By Bill Pfohl, Communications Officer
Singer/songwriter James Taylor wrote, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” It was the Friday before Christmas when I had the opportunity to meet one of our patients who discovered that secret long before Taylor ever sang about it. Frank Lacko, Sr. turned 101 on October 1st. You can only imagine the new wonders he has witnessed during his life. There was telephone, radio and television, airline travel, computers and medical miracles like antibiotics just to name a few.
Lacko, who was raised in the coal mining town of Lansford, Pennsylvania, told me of his first great adventure. It was the 1920’s and aviators were barnstorming across America. Famed pilot Amelia Earhart was making a visit to a nearby town. Just 14-years-old, Frank Lacko was determined to meet her and fly in her plane. The town she was to visit was several miles away. Frank, with only a few dollars in his pocket, walked to the airfield in Scranton. Once there he bought a hot dog to hold off his hunger. As he waited in line, he realized he no longer had enough money to cover the cost of a ride on Earhart’s plane. This didn’t stop Frank from negotiating with the ticket taker to amend the length of his ride to what he could afford. Hearing the hubbub, Earhart listened to Lacko make his case and told the ticket taker to make sure “the kid got a good ride”!
As I listened to him I noticed Frank was wearing the veteran’s pin that Hospice presents to honor the men and women in the armed forces. If you ask Frank about World War II, he would say that his wife was his hero for taking care of the farm and young family he left behind while he served in the Navy on the USS Midway. Lacko was one of the bakers aboard the 3000-manned aircraft carrier. Of course, this led to another great story. It seems one of Frank’s shipmates turned 18 while on board and never had a birthday cake growing up. Despite the Navy prohibiting such practices, he made the cake for his friend. Lacko caught some flack for the effort, but his commanding officer thought the cake was so good that birthday cakes became standard practice on board the USS Midway.
Some years after the war, the Lackos moved to Middleburgh, NY, where they raised their family of four. Frank farmed during the day, and he operated a crane at night at the nearby General Electric foundry. In their later years, he and his wife Elizabeth loved to travel and visited historic sites in the U.S. and Canada in their motorhome. With Frank’s love for history he was able to identify and donate a Native American Turtle Clan amulet that was found on land that he rented in Schoharie. This relic was the first evidence that the Turtle Clan lived in Schoharie County. Lacko was determined that the pendant be returned to its people and is very proud to have been part of that.
At Hospice we talk a lot about making the best of the time we have left. Betsy Sadlon, Frank’s daughter and primary caregiver says her father “loved everything he’s ever done”. Frank enjoys telling his stories to his family, including 8 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren, and friends. This time of sharing is special for both Frank and the people he loves. His life experiences, his stories and the years of hard work are a testament to a man who made obstacles into adventures.