Photo by Joe Boyle
Evergreen Park resident Frank Brzeczek walks around a World War II Army vehicle, much like ones he worked on back in 1944. Brzeczek was surprised with a drive-by parade celebration Saturday honoring him for his service and marking his 95th birthday.
By Joe Boyle
Evergreen Park resident Frank Brzeczek was looking forward to his 95th birthday and wondered if he would have any visitors.
His children knew that their father was anxious to have some sort of celebration on his birthday, Saturday, Oct. 10. And his six surviving children thought about having some veterans come by to honor the World War II Army veteran.
"We started working on this in August and contacted (Evergreen Park) Trustee Mark Marzullo to see if something could be done," said one of Frank's daughters, Connie Dobbin.
Marzullo and fellow Trustee James McQuillan quickly decided that they were going to do more than have a few visitors. They came up with the idea of a full parade that included the U.S. Army, the Evergreen Park Fire Department and Evergreen Park Police Department, and residents and relatives all taking part in a drive-by celebration to salute Brzeczek, a popular figure in Evergreen Park.
"My dad is amazing," Dobbin said. ""There isn't anything he couldn't do. He built the house he lives in right now. He actually had to move it to its present location to make way for Northwest Elementary School. He has always been there for us. He is there for everybody. He just cares."
Dobbin's other siblings — Judy Gale, Jackie Peterson, Timothy and Ronald — helped pass out flyers in the neighborhood to pass the word around.
So, with help from Marzullo and McQuillan and other volunteers, the drive-by celebration began to take shape. Everyone that was going to participate in the parade by gathering near the Evergreen Park Village Pantry. The parade then began its journey down the 2700 block of 98th Place at 1 p.m.
Judy kept the surprise intact by taking Brzeczek that morning to visit the grave of his wife, Cornelia, who died in 2016, at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.
While they were away, Brzeczek's other kids and other relatives decorated the front yard. Frank knew something was up when he returned and saw the Honor Flight Chicago sign on the front lawn. He was on a recent Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. to honor him for his World War II service.
Brzeczek grew up in Chicago's Roseland neighborhood. He had to drop out of school in the seventh grade to care for his 11 brothers and sisters. HIs mother died when was 12 years old.
His brothers —Joseph, Casmier, John, Leo and Stanley — were already serving in the Armed Forces during World War II. Frank signed up for the Army and landed in Marseilles, France in October, 1944, just a month after his 18th birthday.
He took part in some heavy fighting in France, Germany and Austria. Marzullo mentioned that he was ready to take part in what would have been the invasion of Japan but the war ended.
Frank is the last surviving brother who served. His brothers Chester and Theodore served in Korea. His son, Frank Jr., who died in 2017, served in Vietnam. He does have two surviving sisters.
Brzeczek stood for most of the parade as he wore a smile and waved frequently to the first responders, military personnel, and relatives and friends who drove by to wish him a happy birthday. The Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club also drove by. The Veterans Garage also brought out some World War II vehicles for Frank to see.
He used his walker and strolled around the vehicles. He remembers working on the vehicles during his Army days.
"Oh, I was surprised," Brzeczek said at the end of the drive-by celebration. "I thought we were just going to have cake and coffee."
Marzullo said he was more than happy to help organize the special birthday surprise for Brzeczek.
"He is just such a great guy," Marzullo said. "He served in World War II and almost went to Japan near the end of the war. He is such a kind man and friendly to everyone."
Dobbin also mentioned that her father has lived in the same home in Evergreen Park for 72 years after marrying Cornelia Onderwater in 1947. When Northeast Elementary School was going to be built on the site of his house, he purchased the home from the village, tore it down and rebuilt it where it still stands today.
Mayor James Sexton, who was unable to attend the event, proclaimed Saturday, Oct. 10 as "Frank Brzeczek Day."
Marzullo read the proclamation to Brzeczek and presented the gift to him.
"Since we did not have a parade down 95th Street this year for Fourth of July, I think we matched it," Marzullo joked. "He is just very special. He is part of the greatest generation."
A member of St. Bernadette Parish, Brzeczek retired from Campbell Soup Co.
All in all, Brzeczek said the day was special and he will always remember it. He believes his late wife would approve.
"I know my wife was looking down on this today," Brzeczek said. "This was a great day."