharing his work experience with them and how it contributed to their successes in life. I guess you could say he loved sharing whatever it was he felt he had that could help another person.
Sharing from my own experience, Dad would always, always, always, let us make our own mistakes, although sometimes Mom would think differently. He let us learn and morph into adults, having the education of failure as well as success. Growing up as one of Bill Conklin’s kids had its pros and cons. Everyone knew who you were and he would know about whatever you did before you got home (pre-cellphone, I might add). Probably the most valuable life’s lesson that Dad has taught us is to always be fair, without exception. It’s that belly barometer that goes off in us from time to time that you just know to do the right thing.
Last but not least, Dad is what we like to call artificial Polish, no stranger to Polish Town or the local haunts or listening to “the ol’ Red Head” Ed Toby on WRIV for polka music on Sunday mornings. He enjoyed the simple pleasures in life, polka music and dancing being one of them. One of his more memorable moments was hiring Jimmy Sturr to play for his birthday celebration at the Polish Hall, genuinely wanting as many people as possible to share in the joy. Who could forget the life-size ice carving replica of “Chilly” for his 80th birthday, flanked by his children and grandchildren?
Dad was a model patient for the last few months, never once wavering from the challenge put forth in front of him to get well again. Thanking everyone who visited on a regular basis for coming, asking how they were doing instead of thinking of himself. Having quite possibly broken the Guinness record for back scratches from the widest variety of people: Dr. Raj, cardiologists, priests, rabbi, deacon, various doctors, nurses, aides, his longtime companion, Fran, kids, grandkids and whoever else might oblige. Our family wants to thank all those who called or spent time with Dad. He enjoyed every second of every conversation and visit, I assure you.
Dad was loved by many: his late wife, children, grandchildren, great-granddaughter, Fran, fellow fighters and so many people he came into contact with over almost nine decades. Thank you all for celebrating his life with him.
This is a paid notice.