Editor’s Note: Going forward as a weekly newspaper in Berkshire County, we at The Berkshire Beacon wish to acknowledge people who have made a commitment, offered change or improved a community or just accomplished one’s life goals.
Thus, from time to time, we’ll do a remembrance column written by the editorial staff. Most times we’ll charge the funeral home a fee for the obituary, but will offer a free photograph. Even though, we, as a weekly, may not be timely with calling hours and services, the bottom line is that obituaries are the best read page in most publications.
There are a few things in life that are absolutely inexplicable. They happen and we will never know why.
Maybe, in the other realm of life, we’ll have the opportunity to look the creator of the universe in the eyes and ask, “Why? Why did that happen?”
And maybe not.
One happening that definitely slips into that category is the death three years ago of my beloved brother-in-law, Ronnie Kochapski.
He was married to one my sisters, Barb. They met as undergraduates at the University of Massachusetts.
I knew Ron since those younger days when he had a head of thick curly brown hair. He was madly in love with my sister and nobody was surprised when they married.
Ronnie was a science teacher all of his life. He taught some very tough kids at the Berkshire Farm in Cannan,NY, from where he retired. He later taught at Herberg Middle School, Pittsfield before his illness. I rarely heard him complain.
I thought of him so many times when he was making that trek in the ice and snow. It was a heck of a drive, and he did it for a couple of decades.
He loved teaching with all his heart and relished preparing thousands of lesson plans.
The greatest joy of his life, though, were his kids, Sarah Powell of Lanesborough, Amy Aldrich of Dalton and Daniel of Pittsfield.
Oh boy, mention one of his kids and Ronnie’s eyes lit right up. He thought his kids were the best people in the whole world. Isn’t that a fabulous gift for children?
He had a quiet, gentle disposition. I thought of him as being a kind of big teddy bear.
Life was often very hard for my sister and brother-in-law, but boy, they sure stuck together and just kept on living life. They were an inseparable team through laughter and tears, and trust me, there were plenty of both in their lives.
Ronnie was a man of faith, too. No matter what heart-breaking circumstance occurred in their lives, he always turned to God for help.
“Whaddya gonna do?” I can still hear him say. When some unfathomable thing occurred, he’d say, “You’ve got to give it up to the Lord.”
Like so many of us, Ronnie struggled with excess weight all his life. He was always going on and off diets but he remained a pretty big guy. I couldn’t help but think his spirit and heart were just as big.
He was kind, thoughtful and understanding of others.
Ronnie was looking forward to a couple of things: grandchildren and retirement. When the grandkids started coming, he was a happy man.
That sweet face had a look of utter enchantment when he looked into the eyes of his first grandkid. You’d have thought it was the first baby ever born. Ronnie wanted to be a super grandfather.
Then came a fateful phone call. He hadn’t been feeling that great so he went for a medical consultation.
My sister called our house, and I could tell she was crying.
“It’s pancreatic cancer,” she sobbed.
“Okay, we’ll deal with it,” I said, not knowing that this type of cancer has a very small survival rate. Ronnie was diagnosed on July 1, 2009.
The next several months were terribly difficult. He was determined to beat the cancer and decided to endure chemotherapy.
As time went by, he got sicker and weaker. By Christmas time, we all knew he was losing the battle for life. Ronnie wanted so much to live. He fought against any thought of dying. He wanted to be with his wife, his kids. He wanted to retire at long last.
That last holiday season together was a heart-breaker. Every time the camera snapped a photo of Ronnie, my heart tugged inside my chest. It would be the last Christmas together with this dear, sweet man among us. How could that possibly be? How could life be so cruel? How? Why him? Why?
By February 2010, family members were taking turns staying with Ronnie at home. So many times when I’d ask him how he was doing, he’d answer the same, “Lousy.” My heart just about broke.
Near Valentine’s Day, as sick as he was, he asked his son to go out and buy a card for Barb. He had never missed giving one to her, along with a lavender rose, in more than 35 years of marriage!
On the night of Feb. 20, 2010, eight months after the cancer diagnosis, Ronnie called my sister and his adult children into his room.
In a short time, he took his last breath. Ronnie went to the other side, quietly and gently, like his indomitable spirit.
The night of his wake, people lined up outside the funeral home at 4 p.m., and by 9 p.m., there was still a crowd. It was utterly amazing.
Never in my entire life did I ever see so many people visit a person who had died. Ronnie was well-known, respected and loved by so many people.
Three years to the day of his death this month, all of our family gathered at MadJack’s BBQ restaurant to remember Ronnie. His son-in-law, Jabari Powell, and daughter, Sarah, own the restaurant.
There are six grandkids – many of whom never met their beloved grandpa – Aiden, Natalie and Noah Aldrich and Jackson, Madison and Lauren Powell.
We all still miss Ronnie terribly in our own individual way. His death was a huge hit that left a gaping hole in our family.
Tears still come when I think of his smiling face and see Ronnie waving from the doorway of their home.
Ronnie Kochapski was a good and decent man, loved by many and missed forever by all.
His children and all those whose lives he touched are his legacy.
Who could ask for more?