Having lost my Father at an early age, Father’s Day has always been one of those holidays that was just there. I was only 3 1/2 years old when my Father passed, so I never had the opportunity to get to know him.
Did I feel like I was ripped off? Most certainly.
BUT my Mother Helen was such a wonderful woman and did an amazing job at being both parents that over time those feelings began to fade. I comprehended the load she had to bare. Not only did she loose the love of her life, she had six children, four of whom were still at home, ranging in age from 21 months to 12 years old. It took great fortitude to keep on keeping on after such a loss, but she did.
In all honesty I am extremely grateful I was blessed to have such a phenomenal woman as my Mother. Parenting is a tough job when you have both parents, but doing it solo is a feat not for the weak at heart.
Did I ever wonder about my Father and what life would have been like had he lived? Sure, who wouldn’t.
Especially when my older siblings would tell stories about him. Over time these stories became cemented in my memories, and even though I never knew my Father, I had their memories to cling to. It gave me a little solace and made me feel like I sort of knew the man who was my Father.
While writing the post about my Mother last September, new stories surfaced about my Father. Ones that reflected more about who he was as a man, not just as a Father, and I realized how very little I really knew about him.
At that point I knew one day I would need to dig deeper into those stories with the hope that I could put together a more concise picture of my Father, or should I say “Daddy,” which is how we have always referred to him. As June approached I thought what better time than the month of June, which is when we honor all Father’s.
SO, in this month of June, 2021, I will be dedicating my post to my Daddy, William “Bill” Henry Danko. A man I never knew, but love as though I did.
William “Bill” Henry Danko
July 28, 1919 – October 1, 1964
Bill was only 45 when he passed away from colon cancer, but in that short time he lived a full life. A life filled with hardships and challenges, but through them all he always remained true to who he was at heart and he never forgot his roots.
William Henry Danko was the oldest son of Agnes (Peczuch) and George Danko. Both Agnes and George had immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe in the hopes of having a better life.
Agnes arrived in New York on May 21, 1914 when she was not quite 17. She had $15 with her and was listed as a servant. She had left her parents and 2 siblings behind in their home in Szedikert in the Presov District of Slovakia. She came to America to meet her older brother Victor who lived in South Bethlehem, PA.
George arrived in 1906 at the age of 15. His father and brother were already here and working for the Bethlehem Steel. He was naturalized in 1926 at the age of 35.
How Agnes and George met is not clear, but they both had family who belonged to Saints Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church in South Bethlehem, so it’s very possible that is where the connection was made, especially because that’s where they were married in 1916. Agnes was 19 and George was 25.
Their first child William Henry was born July 28, 1919 and George Francis, their second child, was born on November 29, 1921.
After renting for years, Agnes and George purchased a large home in May of 1926 in Hellertown, PA, not far from South Bethlehem where they had been living. The home had the second floor converted into an apartment, which could be an extra source of income.
Things were looking up. George was well established at the Bethlehem Steel as a repairman, and although he worked long hours, he still helped with the maintenance of the house and apartment.
In 1927 though, George, the Father, was admitted to the hospital with a mysterious illness. He was put in quarantine until it was discovered he had abdominal cancer that had metastasized. He passed away on July 2, just shy of Bill’s 9th birthday.
The sudden loss of her husband at an early age was hard on Agnes, but she had her boys who needed her attention, as did the home they had recently purchased.
In June of 1933, Agnes remarried Andrew Bacha, who was 43 and a widower. As the story goes, Agnes did not tell Bill and George about her plans to remarry, and when Bill witnessed them coming home, he was so upset he ran away from home. For how long, it’s not known, but long enough to let his voice be heard.
This marriage didn’t last long though. Soon after, Agnes discovered Andrew was an alcoholic and it wasn’t long after that he left.
Agnes was an extremely hard worker, but with no man in the house, the boys would have to pick up the slack. Having a good work ethic was something both boys saw in their Father and Mother, so Bill and George fell right into place with the tasks at hand.
