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401 Hall St. SW, Suite 263
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
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Life Story / Obituary
It can be easily said that Ted Szczepanski gave his all and then some. The foundation of his family, he laid the groundwork for his family to live by, setting a firm example of fortitude, loyalty, faith, and trust. Ted was a man of his generation. He knew the value of a dollar, the importance of a hard work ethic, and the dedication of being a devoted family man. A good friend of many, he rarely met a stranger. To all he encountered, Ted was a personable fellow and to his family and those who knew him best, his memory lives on in the way he touched others with ways all his own.
Ted’s story began in the year 1915, and while World War I raged overseas, much was happening on the home front. Baseball legend, Babe Ruth made his name known on the ball field while 25,000 women marched the streets of New York City demanding the right to vote. Harry Houdini claimed his way to fame as a magician and Charlie Chaplin was a hit on the big screen. It was during these changing times in the riverfront city of Grand Rapids, Michigan when Frank and Belle (Przybylski) Szczepanski welcomed the birth of their little boy, Theodore Edward on December 8, 1915.
The oldest of eventually four children, Ted was later joined by his younger siblings, Harry, Dolorine “Dol” and Rosemary. To support their growing family, Ted’s father worked as a propane truck driver and for a time co-owned a gas station. His mother was a busy homemaker who also worked at an area cigar factory. She often brought home the irregular cigars to Ted’s father, who went on to become a heavy smoker. A devoted son to his parents and close to his siblings, Ted and his brother, Harry were very close growing up. Together they were always building and creating things to play with and conjuring up ways to be mischievous and adventurous. Despite the age difference between the two boys and their younger sisters, Ted loved his younger sisters and they each remained close their whole lives through. His baby sister, Rosemary affectionately referred to Ted as, “Theodorable”.
As a youngster, Ted loved spending time at his grandparent’s farm. He also contracted Scarlett Fever in his youth and quarantined at home with his mother while his father brought them food and milk. A family devout to their Catholic faith and Polish roots, Ted received his early education while attending St. Adalbert’s Parochial School and Catholic Central High School. It was during his school days when Ted came to have a love for the game of baseball. He loved playing baseball and would get caught by the nuns in school for planning his player line up. When older, he worked as a golf caddy and enjoyed playing the game, too.
Ted was drafted into the U.S. Army after being denied the opportunity to join the U.S. Air Corps due to a hernia. In fact, Ted always joked that his hernia was apparently not a problem for the infantry! However, the wounds of war cannot always be felt. Having lived through numerous battles and campaigns in Northern France, Rhineland and Central Europe, Ted was an honored Veteran having received the ribbon of Good Conduct and the European African Middle Eastern Ribbon including three Battle Stars. In December of 1944, Ted made hometown headlines when he was captured by the Germans in France. With grim conditions, he chose to volunteer and was moved to a farm where he remained a POW until May 1945. It was at that time when Ted and others on the POW farm worked their way to American lines and were freed.
When Ted was close to being discharged from the Army, he met the love of his life, Mary Zdonek at a local drinking establishment in Grand Rapids. Mary was putting a nickel in the juke box and Ted, handsome as could be in uniform, approached her jokingly about being able to properly insert the nickel. For the next two years, Ted and Mary dated and as usual, Mary’s dad always had a cold beer waiting for Ted when he came to their house. Deeply in love, the couple was happily married on August 30, 1947, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Grand Rapids. They eventually celebrated with a memorable honeymoon to New Orleans.
Soon after his honorable discharge, Ted was also asked by his brother, Harry to go into business together. They began this endeavor in a rented, unheated garage and the two would often sit in their car to stay warm during the colder weather waiting for customers. Mary and Harry’s wife, Jean both worked to provide financial support while Ted and Harry were starting up Thierica Automation and Equipment. (see www.thiequip.com for company history and “The Dollar Bill” story). The early years of two brothers building, creating and conjuring truly paid off when today, Thierica is a well-established and thriving company. Ted always possessed an engineering mind and loved figuring out ways to improve a process.
Ted and Mary were soon blessed with the births of three children. Ronald “Ron” came along in 1952, followed by Richard “Rick” in 1953, and their daughter, Kathleen completed their family in 1955. As members of Sacred Heart, each of the kids attended Sacred Heart School. As a family they took annual vacations to destinations such as Milwaukee, WI, Chicago, IL, north to Canada and to the northern Michigan region. Every Sunday was spent going out for dinner or on a picnic in addition to spending time visiting relatives. Ted was a generous parent who provided a loving home with many opportunities for his children. He led by way of example which served his children well.
Holidays and other special occasions were always celebrated in the Szczepanski home creating treasured memories. When Ted and his siblings were adults with children, the entire Szczepanski family spent every Christmas Eve together at Ted’s parent’s home on Alpine Avenue. There they exchanged gifts, socialized and took part in exchanging their homemade Oplatek, a Polish wafer. Easter Sunday’s were always shared enjoying a wonderful dinner together with Polish kielbasa that was made in-house and hung to dry.
