George Anthony Jocums, PhD, of Nampa, passed away on Saturday, October 12, 2019 at his home with wife, Mary at his side. He was born on November 2, 1931 in Pittsburgh, PA to Julia and George Jokunskas. He married Mary Annette Wilson He raised Murray Grey cattle and 3 children, George, Stephanie and Kristen. He had a satisfying career as Professor of German at Boise State University.
Recitation of the Rosary will be held at 7:00 P.M. Sunday, October 20, 2019 at the Nampa Funeral Home, Yraguen Chapel. Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 2:00 P.M. Monday, October 21, 2019 at the St. Joseph Catholic Church in Melba. Burial will follow in the Melba Cemetery. An online guest book and full obituary is available at www.nampafuneralhome.com
GEORGE ANTHONY JOCUMS*
George was born on November 2, 1931, the first child and first son of George Anthony Jocuns(kas) and Julie Czarniecka. He was delivered by the midwife Ann Bombich in the first home of his parents on Josephine St. a few doors from Liberty Hall in an area where Pittsburgh’s South Side Flats start climbing up to the South Side Slopes and the high ground overlooking its rivers. George’s earliest years were spent near the small wooded area along side of and above Liberty Hall in an area bounded by Barry, McCord and Mission Streets. The house of his Grandfather Alex (called “Dziadja” by the grandchildren) stood on the corner at the curve of Barry St. as Barry continued its steep climb to Mission St. A short time after his birth, his parents moved into the upstairs apartment of the house next to his grandfather’s. The neighborhood had an interesting Old World air. As much Polish was spoken as English. Most of the people attended church at St. Josephat’s where services were conducted in Polish as well as English. There George’s parents were married and he was baptized.
Memories from these earliest days are pleasant ones: his grandfather’s pigeons in the pigeon loft in the back yard; the many interesting people at grandfather’s house (uncles and aunts!); hikes up Barry St. with his mother on Sundays to St. Josephat’s; homemade rubber-band guns, boats, hurdie-gurdie scooters and other toys his Uncle Frank made out of wood; the time a huge dirigible floated overhead, almost touching the roof of his grandfather’s house and the show that cousin Birdie, sister Alberta, he and others – dressed like cowboys - performed in his backyard. Playmates actually paid a penny each to watch them sing “You Are My Sunshine.” Afterwards the performers walked down the hill to Supinski’s candy store to spend the 7 cents that had been earned.
Circa 1938 George’s family moved down off the hill and rented a house at 65 S.27th St. Following kindergarten and grades one and two at Morris and Wickersham schools, his parents enrolled him and his sister Alberta in St. Peter’s Parochial School. They made their First Communion in June, l940. That was a grand day and the occasion for one of the moremorable family celebrations with uncles, aunts and neighbors seemingly all over the house. It was also the day that George’s Aunt Jean taught him to dance the polka to the happy accordion playing of his Uncle Emush.
Attendance at St. Peter’s school and belonging to St. Peter’s parish brought with it many activities. In fourth grade George was selected to be an altar boy. He remembers how Sister wrote the challenging Latin prayers on the blackboard and how, after regular school time, the boys read them over and over (each successive time with parts erased) until everything was memorized. That year was also the year that Sister gave him a voucher which allowed his mom to take him to the Salvation Army Center in Downtown Pittsburgh and choose a shopping bag of toys for Christmas. The red wind-up train turned up under the Christmas trees for many years after that. The sixth grade brought Sister Edmond into George’s life, one of his most unforgettable teachers. Her no nonsense approach brought out the best in students. George became class president and played an important part in the school’s impressive collecting of old paper during WWII in support of the country’s war effort. When school ended for the summer, Sister Edmund asked George to see to it that altar boys would be available at church services during vacation. He was happy to do it and he remembers even today his great disappointment when, the following September, Sister did not return to St. Peter’s. She had been assigned elsewhere and he was unable to report to her how all summer long no service had been without an altar server even if that meant on occasion that he himself had to stay for two Masses. While he never saw Sister Edmond again, her influence took hold. It helped develop a sense of responsibility which motivated George to join
Melvin Kunz, another pin setter at the parish bowling alley, to organize a bowling league for 7th and 8th graders. Youngsters from St. Peter’s and Holy Cross could bowl on Fridays after school at the discounted price of a nickel a line!
