John Popadin, a World War II veteran who emigrated from Czechoslovakia at age 14, died peacefully on March 30, 2021, surrounded by his daughters. He was 97.
John's life was defined by three things: his faith, his family and his love for his country.
As a boy, John traveled to America with his mother, the former Maria Vankova, aboard the ocean liner SS Ile De France, entering the country through Ellis Island in 1939 to join his father, John, who was living and working on Staten Island. When he arrived at the immigration inspection station, John was carrying some of his family's belongings wrapped in a feather quilt from his hometown of Ruska Poruba.
John attended Tottenville High School. He never forgot Dr. Mary Meade, his principal and later a member of the city Board of Education, who came up with a plan to keep the discouraged Slovak-speaking boy in school. She introduced him to Caroline Kreischer, a teacher who became a lifelong friend. Kreischer taught him English, providing the support that is common today for English language learners but was unheard of at the time, then supported him again through her letters when he enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II.
John, a Corporal First Class, was an interpreter during training and later served in France, Germany and Austria. He believed his time in non-commissioned officer (NCO) training saved his life: Most members of his original unit never returned home. He became a U.S. citizen in Paris, taken off the front lines to be naturalized. When his tour of duty was over, he and a fellow soldier traveled across Europe in a jeep to visit his hometown.
As a youth in Czechoslovakia, John had made "mud pies" with Susan Pirnik. They met again after she immigrated to Jersey City, New Jersey. When he returned from the service, they married in a double wedding ceremony with Susan's sister on July 27, 1946.
John was a foreman at the Witco Chemical Corp. plant in Perth Amboy, retiring in 1986 after more than 20 years. He particularly enjoyed his work in the lab, filling in when there were no chemists on duty, and honed his writing skills compiling safety reports and evaluations. Previous jobs were at Koppers Inc., the Phoenix Meter Company and Schraffts restaurants, among others.
He was the oldest parishioner of St. John's Eastern Orthodox Church in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where he was a member for more than eight decades. John volunteered at the parish soup kitchen and belonged to the Social Club. He lovingly shared his faith and all its traditions with his children and grandchildren and considered fellow parishioners his extended family. His priest described John as a "fine example of an Orthodox Christian."
John enjoyed reading newspapers from cover to cover and working in his yard in Princes Bay. For many years, he was an avid baseball fan; His favorite team was the New York Mets.
John traveled to various diocesan parishes for church services and social events and vacationed every year in western Pennsylvania, where he had many relatives. In 1977, he and his family were rescued from the roof of a motel during the second Johnstown flood. He loved spending time with his grandchildren and attending their school functions and other activities. He regaled them with stories about his life's adventures and was the subject of several class projects. John loved animals and over the years he had cats, a dog and birds. Among favorite stories from his youth were those involving the farm animals his family treated as pets, including stories about riding steers.
John played the harmonica until the day he died.
He was predeceased by his wife of 51 years, Susan, and his sister, Anna Ferkova. He is survived by his daughters, Suzanne of Stillwater, N.J.; Carolyn Popadin-Lesniak (Gary) of Wantagh, L.I.; and Darlene Popadin Weir (Roddy) of West Brighton; grandchildren Gerard, Susanna, Hannah, Cassie and Cathryn; brother-in-law John Pirnik (June) of Cape May, N.J.; and many nieces and nephews in the United States and in Slovakia. The family thanks his longtime aide, Ilene Walker, for her loving care and devotion.
Funeral from Bedell-Pizzo Funeral Home on Friday at 9 a.m. A funeral service at St. John's Church at 11 a.m. will be preceded by viewing at 10. Friends may visit on Thursday from 2-4 and 6-9 p.m. Interment to follow in the church cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate donations to St. John's Church Memorial Fund or to Strays Hope for Life, a local animal rescue.