Ted loved food and some of his favorites included corned beef and cabbage and the pineapple upside down cake his favorite aunt often prepared. For years Ted took a concerned interest in his cholesterol levels and when eating his favorite over-easy eggs he’d even remove the yolks from the whites. When Ted was working he frequented a lot of restaurants in Grand Rapids which often included Holly’s Landing, the Schnitzelbank and Sayfees restaurants and never hesitated becoming acquainted with the owners and wait staff. After retiring, the Big Boy Restaurant on Pearl Street was the place to go for “senior breakfast” and chats with friends. His daughter often teased Ted that he liked having a little coffee with his cream and sugar.
In his free time, Ted participated in bowling leagues over the years and liked taking the kids bowling. He was a very loyal fan of quarterback, Tom Brady when he played for the New England Patriots and his children hold fond memories of professional baseball playing on Ted’s transistor radio.
Ted was quite the music lover and had hundreds of record albums. He was especially fond of big band music and listening to female vocalists at home on his custom made stereo cabinet and system as well as in his car. Bea Wain was his favorite female vocalist. During his younger years he enjoyed hearing live bands in Grand Rapids and Chicago. He also enjoyed creating his own mix of music starting with reel-to-reel tapes and keeping up with technology, he moved on to cassette tapes, and finally, CDs. Although he wasn’t too big on reading, local author, Rick Vuyst spent time with Ted during his stay at St. Ann’s where Ted shared many of his WWII and life experiences. Ted is featured in Rick’s new book, “I Just Wet My Plants” in chapter 5 of the Oakley Oracles publication.
Family was at the very center of Ted’s heart. He was not only a dedicated father, but a devoted son and husband, as well. Ted visited his mother every weekday and made sure his mother’s needs were met while living at St. Ann’s with dementia. He also worked through the challenges of seeing his wife get progressively worse after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. His beloved Mary lived with MS for 37 years and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1969. Soon after Mary was diagnosed with MS they made Parish of the Holy Spirit their church home where it was more accessible for Mary. He took exceptional care of her at home except the last nine months of her life when she had to be fed through a tube and had a tracheotomy. She died at Kent Community Hospital in 1995.
Ted enjoyed crossword puzzles and could never have enough crossword dictionaries. He was a regular at the dollar stores. Ted also had a system for remembering a name or place as he would mentally work through each letter of the alphabet until he made the right connection. A friend called Ted, “Velcro man” because he had a seamstress sew Velcro into his pants and on his shirt bottoms to keep his shirts tucked in. Dad always insisted on wearing a fedora hat during the winter months to keep his head warm.
Ted then spent his time taking trips to the casinos in Mount Pleasant and Traverse City. His daughter Kathy traveled with him twice to Wisconsin to visit an Army buddy, and one visit involved taking the S.S. Badger across Lake Michigan which he thoroughly enjoyed. The best frog legs, another of Ted’s favorites were savored during those Wisconsin visits. He held close to his Army roots and attended several reunions a time or two, yet spending time with his family was always a priority and welcome time for Ted. He cherished his step-granddaughter, Lisa Flagler and step great-granddaughter, Leah Flagler, although there weren’t many opportunities for Ted to really spend much time with them in his later years.
At the age of 104, Ted contracted COVID-19 at St. Ann’s and recovered. Sadly it weakened his body and he could no longer stay in Assisted Living and peacefully passed away in St. Ann’s Skilled Nursing Unit.
One of a kind, Ted Szczepanski was a wonderful man to know and love. He lived with honor and integrity, and by his convictions. His sense of humor always kept a smile on the faces of those around him and when discussing politics, he at times had some really good ideas, but he’d say “Nobody from the current administration ever calls me for advice!” Ted was always there for his family and was their hero in every sense. An excellent provider, he will be deeply missed and leaves treasured memories in abundance.
Theodore E. Szczepanski, aged 105, of Grand Rapids MI, passed away peacefully on March 6, 2021. Along with his parents, Ted is preceded in death by his beloved wife of 48 years, Mary, his brother, Harry Szczepanski, and sisters, Dolorine Joustra and Rosemary Nichols. He is survived by his children, Ron Szczepanski, Rick (Mary) Szczepanski and Kathy (Dave) Brady as well as his step-granddaughter, Lisa (Jim) Flagler, and step great-granddaughter, Leah.
The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Friday, March 12, 2021, 11:00 AM at the Parish of the Holy Spirit, (2230 Lake Michigan Dr. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504). Friends are invited to visit with Ted’s family prior to the service at church beginning at 10:00 AM. Immediately following the service, Ted will be laid to rest in Resurrection Cemetery. The family wishes to express their gratitude to the staff at St. Ann’s Home and Emmanuel Hospice for their wonderful care.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to Emmanuel Hospice, (401 Hall St SW #263, Grand Rapids, MI 49503) and St. Ann's Home, (2161 Leonard St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504). To read more about Ted’s life, to share a memory, or to sign his online guestbook, please visit www.heritagelifestory.com.