Posts Tagged ‘Heroes without headlines’

Joe Habersky: Heroes Without Headlines, Part 8

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Joe Habersky: Heroes Without Headlines, Part 8

Written by Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Digital Photographs Tony Mussari
Copyright 2013
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

Joe did not live for yesterday. He was not afraid of tomorrow. He lived for today.

I met Joe Habersky in 1968. I was a young college teacher, he was an enthusiastic student. It was a perfect combination. He helped mejoe become a better teacher. I helped him refine his research and writing skills. After he graduated, he stayed in touch and for 45 years we have been learning and growing together.

We did not see one another every day, but as LM Montgomery wrote, “We were always together in spirit.”

The Joe Habersky I knew was a joyful person, a thoughtful person, an interesting person, a giving person and a spiritual person. He attended our documentary screenings, he supported the production of Windsor Park Stories, and he volunteered to work in our garden. He was the first person to call Kitch after my open heart surgery, and he was an enthusiastic supporter of our Face of America project.

When Mario Puzo wrote these words he was describing our friendship:

Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family.


In my heart and mind, Joe was family and a lot more.

He was a lifetime learner who honored the advice of Henry Ford:

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.

He was loyal and he respected loyalty in others. For him, Grace Murray Hopper said it all in 11 words:

Leadership is a two-way street, Loyalty up and loyalty down.

Joe liked to laugh and he enjoyed making people in his company laugh. An adaptation of the words of Mary H. Waltdrip apply, Joe’s laugh was a smile that burst!

Joe was a spiritually grounded person. His faith, his service to his church and the connections he made with members of various spiritually-centered organizations gave his life meaning and purpose.

In 2008, he gave me Richard Rohr’s Thingsnote Hidden Scripture as Spirituality. The note he wrote to describe the book spoke volumes about his search for spirituality:

This book was a heart expanding as well as mind blowing experience for me.
I hope it will prove interesting to you in your journey of the heart and perhaps take you to the “heights’ of your future.

Why did this book have such a powerful impact on Joe?

There are many reasons.

He was searching for a true, inner spiritual experience.

He understood that life is not a straight line to God.

He knew we are a little strand in a much larger tapestry.

RR BookHe believed that goodness is not about becoming spiritual beings. It is about becoming human beings.

Rohr’s assertion that we must go down before we can know what is up was a “mind blowing thought” for Joe. Pain and suffering destabilizes our arrogance and ignorance. If we do not find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, humanity is in major trouble.

He was convinced that we are our relationships. His relationship with the God he loved was central to his life, and the substantial relationships he cultivated with friends and family were an offspring of his spirituality.

Joe was a humble person who enjoyed sharing his gifts with others. He was literally a big man with a very big heart.

He was a family man who loved his wife Karen and his daughter Elena.

The words of Morrie Schwartz were almost biblical for Joe:

The fact is, there is no foundation, no secure ground, upon which people may stand today if it isn’t the family. If you don’t have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don’t have much at all.

He agreed with John Wooden’s assessment of the importance of family;

It is most difficult, in my mind, to separate any success, whether it be in your profession, your family, or as in my case, in basketball, from religion.

gardenThe Joe Habersky I knew was not looking for attention. He did not want to be a celebrity. He cultivated meaningful connections with people. On the day his obituary was published, Kitch and I received this note from a young man who has been a part of my life since the day he was born.

Dear Tony and Kitch:

I was saddened to hear of the news of Joe.  He was such a good man.  I know how important he was to both of you.  I always enjoyed spending time with him at your various functions.  We are hurting today but have yet another guardian angel to watch over us.  I hope you both feel a little bit of comfort in knowing how much you meant to him and how happy he was to be part of Windsor Park and the Face of America – but most to the lives of Tony and Kitch Mussari.

You are both in my prayers.


Joe Habersky is no longer with us. Those of us who knew him areGLecture saddened by his passing. We feel the emptiness of loss, but we know that his spirit lives on in the hearts of those he touched with encouragement, friendship, gratitude and kindness.

The emptiness I feel is deeply rooted in my belief that the teacher should never outlive the student. We teach because we want the student to equal and surpass the teacher in all the ways that matter in life.

Thomas Merton was right, “Death is something we see very clearly with eyes in the center of our heart: eyes that see not by reacting to light, but by reacting to a kind of chill from within the marrow of your own life.” It is the ultimate teacher.

In life and in death, Joe Habersky showed us the way to inner peace and happiness. His legacy will remain in our hearts forever.

