Monthly Archives: March 2014

Lasting Image: Tyler Crooks, local boy, Canadian hero


By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

A lasting image in this story: The calendar date.

In this story, March 20 cannot be forgotten.

It has dual significance.

It marks the start and the end of a life.

Cpl. Tyler Crooks, a Port Colborne lad, was born on this day: March 20, 1985.

Cpl. Tyler Crooks was killed on this day, March 20, 2009.

Five years ago. His 24th birthday.

The military’s news release said in part:

“Corporal Tyler Crooks was killed on March 20, 2009, when an improvised explosive device detonated near him during a dismounted patrol in Zhari District, west of Kandahar City.
Cpl. Tyler Crooks was a member of November Company, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group. His home unit was the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment based at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa.
Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF-Afg) is the Canadian Forces (CF) contribution to the international effort in Afghanistan. Its operations focus on working with Afghan authorities to improve security, governance and economic development in Afghanistan.”

(The roadside explosive also took the life of another soldier, Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli of Sault Ste. Marie.)

In my retrospective, another lasting image: A newspaper headline.

The Tribune reported it in the front-page banner headline Monday, March 23, 2009: “ ‘Crooksie’ was a hero”

There is also significance to yesterday’s date, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. It marked the official end, after 12 years, to our country’s military involvement in Afghanistan. By one account, 162 Canadian soldiers were killed in that far-off place.

I remember reading not long ago about someone saying: “War is old men talking and young men dying.”

I pray war could stop.

In a column on the first anniversary, it was written that the bomb “brought the reality of war to front doorsteps on Killaly St., and Humboldt Parkway, on Nickel St. and Tennessee Ave; at Lakeshore Catholic and Port Colborne High; at St. Therese and McKay schools and all the others; at west side’s Tim’s and east side’s Dairy Queen.
In times like this, death is all inclusive.
Across the community, people reeled with the realization: One of ours has fallen.
The roadside bomb stole a cherished son, brother, grandson, cousin, future husband and friend to many.”

I’ve not been able to forget them: The death – by all accounts – of  a fine young man, and the date and its significance.

It’s not because I knew Cpl. Crooks. I didn’t.

But there was this linkage that drew me to him. One was his age, and how close he was to our son’s age, nephew’s age, neighbourhood kid’s age and others. There was a brotherhood of sorts in this.

And of course because he was a “local boy” – that well-worn descriptor called upon a thousand times if not more during my years at the newspaper: 

Local boy does good;

Local boy wins award;

Local boy chosen for scholarship;

Local boy serves as legislative page;

Local boy meets PM

But in this sad case:

Local boy dies a Canadian hero.

Five years on and Cpl. Tyler Crooks is still a local boy and a hero in our hearts, in our memories, in our collection of newspaper clippings and photos. He will remain that way.

Five years on and it is time for remembering again. Will schools on March 20 remember with a pause for silence, will flags in Port Colborne be lowered as a tribute to a local boy who was and is a hero, whose soul is where heroes are, as the poet writes about other soldiers’ deaths:  

“And up to Heaven’s doorway floats,
From the wood called Rouge Bouquet,
A delicate cloud of bugle notes
That softly say:
Comrades true, born anew, peace to you!
Your souls shall be where the heroes are
And your memory shine like the morning-star.
Brave and dear,
Shield us here.

(From Rouge Bouquet, a First World War poem by U.S. soldier/poet Joyce Kilmer in memory of 21 of his comrades killed in action at Rouge Bouquet woods, France, March 7, 1918.)

CAPTION: Cpl. Tyler Crooks was killed in action in Afghanistan, March 20, 2009. Supplied photo.

 (A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario.)

A man of many titles


By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

Steve Krar called the other morning. He wanted to talk about a milestone coming up in his life. I was all ears.

Krar is living testament to the old saying: education is a life-long learning experience.

He is 89.

He could be sitting down in a comfy chair watching television day after day.

He isn’t.

The prolific author of technology textbooks is still at it.

It started with a tome titled Machine Shop Training, co-authored with two other high school technical directors, Joseph E. St. Amand and J. William Oswald.

“That’s a relic,” he says of the textbook, written in 1962.

