Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Eugene Frank DeYonker, my father, was born in Detroit on 10/10/1930 and died on 6/6/2012.  The funeral director said you could play the lottery with those numbers!  He was born to John Thomas Pallister and Veronica Koszewski.  When his mother died he was adopted on January 14, 1935 by his maternal grandparents, Jenny and Leo Koszewski, and then adopted again as a teenager on August 8, 1947 by his Aunt Clara (Koszewski) and by her husband Frank DeYonker, after his grandmother died and his grandfather remarried.  At different times he was a son to his grandma, a brother to his mother and an uncle, cousin, and brother to his cousins.

He leaves behind his wife Josie, his children Deni, Terry, Marty, Ray and Yvonne and their spouses and children, his grandchildren, Al, Sam, Justin, Nick, Erin, Cate, Jacob and Jordan, and great granddaughter Peyton.

Today would have been his 82nd birthday. Today I dedicate my blog to him. The memoir I have written about him appears in these six pieces today.  I love ya, Dad.

My Dad

Handsome, charming, funny, and always polite to strangers, my father had the good looks of a Hollywood matinee idol and the sense of humor and timing of a late night TV talk show host!  He was a sensitive guy; and, like me, he cried at Hallmark Card and AT&T commercials!  He loved fast cars and power boats, cool music, painting pretty pictures and mean, sassy women.   

In his youth, he worked on cars in Clara and Frank’s garage with his buddies.  At our home in Detroit on Alter Road, he had a Corvette and an Austin Healy; he always had sporty cars.  I remember the time all seven of us went down to Florida in his Cadillac convertible! 

He went dancing to the sound of the big bands at the Graystone and the Vanity ballrooms.  As those clubs were fading, my mother and he would dance the jive, jitterbug, foxtrot, polka, swing and waltz at Jefferson Beach and Eastwood Gardens, amusement parks with dance halls.  My mother says they were the best dancers on the floor.  He loved jazz, swing and the crooners, but always kept up with whatever music was current.  In the late 60s he bought us our first Simon and Garfunkel LP.  He bought an 8-track stereo system.  When it outlived its’ usefulness someone bought him a CD changer stereo; as he got older he would listen to the same CDs over and over again.

As far back as I can remember we had boats.  My mother says dad was as afraid of the water as she was, and yet he persevered. He bought a fiberglass power boat and took it to the cottage my parents owned.  I remember one time my Aunt Nancy, the lone woman, was the only one to get up and stay up for water skiing. In Detroit we first had the power boat and then later the cabin cruisers-Chris Craft-which he docked at various marinas along the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair. The cabin cruisers were wooden boats. In the spring my father worked on the hull getting it ready to launch.  We’d go out to Peche Island and swim off the boat.  Sometimes, we would eat at Sinbad’s restaurant along the waterfront.  My favorite memory of that time is sleeping overnight on the boat with my dad.  When they moved to a house on the canal in Harrison Township he stored the boat on a hoist in their backyard.  My least favorite boat memory is when I took the boat for a spin, onto the lake from the canal, with one of my friends.  While getting gas, I hit the dock as I was trying to put the boat in reverse and bent one of the bumpers.  My father was pissed, but I don’t remember him yelling at me.  

My father was a handy, helpful guy-a bit of a teacher and a bit of a Huck Finn. He built a ping pong table and taught us how to play ping pong.  He made a chalk board and taught me to draw; my sister Terry became an artist because of watching this.  He renovated the basement and built a bar and a fireplace down there; there were many parties in that basement.  He got his buddy Bob to come up to the cottage and help him paint and put on an addition to the cottage. When they moved to Harrison Township, he taught my brothers, Marty and Ray, how to build by directing their construction of the extra rooms in the lower level.  Even as he aged, he found a new hobby-painting-that kept his mind occupied and his hands busy.

Mom and Dad

My parents met by accident while cruising down the street. You could say they picked each other up!  My mother and her friend Lois Hilgendorf had just finished playing tennis at Chandler Park and were riding their bikes home along Chandler Park Drive. My father and his buddy Bob Patrick were cruising along in my father’s ’39 Mercury convertible.  Lois recognized Bob, a friend of her cousin Joe Hannah, from a gathering with the Argonauts (the name my father’s group called themselves).  They struck up a brief conversation and the boys followed the girls to my mom’s house on Alter Rd. 

My folks were 19 and 20 years old when they got married. My father owned a part of a zoot suit, a couple pairs of holey jeans and a pair of cowboy boots.  Before they got married, he had a bunch of traffic tickets in the glove compartment box of his car; and, you know my mother, she made sure the tickets were paid before they were married.  He was the fun easy, going guy; she was the strong, organized gal, after all.  

Dad had been in the Marine Reserves in his late teens from Jan. 29, 1948 and through Jan. 28, 1950.  He was drafted into the Army shortly after my parents married in November of 1951 and was discharged in November of 1953. He went to Europe during the Korean conflict; he was lucky to go to Europe then and not to Korea or the Pacific.  He came home alive and well, but with a slight limp.