In addition though, Agnes was so hardwired to always be taking care of the tasks at hand, that in her mind there was no time for frivolous behavior. This attitude would cause friction between Bill and his Mother as he grew into a young man and his highly creative side began to shine.
Agnes saw no room for such behavior and for this reason showed obvious favoritism to George, Bill’s younger brother. He was very obedient and went to Business School after high school, landing a job as an accountant at the Bethlehem Steel.
In Agnes’ eyes this was the right thing to do and nothing Bill did ever seemed to be good enough. It didn’t matter that Bill was a hard worker, working as a clerk at a meat market, a butcher at his Uncle’s Butcher Shop, and by 1945 getting a job at the Bethlehem Steel, starting in the Lab and working his way up to Safety Supervisor by 1949.
At one point Bill was even taking evening classes at a Penn State Extension to study engineering, his true passion. Unfortunately he was unable to finish, which was always his biggest regret.
Another disappointed for Bill was not being able to enlist in the military during WWII. As a child he had broken an arm and it was not set correctly, so he couldn’t straighten that arm. This was considered a slight defect, which kept him out of the service.
Bill was shorter than George, only 5’ 9” to George’s 6’ 3”, but he was strong and sturdy, even playing football in high school. But that issue with his arm, was all it took to reject him.
Despite all the disappointment and negativity though, Bill never let it stop him from being true to who he was at heart. He had a vast array of interests, and was a bit of a Jack-of-All Trades. If he found something that intrigued him, he would dive in and explore.
One of those interests was photography, which actually became his occupation for a while, starting his own business taking portraits. He thoroughly enjoyed experimenting with different types of cameras and even built his own darkroom in the basement of his Mother’s home. This business stopped during the War though because the cost of materials was too expensive.
Photography always remained a hobby though, especially once Bill had a family. His wife and children became his favorite subject, even setting up backdrops to take portraits of the children.
Bill’s creative pursuits didn’t end with photography. He loved to paint and was an amazing woodworker, carving gunstocks, and crafting furniture. Furniture that is still in use, built better than most of what exists now. He certainly put his engineering skills to use when designing this furniture. They were not just functional, but works of art too.
When Bill passed many of Bill’s so-called friends were quick to show-up and talk Helen his wife into selling them some of his things, in particular this gun. Many years later, Bill’s Son William’s wife Judi was able to track down the person who bought the gun and she bought it back to give to William as a gift. Needless to say William was beyond surprised, but thrilled to own something that his Father crafted and used.
Being true to his heart most certainly came into play when Bill pursued a woman who was not only not Slovak, but also not Catholic. This did not please Agnes at all. She had already picked a nice Catholic Slovak girl for him, but Bill was in love and that’s all that mattered to him.
When taking an injured co-worker to St. Luke’s Hospital ER to be checked out, Bill encountered a nurse who quickly caught his eye. That beauty was Helen Dechert. Being an outspoken man, Bill commented how beautiful she was, but added she needed to do something about her hands, which looked awful. Needless to say, this did not sit well with Helen.
Bill however was sure to note her name and came back the next day to apologize and ask Helen out on a date. Helen was reluctant, but Bill was one handsome guy, he kind of had Clark Cable looks with coal black hair and blue grey eyes, so she agreed to the date.
This was all it took for the two of them to realize they were meant to be together.
Falling in love though was not part of Helen’s plans. She had been offered a scholarship for Columbia University where she could pursue a career as an obstetrician. Something she was seriously considering.
Not wanting to lose Helen, much to Helen’s surprise, Bill proposed. Upon popping the lid on the ring box, he said, “Well you love me, don’t you?”
The truth was, Helen did love Bill, so she followed her heart and married him, never once looking back. The two were married on January 23, 1943, at St. Theresa’s Church in Hellertown, PA. Bill was 23, and Helen was 22.
Bill always wanted a large family and they wasted no time getting started. In December of 1943 their first child Carolann was born with Georgene following 2 years later in 1945.
