For as long as he lived — and he lived to be 103 — William Joseph Jurinske had a love affair with Danbury, the city of his youth.
Really, it was more of a big town when Jurinske posed with the other third-graders at St. Peter’s School on graduation day in 1915. He was the tall boy in the back row, the one with the long tie, his son pointed out.
Jurinske never made it back to Danbury in his final years, which he spent cheerfully in Bristol, Tenn., home of God’s country and a big-time NASCAR race track, a lot bigger than the old Racearena.
So Jurinske’s 70-year-old son, who shares his father’s name and a love for the Hat City, wrote to The News-Times from Tennessee in search of one last goodbye for his father.
“William Joseph Jurinske was an honest, unselfish, caring and unpretentious soul who tried to make the world a better place and in some small way did,” Bill Jurinske wrote in a three-page, handwritten letter.
Actually, that letter and a lot more arrived at my desk the other day in a thick envelope marked “Priority Mail.” Inside, along with Jurinske’s sweet essay to his father, was a pocket folder like the kids stockpile for back-to-school.
In one pocket, Jurinske stuffed more than a dozen photos of his father, including one from 1927 with his dad looking like he had stepped out of “The Great Gatsby.” All of a sudden, he was F. Scott Fitzgerald with the center part and the smart suit, a handsome man leaning against the curling fender of a big black automobile.
In the other pocket, Jurinske stuffed a sheet of letterhead from his dad’s old insurance business — National-Ben Franklin Insurance Company of Pittsburgh — and a copy of the centenarian letter his father received from the White House in 2009.
“He died in my arms in his bed on 3/26/11 at our home waiting for the ambulance,” Bill Jurinske wrote, with grief and pride spilling through the college-ruled paper at the same time.
Instead, the angels came for William Jurinske that day and guided the former insurance agent and businessman to his final resting place at St. Peter’s Cemetery in Danbury, right next to his wife, Sally, and not too far from where that graduation picture was taken in 1915.
“I think he outlived everybody in that picture,” Bill Jurinske told me on the phone from Bristol. “He loved Danbury. He loved everything about it — the people, the places, his family and friends, everything.
“He was only about 5-foot-3. I used to kid him that he was shrinking as he got older,” Jurinske said. “But after he died, I figured a lot of people up there didn’t know what happened to him and they might like to know.”
Many of his father’s oldest friends, Bill Jurinske said, were also his insurance clients.
For a long time, William Jurinske worked two jobs to support a young family that included Bill and his older sister, Sirane. Their father was general manager of the old Danbury Novelty Co. on Main Street for 28 years before the shop closed.
Along the way, Jurinske sold insurance for National-Ben Franklin and the Camden Fire Insurance Association of Camden, N.J. His fire insurance customers included Sacred Heart Church on Cottage Street in Danbury, his son said.
William Jurinske retired in 1971 and moved in with Bill in 1982, after Sally passed on. Together, father and son lived in Wallingford and North Branford for a few years before finally heading south to Tennessee in 1998 for milder winters and a cheaper cost of living.
But even then, at 91 years old, William Jurinske still loved to stretch his legs and test his limits. He enjoyed fishing and walking and lifting small hand weights — all the way until he was 103.
Whenever it rained or was cold outside, his son said, Jurinske would push a shopping cart around the perimeter of the Super Walmart store in Bristol.
“He liked the walking part, but I think he liked saying hello and talking to people even more,” Bill Jurinske said. “Everybody knew him and gravitated toward him. He was a very likable man.”
William Jurinske wasn’t flashy or extravagant, his son said, although he did look pretty dashing in that black-and-white picture from the Roaring ’20s.
And yet, even when he was living with his son in the mountains of Tennessee, Danbury was always home for William Jurinske.
It was fitting that Jurinske was laid to rest at St. Peter’s Cemetery to spend eternity with his wife and the city he loved.
“He never cheated anyone and he never lied to anyone. I was very lucky to have him as a father,” Bill Jurinske said.
“If he can’t get into heaven, then heaven must be an awfully lonely place. I’ll never know a better man in my life.”
I have the “Priority Mail” envelope on my desk to prove it.