He guestimates he has authored or co-authored “about 80” hard and soft-cover books. His is a man of many titles.

The best-seller of all, by far, is Technology of Machine Tools. Now in its seventh edition, co-author Krar says it has sold close to 1 million copies. It is used in schools in several countries besides Canada, he says. Some of them are: the Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, the U.S., and Spain.

He is shopping around for a publisher for a recently-completed work, The Changing World of Manufacturing.

“It’s a big one,” says Krar about a manuscript that encompasses about 1,000 pages. “It’s about the latest in manufacturing technology in the world.”

As if that isn’t enough, he has “two or three” other book projects on the go.

Krar was technical director and machine shop instructor at Eastdale Secondary School, Welland from 1961 to 1975. Prior to that he taught at Niagara Falls Collegiate and Vocational Institute (CVI) and J. F. Ross CVI in Guelph. Prior to that he spent 15 years in the machine shop trade, then went back to school to become a teacher.

I asked him about how much time he spends in his comfy writing and research room.

“I’ve been up from as early as 5 a.m. and working to as long as 8 p.m.,” he says.

He’s never been one to sleep late, he insists.

“Too much to do,” he explains.

He rarely watches television.

“I watch the computer screen, I watch the Internet. I’ve been all over the world on the Internet,” he says.

But he’s also gone abroad many times in the interest of technology and research. He went to China twice and to Switzerland three times, among other places.

Krar is worried because he says technical education in high school “isn’t what it used to be” when he was a teacher.

He and two other tech gurus plan to meet this weekend “to try to revive technology education. It’s about time someone in the ministry of education starts listening.”

He has worn many hats in his productive life: accomplished curler, neighbourhood culture/reunion booster and think-tank organizer and participant are just three of them.

And he has another project on the go, the milestone referred to earlier.

He is working on plans for his 90th birthday, July 30.

“I’d better get going on this,” he says, chiding himself, “it’ll be here before I know it.”

I tried reading nuts-and-bolts pieces of the technology text books lining the shelves in his writing room but it was a gut-wrenching experience – tools and technology are not my strong suits. But I found An Interesting and Rewarding Life to be an enjoyable read. It’s a highly detailed 101-page autobiography, one whose minutiae are as captivating as major accomplishments in this man’s career.

Here’s one example, about the interview for his first teaching job, in Guelph: “Teaching position was offered, one thing that impressed them was that I brought my wife to the interview.”

Nice touch. Quite a guy, this Steve Krar.

Caption: Wellander Steve Krar shows a copy of Machine Shop Training, the high school text book that launched his prolific writing and publishing career, in 1962. (Photo by Joe Barkovich)

(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario.)

Follow me on Garden Routes Home


By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

If you have a green thumb or just wish you have one, dig this.

A bold and innovative weekly garden feature will be in full bloom on my blog in a few weeks.

Garden Routes Home will be about gardens and gardeners in Welland to start out with. As time goes by the routes will extend to Port Colborne and Pelham but as you know, good things take time to grow. We will grow slowly, but Garden Routes Home will grow.

A well-established network of gardening contacts in Welland will give me the dirt about gardens new and old. And, as a rose gardener for many years, roses will get the occasional look on Garden Routes Home, that’s to be expected. But my blog will provide a bountiful bouquet of annual, perennial, ornamental, shade and container gardens; a potpourri of interviews for the latest in garden gab and yes, gossip; and last but not least, words to grow by.

When our horticultural societies hold garden walks, I’ll take you on them here on Garden Routes Home – in words and photos. The same with rose and flower shows – photo ops to be treasured. I also have an appreciative eye for garden gates and never-ending curiosity about what’s behind them. I dare you to follow me on Garden Routes Home.

If you have comments, ideas or suggestions about gardens and gardeners, you’ll find the soil here warm and welcoming. Plant your idea with Garden Routes Home and watch it grow.

It’s never too early – spring is around the corner and Canada Blooms commences on Friday, March 14 in Toronto. So contact me at: or 905-735-3562 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

CAPTION: This eye-popping display was captured with a through-the-lattice photograph of a garden on Countryside Drive in Welland. (File photo by Joe Barkovich)


(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario.)