As the story goes though, Bill was so hoping for a boy they didn’t even have a girls name picked out. He wanted very much to name his first male child George after his Father. In order to compromise they went with Georgene.
It certainly helped that Georgene turned out to be a bit of “Tom Boy” because Bill and Helen would have 3 more girls, Pamela in 1951, Francine in 1956 and Mariann in 1961, before their Son William was born in December of 1962, 21 months before Bill’s passing.
Early on in their marriage, they rented an apartment in Agnes’ house, which at times was a bit challenging, but the two found ways to overcome the friction. Bill helped maintain the property inside and out, which was a lot of work, considering it was coal heat, and the property was surrounded with shrubs. But that wasn’t even enough to please Agnes, particularly because she didn’t quite approve of their parenting style, which was a bit too playful for her.
Seeing Helen stop housework to make oatmeal box houses for the girl’s dolls, or to have a picnic inside on a rainy day, throwing a blanket on the living room floor and making peanut butter sandwiches with sprinkle sugar cut out with cookie cutters, or walking Carolann and Georgene to the Steel Club (miles away) for swimming lessons in the middle of doing laundry just was not how Agnes thought children should be raised.
Bill and Helen knew the needs of the children where more important than any housework. The children would remember time spent with them, not how clean the house was.
That’s why when they started having children Bill wanted Helen to stay home and quit working. Yes this was old-fashioned, but for the times it was pretty normal. Bill felt a woman’s place was at home with the children, and it was his job to provide for the family, no matter how hard he had to work to do so.
Although playful, Bill was a very strict disciplinarian, and would not tolerate picky eaters, disobedience and whining. This also applied when it came to the girls and their grades at school. He highly believed in getting a good education. He felt it was the stepping-stone to a better future, obviously because he himself was unable to finish his engineering degree.
He expected only the best out of the girls with their schoolwork. And the girls never let him down; they most definitely wanted to please their Dad. This gave Bill bragging rights with his co-workers. Especially when Carolann got a scholarship for nursing school and Georgene had to present a portfolio for admission into Kutztown University, both were very proud moments for Bill.
Bill even invested in the very expensive Encyclopedia Britannica, which before the Internet was the go to for information. No such thing as Google back then. All the children made good use out of these, long after Bill had passed, a very wise and worthy investment on his part.
In addition he enrolled in a Classic Record Club, so the girls could enrich their minds and ears listening to classical music.
Bill’s strictness also came into play when he taught Carolann and Georgene to drive. He was very tough on them, but he was also a very good teacher.
Falling in line with Bill’s old-fashion way of thinking was how very strict he was when it came to not only the girl’s attire, but Helen’s too. He wanted them all to be dressed like nice young ladies, properly covered and clean. Helen often made lookalike dresses for the girls and her and Bill just loved that.
Despite being very old-fashioned in his thinking when it came to Helen not working while raising the children, when it came to his daughters the skies were the limits. At one point Georgene mentioned becoming a hairdresser because she enjoyed playing with different hairstyles, he told her that would be a waste of her brains. Later she mentioned becoming a social worker, his response, “that’s for rich kids.”
Bill and Helen were also member of the Bethlehem Steel Club, which had a beautiful swimming pool, clubhouse, golf course and picnic grounds. Getting the girls swimming lessons was important to Bill. He knew the importance of safety in all areas of life, not just in the workplace.
Being a very talented diver, Bill loved having access to the pool as much as the children did. Plus it gave an additional opportunity to display proper pool safety.
The Steel Club hosted Christmas parties, egg hunts and picnics, and this gave the family an opportunity to socialize with other Steel workers families.
In 1958, Bill and Helen took a huge leap when they built their own home in Bright Acres/Bingen, which was just outside of Hellertown. They could finally find their emancipation from living in Agnes’ home.
This was an exciting time for the whole family, a place to finally call their own. The untouched countryside surrounding their home offered a much needed refuge. They felt as though they could breathe again.