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Heroes Without Headlines: Brenda Lispi

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Remembering Brenda: A Radiant Face of America

Written by Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2013
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.Norman Cousins

A wonderful woman with the heart and soul of an angel made her way to heaven last week. She was caring,Brenda 1smcompassionate, competent, and conscientious. Her heart was a giving heart. Her soul radiated love of family, friends, community and God.

Kitch and I met Brenda Lispi in 2007. She, her husband Ray, and her son, Lee, visited our garden to discuss an episode of Windsor Park Stories about Lee and Joe Paterno.   On that day, we became fast friends.

Shortly after the visit we produced an episode entitled “Dreams.” It featured Lee Lispi talking about the many ways Joe Paterno influenced his life. The story resonated with viewers, and it became the launching pad for our friendship with Brenda.

For more than a year, Brenda battled an insidious form of brain cancer. She did it with courage, determination, dignity and class. She did it in a way that endeared her to everyone who knew her.

Those of us who were privileged to know Brenda are saddened and troubled. Again and again we ask the question, “Why do the good die young?”  “Why did this woman who did so much to help others leave us at 58-years young?”

No answer satisfies. No explanation fills the void. At times like this we turn to the words of poets and philosophers for comfort, context and closure.

Combining John Paul Moore’s poem Drinking From The Saucer with Brenda’s words helps us fill the void created by Brenda’s passing. 

I’ve never made a fortune,
And I’ll never make one now
But it really doesn’t matter
‘Cause I’m happy anyhow

Anyone who knew Brenda Lispi felt the embrace of her happiness and contentment. Her beautiful smile was the hallmark of her kind and gentle heart. Her words were always affirming:

Thank you so much Tony and Kitch.  The picture is breathtaking !  Our conversations inspiring – I am content and will get through this with all your help.  Lee says hello and is happy that we are in touch- he wishes you well. Brenda

As I go along my journey
I’m reaping better than I’ve sowed
I’m drinking from the saucer
‘Cause my cup has overflowed

I can’t thank you and Kitch enough for all your support and encouragement… I am belated in sending a birthday and thank you card but it is on my list.  I am 33.3 5 complete in treatments.  That means four more weeks of traveling to Philadelphia 5 days a week, plus my sister was visiting from England last week so I have been busy.  The only side effects I’ve had so far are weight gain from the steroids and walking difficulties-from steroids.  I will soon have a PT and OT eval.

I hope to soon visit your garden again- it is looking fabulous and "peaceful." Brenda

I don’t have a lot of riches,
And sometimes the going’s tough
But with kin and friends to love me
I think I’m rich enough

I have had some setbacks this week but I received more encouragement from people like you and Kitch to get me through.  I lost my hair this week but it will grow back.  My gait is sluggish so I will receive a PT and OT eval-The steroid side effects are hurting me the most with climbing stairs walking and weight gain but I am tolerating the iv and oral chemo as well as the radiation.  Today I am 50% complete for this phase of treatments – only 50% more treatments to go through- busy being away and handling insurances and correspondence-hopefully I will get caught up.  Thanks for keeping me posted. Brenda

I thank God for the blessings
That His mercy has bestowed
I’m drinking from the saucer
‘Cause my cup has overflowed

Brenda was a gratitude person. These are words she shared with Kitch and me in 2012:

Thank you Tony for this wonderful tribute to Joe Paterno. He was a great influence on Lee who has turned out to be an outstanding young man. Of course, as his parents we are biased, but this is what we heard from others as well. Lee, Ray, Tina and I thank you for the opportunity you gave Lee in 2007 to share his story and the influence Joe had on him even when his dreams were changed.  Joe taught Lee that it’s important how you react to changes in your dreams and what you learned and do from there to be a better person. Brenda

He gives me strength and courage
When the way grows steep and rough
I’ll not ask for other blessings for
I’m already blessed enough

Happy New Year Tony and Kitch, I am trying to learn the Kindle Fire and at the same time I trying my daughter’s Tina’s patience as she is teaching me.  For now, I am back at the desk top using my left hand since my right side is still paralyzed but I receive home health therapy 2 x’s week-making progress and using my left side.  I also started new chemo drug last week as a third tumor is growing-it is an aggressive cancer but I am not ready to give up so much to live for -so much to do and see and help- so many people like you both to hear of your accomplishments-like in Gettysburg-let me know… Brenda

May we never be too busy
To help bear another’s load
Then we’ll all be drinking from the saucer
When our cups have overflowed

Brenda was never too busy to help others. In fact, her life and her work was all about helping others.

Those who were blessed to know Brenda Lispi will be nourished in her death by drinking from the saucer of the memories of a life lived for others, a life lived with kindness and generosity, a life that clearly speaks to what America is on its best day.