My mother’s mother, Clementine DeBuysscher, was not happy when she found out my father was not Belgian; but, my grandfather, Raymond DeBuyssher, was delighted to have this young man in their lives.  Meeting the Belgians and my grandfather in particular was the best thing that could have happened to my dad.  He built a garage with Raymond and did many other guy things. Through the Belgians he got his job as an automotive designer. He could have gotten a milk route or a job as a designer.  He chose designer.

Dad spent most of his adult life as an automotive designer. He could draw a straight line freehand and was very proud of that.  His printing was impeccable. When his brother Chuck was learning to be a draftsman too, my father spent hours with him teaching him how to print.  Dad always took overtime if he could get it and worked the job shops because they paid better.  If a job shop was offering 5 cents more an hour, he would leave his current company and go for that job.  He worked for Chrysler a total of 10 years, but was laid off during the recession of the 70s.  He went to work for the job shops and was called back to Chrysler but decided to stay with the job shops because they paid more.  Not good for the retirement package as Mom would remind him (no pension like Chrysler; job shops only offered 401Ks and only since the early 90s). He ended his design career at Chrysler.  

Before Dad died, on one of my visits to the hospital, he told me that the two things he had loved the most in his life were owning the bar and living on the canal. In the hospital in March, when he couldn’t remember much about the present, the doctor asked him where he lived and he said on Mallast St. on the canal.  When pressed further and told no, you don’t live there any more he looked around and said, “Well, I live here!”  He still had a sense of humor.  Over time, the MS got worse, he never really slept because he watched TV 24/7, his kidneys stopped functioning and the UTIs could put him in a terrible comatose state. But, no matter what, my father always knew his name, Eugene DeYonker, and he knew that he had five children. 

He was sorry for the pain and suffering he had caused my mother over their many years together.  He was sorry that she had to take care of him.  But his illness made her famous.  She was the most famous caregiver in all of Southeastern Michigan, appearing in the newspaper, on TV, in a commercial for a Home Health Care company and receiving awards for all her work on behalf of MS. They spent the better part of 61 years living life in all its fullness-loving, living, fighting, having fun, being angry and contrary and stubborn and trying to find a place of peaceful coexistence.  Together they were the life of the party!

The Bar Years

One of Dad’s relatives owned a small grocery store that he spent time at when he was a kid. He dreamed of owning his own business, so, during his lunch hours and after work, he and a friend, or sometimes by himself, would scope out various businesses.  Finally, he found a cocktail lounge on the east side of Detroit, not far from where we lived-the Au Sable Lounge. It became “Gene DeYonker’s Au Sable Lounge”.  It was in disrepair and on the decline when they bought the bar.  My parents used money from some Detroit Edison Stock in order to buy the bar.  This was the early 60s.

Originally my father had a partner, but my mother didn’t like the wife’s taste in curtains, so she advised my father to buy them out.  This is the story we were told when we were kids.  The truth is the guys thought they would keep their day jobs, hire a manager, go in for a bit after work and then the wives would go in later.  This arrangement lasted 4 days.  The other woman found that this was too hard on her family; they were suffering.  So after some discussion, my parents decided to buy the other couple out.  Besides the original chattel mortgage and the rent on the building, my parents took on another note and sold the cabin cruiser in order to buy the partner out.  My mother began running the bar and my father would go in after working his other job(s) to be the host with the most.  

The bar had entertainment six nights a week-The Pete Paar trio and others; on Sunday’s there’d be a jam session where anyone could get up and play.  On holidays we got dressed up and went to hear the live music, sitting at one of the front tables.  In the beginning, on Sundays, we would all go and help clean up the bar.  Dad told us he would be happy to give us a fresh one dollar bill for those dirty old fives and tens; how long did he think we would fall for that, I wonder? Once or twice I brought a friend to the bar after school and we would drink cokes and eat pistachios.  And, of course, Father Murphy was at the other end of the bar. Needless to say, I was not allowed to say hi!  Sometimes fights broke out and dad got hurt once or twice trying to break up the fight.  I remember him coming home and having his face bruised; we were told at the time that he fell into the door.  

They bought the bar in 1963 and sold it in 1968, a short-lived dream that hung on for years.  The second owner made good on his note the first nine years after the bar was sold, but then payments stopped.  My parents’ attorney suggested they could take the bar back or settle.  Around 1977 the family went down to the bar one afternoon during the week to look it over and discuss whether we would take it back or not.  I was the only one old enough to take over who it might interest and I wasn’t interested.  It would take another five years before litigation was finally settled in 1982.

My parents were very successful bar owners, they made a good team.  He was the face of the Au Sable Lounge, a charming host and she managed and organized the operation. It took them about a year and a half to show a profit and make the Au Sable Lounge the classy, popular place it became.  But, bars, children and booze don’t mix well and it took its toll on our family.