Bill wasted no time landscaping the property, which was about 1 ½ acres, planting shrubs and trees that would compliment the house, clearing the fence line and building a rock garden. The girls were all expected to help with these tasks. No complaining, no excuses, and no allowances. It was tough, but they all developed a good work ethic from the experience.
In addition, Bill loved gardening, the one thing he and his Mother had in common. At her home they had a huge garden they both tended to, so it goes without saying he would plant a huge vegetable garden at their new home. Surrounding it with raspberry and currant bushes, which Helen would use to create wonderful jelly to can and freeze their harvest. They lived the farm to table life well before it was even a thing.
Bill’s massive garden was a place of refuge after a long day at work. Often calling Helen before he left work telling her to feed the children because he was going out in the garden when he got home. His garden continued to be a place of refuge even when he became ill, often sitting in a lawn chair watering his plants.
Bill and Helen were green and sustainable before they were the trend. Starting a compost pile, and harvesting fresh organic produce and cooking from scratch, every day.
They would recycle everything they could, which back then took effort. Cans went to one place and bottles went back to the beverage distributor.
As an avid hunter, fisherman and overall outdoorsman, Bill was in his element in this more rural setting. He would continue to raise German Short Haired Pointers to be sold for hunting. He had started this while living at his Mother’s, but he could take it to a new level, building a huge fenced in area for the dogs. Even allowing them in the house on the coldest of Winter’s days.
He also made his own lures for fishing and custom designed carved gunstocks. Both were works of art just like his furniture.
In addition, Bill was a member of the Hellertown Sportsman’s Association and the NRA. While with the NRA he taught gun safety. Even making sure to teach his older daughters Carolann and Georgene how to safely handle a gun.
He also taught all the girls the basics of fishing; Pamela even won a contest at the Sportsmen’s Association. He would sometimes even take one of them with him when he went for a quick fishing trip after work to unwind. Being outside, in any fashion, was a major stress reliever for Bill.
One great adventure Bill took the entire family on was a fishing trip to Canada. This was before Mariann and William were born, so it was just the four older girls, but Francine was little enough to not realize Canada was a country, and thought it was one of Bill’s many friends who they often visited after church. There was one who never had toys, so Francine’s response when finding out about the trip was to ask, “Does Canada have toys?” A phrase that is still used in the family today.
In order to make the trip itself part of the adventure, Bill created a spot between the seats, stacking the suitcases and covering them with blankets, so the girls could sleep. He preferred to drive at night, and this way the girls would be comfortable and could rest when needed. Having tasty snacks like Oreos and coffee milk helped too.
They rented a rustic cabin with a screened in porch overlooking a lake. The scenery was pristine and the water so clear you could see your feet on the sandy bottom. In the evening they would build a campfire to sit around and sing songs. Or, hangout in the cabin and play games.
Since Bill had a background in Amateur Theatre, I’m quite sure he made the games quite entertaining, as well as the group sing-alongs.
One excursion on the trip involved taking Georgene and Carolann out on a boat to catch frogs that would later become dinner. The girls swore they wouldn’t eat the frogs legs after seeing them still hoping about even after their heads were cut off, but upon tasting them discovered they were quite good.
While on the Canada Trip Adventure, when they went out to a restaurant, Bill told the girls they were only allowed to have cereal for breakfast or a hot dog for lunch. Considering the size of the family, this is quite understandable.
Despite Bill’s early passing, his love of nature and the outdoors was instilled in all the children, even Mariann and William, who were too little to even know him. He was a true environmentalist, with a love for every living thing on this earth and knew the value of having a good relationship with the environment, and his children all do too, thanks to him.
As a matter of fact, William has his own landscaping business, Pamela and her husband are both Master Gardeners, and his oldest Grandson (who he never knew) is an Environmental Engineer. To say it’s in the genes is an understatement.
Another trait some of the children inherited, which isn’t a good one though, is his “Slavinsky Natura” – aka temper. Bill was quick to anger, but then just as quickly cooled down. Unfortunately this upset the household, which took much longer to relax after an outburst.