Growing up in the neighborhood of 27th St. had few dull moments. Young people pitched in around the house, of course. There were errands to do, snow to shovel, coal or wood to be brought into the house for heating and ashes to be removed to the dumper afterwards. Eventually George was also able to earn and to assist his parents, not only by setting pins at the parish bowling alley, but by helping out in the summer at Jakie Fein’s small slaughter house nearby. In a facility that no longer exists Jakie Fein specialized in supplying kosher meat to several Jewish butcher shops in the city. George found learning about these things from Rabbi Simon and gaining some butcher skills very interesting. Other boys envied him the chance to help out at Jakie’s. Whenever livestock was trucked from the Pittsburgh stockyards and unloaded at Jackie’s place, youngsters gathered for the event. How often, after all, did city kids get a chance to see cattle, sheep and hogs up close!
But growing up was not just a matter of chores. The “home base” intersection of 28th and Jane St, the corner where Stolar’s Mom and Pop store stood and was the central gathering location for everyone was thickly populated with boys and girls at the very active stage of their lives. It was a multi-ethnic neighborhood where everybody broadened everyone else’s view of things. There were Irish-American kids from Holy Cross and St. John’s, Slovak-Americans from St. Matthews, Polish-Americans from St. Josephat’s, Lithuanian- and German-Americans from St. Casimir’s and St. Michael’s, and all kinds of kids from St. Peter’s just around the corner. When summer vacation came, life on Stolar’s Corner was the starting point for adventures which began early in the morning and lasted into the darkening hours of evening (when George’s Mom would stand on the corner near their home and call “Sonny! Come on home!”). In a way, it was like summer camp without counselors or supervisors. Fast pitch softball teams were organized and while there was no official league, teams kept track of their wins and losses. Touch football was played on the street (one had to watch out for the few cars that came by and for the ice truck delivering blocks of ice to people who didn’t have refrigerators yet) and hikes were taken up into the wooded hills overlooking the Monongahela river (where apples were picked from trees near Our Lady of Loretto Cemetery) and dips in the pond at Sanky’s Brick Yard cooled people down on a hot day. In the evening there were running games like “Release the Den” and ‘Turny Cab” (in which Stolar Corner girls also participated) or Tin Can Baseball played with the four corners of the intersection serving as bases. More sedate activities liked shooting agates (marbles), playing card games like blackjack or Sixty-Six for paper match wrappers (for some reason wrappers advertising Pepsi Cola were worth more than others) and the hilarious piling-on game of “Buck , Buck How Many Fingers Up” were also favorites. Every now and then youngsters would also walk as a group to the swimming pool at Ormbsy park and on the way home afterwards, share for a few pennies the day old pretzels from the Pretzel shop on Carson St. Finally, on Tuesdays when the Pittsbugh Pirates were in town for a day game and admission to the old Forbes Field was free for kids, all hub bub on Stolar’s Corner ceased. There was a general exodus to the right field stands in Forbes Field. Lunches were packed and everyone joined the five mile walk over the Monongahela via the 22nd St. bridge to the Oakland area for the game. It was a great time to be a youngster and a great place in which to be one!
