I know, it's been a while since I've done a Friday #CelebratingOthers, but I'm back! Ha! With all the talk of fires out West ruining thousands of acres of land and homes, I had the great opportunity to connect with one of the "coolest dudes" at Rhodes High School, John Verzi, Jr, and a Cleveland Fireman since 1989. Not only did he exude warmth as we caught up with 40 years of life, John was proud to say that he is a Captain at the Stickney and Pearl Road Station - very near his own home.
But before I dive into more about the fire department, John was born at Deaconess Hospital in June of 1962 (he's 58) to John and Barbara Verzi, and has two sisters: Gina, now 61 who lives in Florida with two children and two grandchildren; and Barb, now 54, married and living in Florida also (no kids.) John gushed about his fantastic childhood growing up on W. 53rd off Gifford, smack dab in Old Brooklyn he says, and oh so fun at every turn! He said his formative years were 'very old school' with drinking out of the garden hose, riding bicycles with his buddies, going to Brookside Pool (near the zoo) to swim in the summers and playing pee-wee football for Estabrook Recreation Center.
By the time we met at Charles A. Mooney Junior High School in the mid-1970's with rock and roll steaming ahead, he joined a newly formed band as a roadie/light man with his buddies from the school (Ray Kusta, Ray Conde, Scott Del Pizzo, Harry Karr and Tom Geroski) called Black Dust! Some of the guys were in orchestra with me, and the others were in the band. They made their sound work (John said they practiced quite a bit) and performed at dances and parties and for anyone "willing" to hire junior high school kids. By the time we reached Rhodes High School, they had their own sound and were hired to play gigs all around Cleveland. John was "instrumental" in not only checking the lights and sound equipment, but more importantly, responsible for "crowd control," a "job," he said he loved. They stayed together as a band for six or seven years, disbanding in 1983.
John was candid with our high school years as he did not play sports, and said that he'd rather hang out in the Breezeway with his buddies before and after school. Although he said he took a few AP classes, he mentioned that he like his metal shop class with Mr. Zickes, and a family science class that he said was one of his favorite classes of all. He said the teacher had the class plan and design a "pretend wedding" that took the entire school year to plan - from soup to nuts and everything in between. I said to John that had to be the most practical class in the school. He agreed!
By the time we were in 12th grade (with the teacher strike in early fall through mid January) lot of kids got jobs to pass the time and earn some money, and John did too. He worked as a cook at Perkins Pancake in Valley View, and then continued working there after graduation in 1980 until he began an apprenticeship through Max Hayes High School as a Tool & Die maker. He worked eight years for Reserve Industries as a plastic injection mold maker. He said it was a good job and in his wheelhouse, but had something else looming on the horizon that was a wee bit better for him.
One of our classmates at Rhodes, Tom Geroski, a friend and former "bandmate" of John Verzi's, was already a Cleveland Fireman when they met up one evening in 1988. As Tom spoke about being a fireman, John became more and more intrigued that night and wondered if Tom could help him become a fireman as well. By 1989, John Verzi met all the requirements, passed the test, and became a CFD firefighter cadet. He never looked back and has had an amazing career thus far.
John declared that besides thinking he may be the only one from our graduating class living in Old Brooklyn (and he lives four doors down from his childhood home - his mom still living in it, by the way), he is also considered the unofficial "Mayor of Old Brooklyn." A distinction he proudly upholds!
And as content John is of his job as a firefighter and the unofficial Mayor, he is most proud of his family and his five children (and many grandchildren.) By the end of high school he was dating Kathy Manke (who sadly passed away last summer), and they spent five years together and had three children: Jeanette, 39 years-old, married and living in Florida with four daughters; Johnny, 37 years-old, not married and living and working in Cleveland; and Joshua, 36 years-old, living in Parma with three children and his fiance. He then had a short marriage to a woman name Sandy (no children together), and has been happily married to Jeannie since 2003. He has a daughter through marriage with Jeannie: Sarah, 34 years-old and is married and lives in Indiana with two children, and their son Dominic, 19 years-old who is currently in film school at Cleveland State University.
John and Jeannie are very busy with their children and grandchildren but wouldn't have it any other way! And, they miss the ones living out of state a whole bunch.
When I asked John about not playing sports in high school (he seemed like a good athlete to me), he said he just happened to be a "late bloomer." Once he joined the CFD, he learned of the World Police and Fire Games that holds competitions every two years. He reported that it's the second largest sporting event next to the summer Olympics. His sport: Volleyball. In the 1990's some of the guys he worked with started a team, and then practiced more and more until they began playing in tournaments around Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. By 2001, they entered the Police and Fire Games and headed to Indianapolis, IN, where they got shut out almost immediately.
Not to be deterred, the team dug deep, began practicing in earnest, and by 2003, they took a formidable team to Barcelona, Spain and played against "bigshot" teams (bigshots meaning pro athletes mixed in the "regular police and firefighters" according to John). Unbelievably, they upset many of the teams in the competition, and by golly, stood proudly on the podium with silver medals hanging from their necks, stupefying the crowd! And then, in 2005, in Quebec, Canada, they did the unthinkable and won the gold medal in a nail-biter last game of the set. Our own John Verzi hit the last spiked shot down the edge of floor to victory!
With all that glory behind John, he is happiest these days hanging out with his grandkids and taking care of his mom when he's not working 24 hours on and 48 hours off. When I asked him about the cooking at the firehouse, he said 70% of the guys/gals are good cooks and 30% of them are good "cleaner-uppers."
This green loving guy with a guilty pleasure of eating ice cream says his favorite motivational songs are Lynyrd Skynyrd's Simple Man and The Star Spangled Banner. When I asked him who is the single person that most changed his life, John gave me two: Jesus and Joe Vonalt. He also acknowledged that he loves to help others with his superpower on board being Jesus Christ, and that his bravery manifests in his desire to keep helping others whenever he can. The most beloved thing he owns is his home, and the greatest gift he ever received is his Charmglow Grill. John would love to take his wife on a bucket list trip to all 50 states (in retirement?) and ended our Q&A that the world needs now is LOVE SWEET LOVE. I couldn't agree more!
And lastly, John said life (and parenthood) is a roller coaster and you just gotta hang on through the ups and downs. He also summed up our "interview" with what helps him the most on the roller coaster of life:
"I Can Do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me." Philippians 4:13
BSoleille! The bright side of the pure pleasure of catching up with John; I only wish him the best as he continues to pursue his hopes and dreams!
Photos below provided by John
|Collecting at air show for MDA|
|Blast from the past! The hair, the sunspecs and the freckles!|
|Two grandchildren to add to the grandies below|
|With the grandkids|