Thomas Merton was right:

Death is someone you see very clearly with eyes in the center of your heart: eyes that see not by reacting to light, but by reacting to a kind of a chill from within the marrow of your own life.

We will miss you Brenda, but we will never forget you. Kitch and I are better people because we knew you. We will carry your beautiful and inspirational Face of America in our hearts until our journey comes to an end.

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Heroes without Headlines: Joseph Boytin, Part 7

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Heroes without Headlines: Joseph Boytin, Part 7

Written by Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Digital Photographs Tony Mussari
Copyright 2013
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

“A memory is a photograph taken by the heart to make a special moment last forever.” Unknown

A note from a friend, some bumps in the road and a funeral for aFG_JB_5_sm member of the “Greatest Generation” got me thinking about life, death and everything in between.

The note contained an inspiring message about what really matters in life. It was the opposite of just about everything we hear and see in our cluttered, cultural celebration of fame, wealth and power. These, we are told, are the superhighways to happiness and joy. The note from my friend was filled with examples of caring, encouraging, and helping. It reinforced a powerful and poignant message Kitch and I got earlier in the week at St. John the Baptist Church in Larksville, Pennsylvania.

We were there to stand with a former student, Jeff Yedloski and his family, as he said good-bye to his grandfather, Joseph Boytin.


Mr. Boytin was a devoted husband, a loving father, a proud grandfather, a successful coach, a mailman and a friend to many. He served his country with distinction during World War II. At 94, he was one of the 16 million veterans who have been celebrated in quiet and poignant ways for what they did to free the world  from the totalitarian thugs who wanted to build a new world order of exclusion, intolerance and supremacy.

On this day, he was one of the World War II veterans who dieFG_JB_2_sm every ninety seconds in America.

St John the Baptist is a beautiful church. It is filled with artifacts of the church of my parents, a towering marble altar and larger than life spiritual paintings that speak to the love and forgiveness of Christ’s message. In this magnificent setting, Father Gerald Gurka spoke with empathy and honesty about the loss of a loved one:


There aren’t any words to relieve your pain;

Mr. Boytin’s death reminds us that we live on God’s time. Death is a homecoming;

We are hurting, but life continues;

Whenever we do something that your grandfather loved, he is very much alive, because his life was a reflection of the Beatitudes. He was generous, kind, dedicated, loving and committed to serving his community. In so doing, he created something beautiful which is in you;

Work is love named discipline.”

In a very real way, Father Gurka was giving life to the words of Scripture:

Behold God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.

At St. Mary’s Cemetery, I watched the members of the AshleyFG_JB_7_sm American Legion salute the man who earned the Purple Heart, the Good Conduct Medal and the European African Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with three bronze stars.

The pallbearers reverently carried his flag-draped coffin into the chapel where Father Gurka was waiting to say these words of farewell:

FG_JB_8_smThis is his flag, and this is our spiritual heritage.

Joseph Boytin is a genuine hero without headlines and a Face of America on its best day. He will be remembered for all the things that matter in life: family, faith, confraternity, neighborliness, industry, learning, empathy, kindness, responsibility and selfless service to his community and his country.

His life is a portrait of America at its very best. His legacy lives on in his family and those who were touched by the gentle mercies of his caring heart.

Charles H. Spurgeon wrote the words that best apply to Joseph Boytin’s life:

A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.

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Heroes without Headlines: The Bivouac of the Dead

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Heroes without Headlines: The Bivouac of the Dead, Memorial Day 2012

Written by Tony Mussari
Photographs by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

On fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.  Theodore O’Hara

Gratitude, Honor, Respect

On this day we remember the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. This day of national gratitude, honor and respect was first observed after our tragic Civil War. In 1868 it was called Decoration Day. Today we know it as Memorial Day.

At dawn we lowered our flags to half-staff to memorialize the 1,317,764-plus men and women who have died in military conflicts in American history.  At noon, we will lift the flags to full-staff to symbolize that their sacrifice was not in vain.

Recently, Kitch and I visited Gettysburg, the site of the greatest and most defining battle of the Civil War. We went there with ten students from North Plainfield High School in New Jersey and six of the adults who helped to make the trip possible.

For two days we immersed ourselves in the history and significance of the most visited battlefield in the United States.  We wanted to make history come alive for the students. In so doing, we believed they would learn some important things about life.

One of the most poignant moments of the visit happened on Little Round Top. We were standing on the rocks overlooking the beautiful and vast expanse below.  You could almost hear the sights and sounds of the battle as Bruce Rice, our licensed battlefield tour guide, was explaining the unfathomable loss of life and suffering that produced 51,000 casualties in three days. Something he said evoked the words William C. Oates used to document what happened here:

“The blood stood in puddles in some places on the rocks.”