In 1946 George surprised some people (especially Kathleen Stolar) by going to high school at Brunnerdale Seminary in Canton, Ohio. He acted on the advice of Fr. Joseph Duenser, a Precious Blood priest whom he had met during a mission at church. It was a pivotal decision. The academic rigor and discipline, the well regulated and challenging life at Brunnerdale, took up where Sister Edmond had left off. Brunnerdale’s motto (“We pray hard, we play hard, we study hard and we work hard”) framed a system that served George well. He found the solid academic program stimulating and challenging. He did all right in classes, learned discipline (some anyway!) and how to study, relished singing in choir (especially Gregorian Chant), liked pubic speaking and theatre, and graduated in 1950. Next he began college at St. Joseph’s in Rennselaer, Indiana and, after two years there, spent a year of novitiate at St. Mary’s in Burkettsville, Ohio. It was during this year of prayerful personal scrutiny and meditation that he recognized he really was not cut out to be a priest. To the great disappointment of his mother and his 7th Grade teacher, Sister Angela, he decided to leave the seminary and returned home to Pittsburgh. His Uncle Leo called in a favor from a shop steward at a local brewery and procured a job for George during the summer. In Sept. George enrolled at Duquesne University and finished his BA in history in 1955. Within two months after that he was inducted into the US Army.
After basic training at Ford Ord, CA, on the basis of having passed the Army Language Proficiency Exam in German, George was transferred out of his basic training outfit heading to Korea and sent to Ulm on the Danube in Germany. There he served as a Court Reporter in Courts and Boards with the 47th Infantry Regiment and subsequently, when this outfit was returned to the States, as Chaplain’s Assistant for troopers and service families at the main army chapel in the city. Duties in the latter capacity ranged from bookkeeper, gofer for his boss Capt. Fr. Jude Woerdeman OSB, interpreter, choir director and anything else that might be needed from the chaplain’s office. It was an open ended, fluid and very rewarding position, especially in connection with duties involving local Germans.
Upon return to civilian life in 1957, George had two job opportunities in Pittsburgh. One was as a bill collector for a finance company and the second was as a Latin teacher at Central Catholic High School. It was again a pivotal moment. George decided the second job would be less nerve racking and, after one day’s observation granted by Br. Martin, Principal of Central, of the German and English classes he would be taking over, he took up the calling from which he would retire only some 37 years later.
The decision to teach led to catch up work for teacher certification, to graduate work in Switzerland, an MA in German Language from Duquesne University and a PhD from the University of Michigan (with a dissertation on the interplay of law and justice in Bertolt Brecht’s plays). During these years of study George also taught full time. At different times he taught in the Pittsburgh Public Schools (Prospect Jr.High and Oliver High School), at the University of Michigan, the Universities of
New Mexico and Eastern Illinois. In 1970 he defended his dissertation at Michigan and was awarded the PhD in German Language and Literature. During these same years some important non-academic events were going on as well. The good-looking and very intelligent woman, Mary Annette Wilson, whom George had met in a Gothic class at Michigan, accepted his proposal of marriage in l962. The marriage was crowned by the arrival of three much loved children: George Carl, Stephanie Bernadette and Kristen Brunner. In 1973 the family moved to Idaho from Illinois when George accepted an offer to teach at Boise State University. In 1978, after living five years on 2 l/2 acres in West Boise, the decision was made to move out into the country. A farm of 40 acres was bought south of Nampa, not far from Lake Lowell and the Snake River. The family has lived here since then and managed very well mixing an academic life with running a small cattle operation. In 1997 George retired from the Foreign Language Department at BSU as Professor Emeritus. Mary and he bought a travel trailer that same year. They now blend travel to their offspring living in Oregon and Georgia and visiting various places of interest (National Parks and Civil War Sites) with farm activities, reading, church and staying abreast of world events.
As family members migrated to western Oregon, new opportunities arose for RV’ing and learning to love the beautiful Eastern Oregon desert and the greener regions of the Cascades. He especially loved the stark beauty at Three Forks, and the high desert at Steen’s Mountain. He always kept improving his farming skills with his good friend and compadre Gary Sedlacek providing advice from the farmers at the coffee shop. Energetically supporting the Catholic Church for all his years, he and Mary kept the weekly trek to Sunday Mass a top priority. In the last few years he took to working on his Russian grammar, while always keeping his German and Latin “tuned up.”
There were many friendly farmers that helped the Jocums over the years: the Sayers Dale and Elbern, Tote Weaver, Bust Weaver, and all the veteranians who came out on dark nights and weekends. The Wheelers, especially Rachel, have been wonderful friends throughout, keeping children in George and Mary’s lives, and making road trips possible.
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