Carl Wascak, the heartbeat behind the hum of the The Corry Journal pressroom where he worked for six and a half decades, died on Thursday afternoon.
Wascak, 84, was battling cancer for many years, but even his illness wouldn't keep the newspaper's most famous head pressman from doing what he loved — cranking the presses, keeping the print jobs rolling and teaching new employees everything he knew.
With a cigar or a pipe in his mouth, he always wore a smile and an apron, carried his favorite press wrench and had a nickname for everyone he worked with.
"I have great memories of Carl," said George R. "Scoop" Sample III, president of Sample News Group, which owns and operates The Corry Journal. "He was one of the nicest people to walk this earth."
Wascak was hired by Sample's father, the late George R. Sample Jr., on Oct. 15, 1954.
"As one of many publishers who started their career at The Corry Journal, I started as a fly boy in Carl's pressroom," Scoop Sample said. "Carl was an early innovator of offset printing in Pennsylvania and many people turned to him for advice. He gave it kindly and willingly, never too busy to help, and always with a smile. He trained dozens of people to run that press."
Bob Williams, publisher of The Corry Journal, said he has been fortunate enough to spend 30 years learning from the best in the newspaper industry.
"Carl was a great teacher of life and whenever I needed to just slow the day down, I could always rely on him taking a few minutes to talk about how his day was going as he chomped on a non lit cigar," Williams said. "He had a great ability to pick you up with his lessons on life. They don't make people like Carl anymore and I was lucky to have him as a co-worker, and more importantly, a friend. He was an industry icon and a true one of a kind person I was lucky to meet."
Pat Patterson, an executive vice president for Community Media Group and publisher of the Courier Express in DuBois and The Progress in Clearfield, also trained under Wascak.
"Besides my own father, Carl had the biggest impact on my young life as it had unfolded," Patterson said. "I certainly would not be in the newspaper business if Carl hand't taken me under his wing."
At the age of 15, Patterson remembers having to cover his sister's paper route while she was away at Girl Scout camp.
"I was so mad because I had to do that route," he said. "I went down to the bottom of The Journal where all the kids went to get their papers. They had them in piles on the floor with their names on them. Carl, who smoked a pipe then, came over to me and said, 'Hey, you want a job?'"
Patterson's employment under Carl then began in 1981.
"I carried papers off the press, helped with the press and then I also started working in the camera room," he said. "I was running that press by myself when I was 21."
Patterson, who graduated from Corry Area High School in 1983, said his days working in The Journal pressroom came to an end in 1986, but his career in the newspaper business was just getting started.
"I had been very fortunate in the timing in my life to have met Carl," he said. If I had not met Carl, I would not have been on George's radar, and I certainly wouldn't be in the newspaper business."
Phil Griffis, who is currently a nighttime pressman for The Journal, began working under Wascak in 1984.
"Carl loved to joke around," said Griffis, who added that Wascak always called him "Willy," a nickname he had assigned him. "But when it was time to work it was time to work."
Griffis said Wascak had a press wrench he would carry around with him to take plates on and off the press.
"We had probably three or four of those wrenches, but he always insisted on using that one," he said. "So one day, another co-worker and I stole that wrench, and when he retired the first time in 1997, we had the wrench mounted in a plaque and gave it to him."
That plaque now hangs in The Journal darkroom, Griffis said.
Although a retirement celebration for Wascak was held in 1997, it didn't mean Wascak took it seriously.
Wascak continued to work and could not stay away from his second home.
"He had ink in his blood," said Kelli Meerhoff, Wascak's youngest daughter. "He just loved that job, and when they called, he came night or day."
Wascak, and his wife, Nancy, lived in Spring Creek with their two daughters, Teri (Gardner) and Kelli. Nancy and Carl Wascak owned a restaurant on North Center Street for many years called "Nan's."
Meerhoff recalled a time in the late 1980s, when her father underwent knee surgery. Still at home recuperating, a call came in from The Journal asking Wascak if he was able to come in.
"My mother would get so upset at him," Meerhoff said. "She refused to take him down there. But, she was heading into town anyway to go to the restaurant and when she came out to the car — he was already in it."
Still refusing to take him to The Journal, she parked on North Center Street and Wascak proceeded to walk to the office, which was a little over a half mile away.
"Someone said they saw him dragging his crutches across the street," Meerhoff said.
Meerhoff remembers coming to work with her dad as a child and could tell, even then, how much he loved his work.
"It was a real treat for me to go there," she said. "He would set me up at this slanted desk and I would watch him. He just loved all his buddies there and those ladies that worked downstairs and stuffed papers. My mom would bake things and he would bring those ladies in all kinds of things."
Meerhoff said her dad's hands were always black — except when he came back from fishing trips in Canada.
"He would come back and be all tan and his hands were so clean," Meerhoff said. "We would just sit and look at his hands because they weren't black anymore."
R.L. McCray, who started as a sports reporter for The Corry Journal in 1973, said he saw Wascak's dedication to the job many times, but one time in particular always stood out.
"One time we got about 30 inches of snow," said McCray, who was referring to a winter day in the mid 1980s. "All the streets were closed, but I lived two blocks away so I came into work."
The late George R. Sample Jr. was heading up the newsroom at the time and he, along with a handful of other staff members who lived close by, had also made it into work.
"George said, 'Well, we can put together a paper but we don't have anyone to run the press,'" McCray said. "Two minutes later, here comes Carl on a snowmobile from Spring Creek. He had to come the back way into town so he came in from South Center Street. He told us when he got here, 'I know there is a lot of snow, but when I was coming down the road, I didn't realize I was driving over cars.'"
Thirty inches of snow did not stop The Journal from hitting the newsstands that day, thanks to Wascak.
"That's how dedicated Carl was," McCray said. "I'm sure he drove that snowmobile many places but I think that's the only time he drove it to The Corry Journal."