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Lockport

An Extraordinary Life: A life of hard work and responsibility

Lockport man mapped out the best routes and gave good directions

Leonard John Strahanoski Sr. of Lockport was a man of solid accomplishments.
Leonard John Strahanoski Sr. of Lockport was a man of solid accomplishments.

Leonard Strahanoski Sr. was a man of solid accomplishments.

He was a U.S. Navy veteran, a life member of the Lockport VFW Post 5788, owner and operator of the former Ski and Sons Builders, a 2nd Ward alderman in Lockport from 1965 to 1973 and Lockport’s part-time building and plumbing inspector.

But Leonard valued – and lived – two ideals that directed all of his actions.

Hard work and responsibility.

“He was a man of character and very responsible, from a young age, and he was well-respected in all that he did,” Leonard’s daughter, Beth Hohisel of Lockport, said in an email. “Ski, as he liked to be called, loved his family, worked hard, chose to do the right thing, helped when he could, trusted God and prayed. He not so much talked about these things, but we saw him live them out every day.”

Even as a boy, Ski exemplified those characteristics. The oldest boy of six siblings, Ski was only 14 when he began working to help his family. First jobs included setting up pins in a bowling alley and switching trains seven days a week for a railroad.

Ski looked after his siblings, too, giving them rides and buying them gifts. At 17, he joined the U.S. Navy, served in World War II and traveled to Australia, Shanghai and the Philippines.

But Ski came home to Lockport.

And it was while working at Globe Aircraft painting airplanes that he met his future wife, Dorothy, or Dolly, as everyone called her. Dolly said she liked his sense of responsibility.

“He liked to dance,” she added. “And he was very handsome.”

Dolly recalled their first date: a Globe Aircraft Christmas party, held at the Renaissance Center in Joliet.

“Within a short time, Dad and Mom met and were married, and before you knew it, they were heading for California with mom six months pregnant,” Beth wrote in her eulogy. “No job, no place to live ... no big deal. Dad didn’t worry about such things. It would work out. And it did.”

But Dolly missed Lockport. So sometime after their first child, Bill, was born, they returned and stayed.

Before forming Ski and Sons Builders, Leonard worked for Frank Milne Developing, consequently building many homes in the Kelvin Grove subdivision. Between both businesses, Leonard built 238 homes in Lockport.

“My brothers, John, Len and Tony, who got the chance to work with Dad over the years, often said that dad was happiest at work, often whistling while he worked,” Beth wrote in her eulogy. “I can picture him in his tan work clothes heading off to work, returning at lunchtime for Mom’s soup and sandwich.”

Ski applied his values toward his family, too. He and Dolly had six children (Bill of Joliet, John of Lockport, Kimberly Ciuffini of Elwood, Leonard Jr. of Lockport, Beth of Joliet and Anthony of Lockport), and he was a strict but gentle father.

“He expected his kids to make good choices, and he modeled that,” Beth said.

Ski worked hard around the house, too. He cut his own grass and cleaned his own gutters – even at age 87, Beth wrote. He and Dolly lived a steady, uncomplicated life.

“Dad went to work, Mom stayed home,” Beth wrote. “They often talked about the events of the day: what had happened in town, something going on with us kids, or something they read in the paper. We always had dinner together. We watched TV together. We were a family.”

Ski didn’t pursue hobbies the way other people pursue hobbies. He liked listening to Bill play the accordion, and he liked dancing polkas at family gatherings. He liked spending time with family.

He also liked giving directions. To him, the best route was not always the most picturesque route.

“He took the plain route, the fastest way to get there,” Dolly said.

Beth added, “Nothing made him happier than to pull out that map, ask where you were going, and show the best way to get there.”

Ski liked taking his family on vacations across the country or for drives on Sunday afternoons – with the kids hoping he’d stop for A&W root beer.

“Sometimes he did,” Beth said. “And sometimes he didn’t.”

Dolly said Ski also took care of his own parents, John and Rose, in their later years.

“He was just responsible,” Dolly said. “He always saw things were taken care of to the best of his ability.”

Leonard also served Lockport for a total of 50 years, Beth said, as alderman, as the city’s part-time building and plumbing inspector, and as a member of a board that addressed building codes.

“He told me when he first became an alderman, he had no idea that people actually got paid to do that job.,” Beth wrote in her eulogy. “He felt that it was something that people should do because it needed to be done.

“His sense of right and wrong carried over into all that he did, from raising his children to being the building and plumbing inspector, to building and repairing homes for customers. People knew that you could trust Ski.”

Ski also was well-respected in those roles, Beth said.

“He knew his work so well, he could quickly identify what they did right or wrong, and he held to his guns about what had to be done,” Beth said.

Although Ski officially retired in 2005, Beth said in his heart, he never retired and helped his sons in their projects.

In the 20 years before his death on March 11 at the age of 89, Ski had some heart issues, a pituitary tumor removed and chronic lymphoma leukemia, but they never stopped him.

“He had the mindset during these health difficulties that he had work to do and just needed to get done with ‘this’ and move on,” Beth said in an email.

Each week, Ski and Dolly attended Mass with their family. They taught their children to pray. More than ever, Ski’s family values his “good directions.”

“He showed us how to live a good life: love your family, work hard, do the right thing, help when you can, trust God and pray,” Beth wrote in the eulogy.

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or dunland@shawmedia.com.

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