“The choices we make about the lives we live determine the kinds of legacies we leave.”
Rev. John J. Paproski lived for 34,555 amazing days. And it was at his funeral that I realized again that funerals have a striking way of reordering our priorities
Benjamin Franklin said, “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Ninety four years does not guarantee that a significant legacy will be left behind, but for Rev. Paproski, that was part of his charm.
Evan Esar’s words would definitely describe him: “You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.”
I only heard him preach one time. We were celebrating the naming of one of our residence halls here at Valley Forge Christian College after him – Paproski Hall. He went to the pulpit without a Bible and as was his custom in recent years, he quoted from memory all of the biblical references.
Rev. Paproski was known for his kind heart. His affirmations were legendary. From “I am so very proud of you,” to “That was your best sermon. Billy Graham could not have done better,” he oozed encouragement. I don’t think he ever spoke to me without giving me such a word.
His parents immigrated to the United States from Russia (the Ukraine) and his father died when he was 14. To supplement the family income, he caddied at some of Long Island’s best golf clubs. Everyone knew he loved that game and his love probably began in those early years. None of us were surprised that his golf clubs were conspicuously displayed next to his body at the funeral. He golfed his age when he was 84.
Also on display at the funeral was his Bronze Star, which he earned during World War II. He was part of the army that liberated Italy from the Nazis. Only in his later years did he talk about his military service. Thirty years later he returned to Rome. He clearly remembered the exuberance of the Italians to him and his fellow young soldiers.
His daughter, Joyce, spoke of the day he earned that Bronze Star. He was a map person. After arriving at a barn he went inside and momentarily set his rifle aside while he carried the cumbersome map. Just as he came around a corner, he found eight young German soldiers about his age. He quickly grabbed one of their rifles and commanded them to raise their hands and surrender.
He took each of their weapons and as he came to the last one the young man started to cry. “Are you going to kill us?” he asked. Paproski replied, “No, I am not going to kill you. In just a short while you will be eating warm food in a POW camp and I will still be eating out of a can in a fox hole.”
He later learned that a little lady from Long Island, N.Y. was awakened at that very same moment to pray for him and his safety. She kept praying until she felt he was safe.
Rev. Paproski was a leader of leaders, serving as a pastor, a leader of all of the Assemblies of God ministers in New Jersey, and also on the VFCC Board of Trustees for over 40 years. But when he walked in a room his posture was not “Here I am” but rather “There you are.”
And though he preached his last sermon at 94 years of age just a couple of months before he entered heaven, St. Francis of Assisi could have been describing him when he said, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”
He lived 34,555 days. What a legacy! What a good man!
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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