John Jaworski Jr., who served as mayor from 1984 to 1995 and helped shape Amherst politics for a half-century, died Saturday.
He was 91 years old.
“He loved people. He gave that to all of us,” said Jaworski’s daughter, Cindy Manning. “He taught us how to serve others.”
The former mayor was intensely proud of building the Amherst police station on North Lake Street, modernizing the city’s wastewater treatment plant, and upgrading Maude Neiding Park, she said.
“If he got a phone call that somebody’s basement had flooded, he would personally go to their house and help them bail the basement out,” remembered his other daughter, Kathy Gragel. She recalls constituents calling her home late at night and her father getting in the car to go help them.
“Work together to try to make things better for people, that was what he’d say,” Gragel told the News-Times.
That was an ethic learned from the mayor’s family. His father, John Jaworski Sr., served as mayor of Lorain and other relatives worked in other service jobs such as nursing and physical therapy — so he learned early in life to treat people the way he wanted to be treated.
The idea translated into politics. Jaworski’s daughters said he embraced friends on both sides of the aisle despite differences that could rear up during election season.
Among them was former mayor David Taylor, who retired in 2015.
“We didn’t always agree on everything, but he was a good guy. He was good for the people. He was friendly. Anybody could go talk to him,” Taylor said, describing Jaworski as dedicated. They would sometimes trade war stories about the kind of complaints they’d receive at Amherst city hall.
A veteran of the U.S. Navy during World War II, Motor Machinist’s Mate Third Class Jaworski had an entire 30-year career in the grocery business. He retired from Pick-n-Pay as meat manager in 1987.
In 1962, he won an at-large seat on Amherst city council. He went on to serve four terms as president of council before being elected mayor.
Later he was chairman of the Amherst Democrat Precinct Committee and of the Amherst City Democrat Central Committee.
It was Jaworski who inspired a young John Dietrich to run for city council.
Dietrich said he knew the family for years
“John’s how I got into politics, actually. When he was going to retire from being mayor, he asked me to run for mayor at that time against (John) Higgins,” he said.
Dietrich had served as city electrical inspector and sat on committees, but had never been elected — then Jaworski convinced him to rung for Joyce Mackin’s council-at-large spot. He won and has been a constant on city council since, serving the past 17 years as council president.
“John was a great guy. He’d help you out any way he could,” said Dietrich. “He was a no-nonsense guy. He didn’t care what party you were — just around election time — but he worked with everybody as long as Amherst was the ulterior motive.”
After stepping down as mayor, he took an elder statesman role within the local party, standing off to the side and letting the younger generation take over.
Oberlin Municipal Court judge Thomas Januzzi also cited Jaworski as a role model.
“He was a good and dutiful public servant who placed the interests of his community before his own. He was a man of faith and compassion and I will miss him,” he said.
Januzzi said Jaworski was well-respected as a man of honesty and integrity who had an abiding compassion for the community.
“I never knew him to tell somebody he couldn’t either help them or try to help them in city affairs, or even outside of that. He was very approachable,” the judge said.
In the late 1990s, Jaworski appointed Januzzi to the Amherst planning commission, where he served for 15 years. The mayor was a mentor who supported Januzzi’s decision to run for judge.
Amherst auditor David Kukucka said Jaworski was the first person to reach out to him about seeking office. Moving from Elyria to Amherst, Kukucka wanted to run for council’s third ward seat and found support in Jaworski’s network of Democrats.
Jaworski remained politically active through his entire life. In November, he volunteered on Election Night at the Lorain County Board of Elections office.
Current mayor Mark Costilow said he never met Jaworski until that day and was actually a little nervous to approach him. They chatted for about two minutes and Costilow came away feeling a bit star-struck.
Manning said her father’s influence was felt in more than just the political arena.
“He was a really good dad, and he was a fantastic grandfather and great-grandfather,” she said. “He taught us to be involved and to serve your community.”
She followed his lead by helping the homeless population, serving today as president of the board at Family Promise of Lorain County.
A strong, outgoing man, Jaworski had long said his time on this earth would be done when he could no longer work in his yard or take care of himself. When doctors found a problem in his lungs roughly a decade ago, the former mayor shrugged it off and said he didn’t want to bother with chemotherapy.
He remained vibrant until just recently, when doctors suddenly gave bad news: Jaworski had only two to four weeks to live. Over the past three weeks, he suffered both pneumonia and blood clots.
“He knew it was his time,” said Gragel. She said her father was a very proud person and he lived his last days on his own terms.
“My dad was ready to go. He missed my mom a lot. We’re OK with it, because he was OK with passing. He felt he accomplished what he wanted to,” she said, choking down tears. “It’s still hard.”
On Monday, city council observed the passing with a moment of silence.
“We pause today to pay a well-deserved tribute to a man who gave of himself in service to his community. May we honor his memory with admiration and respect for a job well done,” Costilow said.
“Even as we mourn his passing, we thank you for the gift of his life,” council chaplain Jennifer Wasilk prayed during the meeting.
The flag at Amherst city hall flew at half-staff Tuesday and Costilow declared Wednesday to be observed as John C. Jaworski Day. He also instructed Amherst police, firefighters, and utility workers to present due honors the day of Jaworski’s funeral.
“It’s what he deserves. He deserves this,” Manning said.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.