That haunting word picture gave new meaning to words like bravery, courage, honor, love of country, loss, and sacrifice.  Words that are frequently used in situations like this, but are seldom, if ever, fully understood.

Most of the soldiers, who fought, died and were injured at Gettysburg sanctified places like Devil’s Den, the Wheat Field, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill.  For the most part, they were young, and they believed in their cause. The story of this battle and the soldiers who fought it is preserved in memorable ways in this 6,000 acre national treasure. There are almost 2,000 monuments in the Gettysburg National Military Park. It is so alluring, so beautiful, so big, so intriguing and so sad; it makes an indelible impression on one’s subconscious that keeps calling you back to the holy ground so artfully described by Barbara Platt in her book appropriately titled, This is Holy Ground.

Far Out and Beyond

You will find the names of Civil War veterans inscribed on monuments in lesser known cities and towns across our commonwealth and our country.  In fact, three women from Boalsburg, a small town in central Pennsylvania, are given credit for starting the national observance of Decoration Day.

In Danville, PA, 110 miles north of Gettysburg, a three-acre Memorial Park features an impressive 73 foot stone obelisk called Soldiers Monument.  It was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1908. It features four statues that celebrate the soldiers who fought in the civil war.

One of the most compelling figures of a Civil War soldier stands on a platform above a bronze marker engraved with these words in Latin:

O Fortunata Mors
Naturae Debita
Patria Est Potissimun

Dr. Richard Loomis tells me the accurate translation of this historic tribute is: “O fortunate death which, due to nature, is most preferably paid for one’s native country.”

On another side of the obelisk, a statue of a goddess stands on a platform above the tribute: In memory of the soldiers and sailors of Montour County who fought for the preservation of the Union.

The marker on the third side of the obelisk records two dates: 1861 and 1865.

The title of the marker on the fourth side of the base of the obelisk reads: Lincoln at Gettysburg. The Gettysburg Address is engraved below this title.

Monuments to those who served in the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam are prominently displayed in other parts of the memorial park.

Who is Thomas Moore?

Wilkes-Barre, PA, is nestled between the Appalachian Mountains along the Susquehanna River, 145 miles north of Gettysburg. One section of the city is dedicated to Civil War generals.  The centerpiece of this neighborhood is the GAR Memorial High School located between Grant and Sherman Streets.  

The Hollenback Cemetery in Wilkes-Barre has a picturesque Civil War memorial.  Located on the top of the highest hill in the cemetery, the memorial was financed by the local chapter of The Grand Army of the Republic and erected in 1918 by “General Hancock’s Circle No. 9, L of the GAR”.

While visiting this site, I discovered a tombstone. It had a GAR marker supporting an American flag.  The inscription on the marker read:
“Thomas Moore SCT 3RD PA HA 152 ND PENN. VOLS.”  

My eyes were drawn to this headstone, and my mind was filled with questions. Who was this man?  When did he enter the Union Army?  Did he fight at Gettysburg?  Was he a Gettysburg casualty or survivor? These are questions without answers. They are similar to questions I had when Kitch and I visited a cemetery in western Pennsylvania.

There we found bronze flag supports for Confederate and GAR soldiers.

When noon approaches, we will follow protocol and raise the flags flying over Windsor Park to full-staff. When we do that, we will think about the private moments of honor and remembrance we experienced during our Face of America journey in Lafayette, California, at The Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Illinois, the Vietnam Memorial in Emmet Park Savannah, Georgia, The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota and the unforgettable evening ceremony honoring veterans of all wars,the Gettysburg National Military Park and the cemetery at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

We will honor the 3 P.M. moment of silence, and we will give thanks for the service of every veteran we know, every veteran who has served our country and every veteran who has passed on to receive their eternal reward.

We will end this Memorial Day with a visit to the hand crafted memorial for our inspiration 2d LT. Emily Perez.  There we will recite the final two stanzas of Theodore O’Hara’s poem The Bivouac of the Deadin:

Rest on embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footstep here shall tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While Fame her record keeps,
For honor points the hallowed spot
Where valor proudly sleeps.

Yon marble minstrel’s voiceless stone
In deathless song shall tell,
When many a vanquished ago has flown,
The story how ye fell;
Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter’s blight,
Nor time’s remorseless doom,
Can dim one ray of glory’s light
That gilds your deathless tomb.

Thank you for your service to America. God bless you, and God bless America.

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