Fortunately, the children who did inherit this trait have very much mellowed as they have aged, which I’m guessing would have been the same for Bill had he had the opportunity to grow old with Helen.
In reference to Bill’s friends, he had a lot of them. All with a variety of skill sets different from his, who could help with things he couldn’t do himself. One of those was welding, which came in handy when Bill wanted a swing set for the children at the new house. This friend also made a custom designed Christmas tree stand, which stayed in the family for years.
Bill also had friend’s who had cherry and peach trees that the family would go pick when in season, and another with a farm where he could cut a fresh Christmas tree.
An interesting habit Bill had in regards to his friends was, when driving, if he saw them, he would nod and say their names as he passed by, just a simple greeting acknowledging them, even if they didn’t see him.
Bill would often randomly stop by to visit friends, usually after church, which meant he had the family with him. The odd thing was, he generally went in by himself, leaving Helen and the girls in the car. Sometimes waiting in the car for an hour, Helen found ways to entertain the girls, but never complained. She knew Bill just needed some time with his friend.
Part of Bill’s escape from stress, beyond his garden or fishing was the huge workshop he built in the basement of the new home. That was a great escape for him where he would create his masterpieces.
He kept it immaculate and well organized. So much so that he knew if one of the girls borrowed a supply for a school project, because it would never be put back in its proper place.
He was a bit of an inventor too and even applied for patents on a few of his inventions, but it’s not known whatever became of them.
Bill also had large fish tanks for a while that he kept as meticulous as his workshop. This was just one more hobby that helped to alleviate stress in his life.
Both Bill and Helen were very creative and playful and it showed in how they approached the holidays, especially Christmas. It was most certainly a magical time.
Bill would create the most amazing Putz with real moss gathered from a friend’s farm. It was so large it took over the living room in their small apartment and half the living room in the new home.
The two of them would stay up till the wee hours of the morning preparing stockings and gifts. One key feature was the Surprise Balls filled with little toys rolled up in paper that unraveled.
At Easter the egg coloring was a major event supervised by Bill. This tradition is still carried on by all the children and grandchildren. Easter just isn’t Easter without this tradition.
Bill was not a very demonstrative man, but he found ways to let his girls know he loved them. Like placing his hand on their shoulder and gently guiding them when they were walking somewhere, or see that he had Valentines for each of them, telling them they’re all his sweethearts.
And, when the girls had processions at school he’d put together bouquets from the peonies, roses and Lilly of the Valley that lined the property at his Mother’s house. These bouquets were more beautiful than the purchased ones the other girls’ at school which made the Danko Girls very proud.
The biggest sign of his love though was his concern for Carolann and Georgene when they went out on a date. He would tell Helen not to worry and to go bed, but then he would wait up. When he heard the car pull into the driveway, he would flash the carport lights on and off to let them know he was waiting for them. I’m thinking this was also a way to worn the boy Dad was watching.
Bill so wanted something more for his children, and he did everything he could to see that their life experiences were ones that would expand their minds and enhance their overall well-being. They were not wealthy, but he made sure everything they did was rich with wonder and awe.
If Bill were alive today I think he’d be pleased to see that all his efforts were not in vain. Each one of his children is unique and have tried hard to stay true to their hearts just like him. And all continue to honor their Slovak roots, which they are very proud of.
Although Bill passed way too young, the legacy of the highly creative, multi-talented, passionate outdoorsman and environmentalist that he was has lived on with not only his children, but also his five grandsons and one great grandson.
AND, if he were here to see his grandsons and great grandson all grow into the fine young men they are, I’m quite sure he would be bragging to all his friends, just as he did about his girls.
When a soul is strong and full of life, their energy lives on even when they are gone. This is just the case for William “Bill” Henry Danko. Physically he left this Earth in 1964 at the youthful age of 45, but the spirit of his soul still lingers within all his loved ones, forever and for always.
© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.
Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.
Photos from the family’s personal collection