Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. My Grandfather saw a lot of things in his world that could use some changing, so he set about becoming that change in simple, down to earth ways starting with his own family.

    Note to readers from Kristina Gray: Four weeks ago, first day of class, I had 40 freshmen looking at me with a sense of expectancy, nervousness and perhaps writer’s anxiety. As their seasoned teacher, in these two composition classes, I have no clue who the good writers are or who the weak ones are. After several weeks, and especially after their first assignment about writing about their grandparents, the ones who can follow instructions quickly emerge to the top as very good writers.

    As in any university class, some students come ill equipped from their respective high schools to be writing at university level. Throughout the semester, some will show true grit and determination to learn what they can in order to succeed in their coursework for the remaining four years. By the end of the semester, I enjoy giving good grades to those who have shown marked improvement because I can tell that they spent the extra time outside of the class to learn on their own or seek help from me or others. I especially love working with the athletes and the people in music because they know that practice is what pays off. Many of my students who have that background of rehearsals and workouts know the price to pay in submitting their rough drafts and getting constructive feedback.

    Today’s writer, Marta Dean, whom I will feature in this grandparent legacy, has shown a consistency and maturity in her writing. She clearly defined what her grandpa looked like as well as shared what he had gone through from his humble beginnings, through family tragedies, to living a life of “leisure” as a retired person.  For many people of his era, being idle and sitting still is not in their composition of character.  Marta’s grandpa instead is a proactive person who was not bitter about his circumstances. Instead, he did what he could to change his world around him, starting with his family.

    May there be more people in my classrooms of young adults who have a mindset of determination to conquer obstacles. May they learn from their grandparents’ life’s lessons and their own experiences along the way instead of sitting back, rooted and grounded in their belief that things should happen only for their benefit.  

Marta Dean

    Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.  My Grandfather saw a lot of things in his world that could use some changing, so he set about becoming that change in simple, down to earth ways starting with his own family.

    My Grandpa Bob Widerski was the sixth of seven children whom his parents raised in a two bedroom house with no indoor plumbing. My great-grandparents slept in one bedroom, and my grandpa’s five sisters shared the other bedroom. Bob and his brother slept in wood bunks built into the hall closet. All the children were kept busy with chores around home, so Bob grew up with a no nonsense work ethic. Being outside cutting wood or getting water was bad enough in the frigid, winter air, but late night trips to the outhouse were nearly unbearable. Because of his upbringing, my grandpa could never afford to have a slacker attitude about anything, but he had something more. He didn’t want to simply work hard and stay where he was, he wanted to work above and beyond to really do something with his life.

    Bob was always handy, good at fixing anything around the house and understanding the way things worked. After spending his childhood on tasks like these, he decided to try for a career doing that as well. After working very hard all through high school, he was able to get into plumbing school and start on his path to a better life. He knew it would be heaps of work. He didn’t have many of the resources that the other students did, but he was willing to work through that and find a place near the top of the class. This drive to succeed shone through in every aspect of his life- sports, work, family, and love.

    Through years of studying and hard work he was able to become an accomplished plumber yet he still had time for fun. His free time was filled with hockey, soccer, and volleyball. He was able to reach one of his lifetime goals at a fairly young age- returning to his childhood home and installing indoor plumbing for his aging parents, people he knew needed it badly. After reaching that goal in life, he moved on to his next big challenge. Bob’s high school sweetheart, Jan, had joined the convent after graduation. Even this couldn’t phase Bob. He approached getting her to give up the cloistered life to marry him in the same manner he did everything else, perseverance and level-headedness and an everything-will-work-out attitude. And it did!

    My grandparents had a lovely June wedding, and moved into a home my grandfather had worked on to get ready for them. I wish that I could say it was all smooth sailing for them afterwards, but unfortunately the people who deserve a happy story are not often blessed with one. They had four beautiful babies, but tragically the oldest and the youngest (Christine and David) had a genetic disorder that was slowly taking away their neurons ability to function. First, this took them out of school, then forced them to be wheelchair bound, then bedridden with a feeding tube. Finally, they went into state hospitals to live out the rest of their lives with the doctors who tried to make them as comfortable as possible, because there just was no cure.

    In addition to already having two terminally ill children, my grandparents suffered another blow when their son Bobby was sledding in the front yard and was run over by a truck driven by a drunk driver who had failed to make the turn in the road and instead ran up into their yard. My uncle Bobby is healthy and well today, but has a spider web of scars on one side of his face and head from where part of his skull was crushed. He had to spend an extensive amount of time in the hospital, and for a while his chances did not look good. Now, all these challenges would be traumatic enough for a financially stable family, but they were devastating for a family who was barely scraping by. Medical bills are not cheap, and it’s especially hard to pay them and save for the future when the parents in the family are needed at home with the disabled children. Even so, Bob worked very hard to provide for his family, and Jan also worked to take care of them. They never had much extra, but they had enough to get along.

    My grandparents are now doing very well for themselves, living on ten beautiful acres in a house that they built themselves, and spending their winters at their second home in Florida. Bob’s humble beginning still shows through… He doesn’t much care about his appearance. More than likely you will find him in ripped overalls and a faded t shirt, grinning at you with three big gaps in the front of his mouth. He did not work against all odds to save up his money in life only to spend it on fancy clothes he doesn’t need! After many years as a plumber and more time spent teaching future plumbers the trade, Bob is officially retired. Although I don’t think he knows that… 

     He now spends his time doing plumbing and carpentry for those who cannot afford to pay someone to do it. He would never say no- He knows what it is like to be in need, and now that he is able to give, he could never turn anyone away. He is very at peace with the fact that he can now help people in the same situation he was in as a young man.

    My grandfather has been athletic his whole life, always playing hockey in the winter and volleyball in the summer. His booming voice was known to be heard across the court at any of our games- “Move! What, do you got roots in your feet?!” I know he only meant it as a strategic encouragement to get to the ball. I also found it a very appropriate trademark line for a man who saw that the ball of opportunity was not going to come right to him, so instead of the letting the play get away from him, he moved himself across the court through a tough defense to snag the ball and make his play against all odds.