By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

Maybe it was the faux spring Friday that prompted me to move this piece up a few weeks before its intended publication. Yes, that’s what it was.
The gardener out and about, puttering in rose beds at the first hint of the long-awaited ebb of winter is a lasting image of Joe Mocsan. He wasn’t one to let a gloriously sunny early March morning go by without an inspection of his backyard beds on Laughlin Place, near Chippawa Park. He took advantage of such opportunities encouraged by the chorus of once-again in rehearsal songbirds and the sight of the azure sky, always a joy in the palette of colour that is spring.
Joe was to roses what Johnny Appleseed was to apple trees. Everyone who knew him, from a distance or intimately, would agree with that I’m sure. Written testament can be found in a bed in Chippawa Park, roses that once bloomed in his backyard. An in-ground marker has an inscription that asserts: Somewhere a rose grows because of Joe.
He died May 31, 2003, aged 71. An excerpt from his death notice says: “He enjoyed growing roses and looked forward to entering them in the Horticultural Rose Show. He was a great promoter of the Rose Festival Rose Show.”
His friends still talk about him as opportunity arises. Over lunch at the Rex not long ago, old chums Romeo Parent and Jim Lanigan shared memories of Joe dropping in on them just to have a look at how their roses were doing. Parent said Joe’s son Paul looks after fall and spring rose care maintenance for him now that he is not able to do the work himself. Mocsan and Lanigan also continue a Joe Mocsan tradition: visiting a rose farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake as he would invite them to do each and every summer. There, they look through roses growing in the fields, where maybe, just maybe, they fall under the charms of the so-called Queen of the Garden, available in hundreds of varieties.
Joe was a rose mentor to many, one of his proteges being John Mastroianni who bonded with him through other pursuits, like making wine. One summer, Joe and Mastroianni, connoisseurs of wine and roses, volunteered to take a few cuttings from our rose beds and place them in a local competition because we would be away that weekend. They did, and we had our first-ever winning entries, thanks to their involvement. You see, Joe wasn’t one to keep rose culture to himself – he shared it whenever opportunity arose. He was always giving away, gratis, copies of the Handbook for Selecting Roses, hard and soft-cover books about rose care and of course, advice. He had a book for me, Old Roses, and a note: “Thought you might find this book informative.” It would have been left in the mailbox for me to find. But he went into the hospital before he could drop it off, and his family put it into my hands the day after his death.
The City of Welland did him right (and made his family proud) in renaming the Chippawa Park Rose Garden the Joseph L. Mocsan Memorial Rose Garden, June 9, 2012. Now all that’s needed is a rose show that bears his name ¬– heck, one would think Canada’s Rose City could accommodate another rose show. This far into the year, it might be too late for 2014, but it’s an entirely achievable goal for 2015. Another lasting image of our Rose King, Joe Mocsan.

Caption: Shown is a photo of the front cover of a book Joe Mocsan intended to give to me. The note he wrote to accompany it has been taped to the cover for safekeeping. (Photo by Joe Barkovich)

(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario. Lasting Image is a feature that appears on this blog from time to time.)

For pieces of time, a spring ahead

clock wallBy Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

We have time on our hands this weekend.

Our timepieces “spring ahead” one hour.

Sunday, March 9, 2 a.m. is the official time. It is the return of Daylight Saving Time.

This twice-yearly ritual of adjusting the hands of time – a hands-on experience you might say – puts me in a reflective frame of mind.

Pieces of time are everywhere in our household as they are in yours. In ours, they are on walls, on night tables, on end tables, on desk tops, on wrists, on laptop screens and even out of sight, as in jewelry boxes.

The Disney watch is found in the latter. Oh, it comes out every now and then and is strapped onto my right wrist. It reminds me of good times.

IMG_1465 (2)It was acquired about 20 years ago. Our family was at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, part of a large contingent representing Miss Dar’s School of Dance. My wife purchased it for me. Price wary, I procrastinated too long a time at the timepiece display case. When shopping with a pressed-for-time, memorabilia-hunting woman, time waits for no man. Lesson learned.

And here they are: The faces of Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy looking back at me, perpetually cheerful, when I check the face of time. And if you look closely enough, flanking the 6 o’clock hour, there you will see those mischievous chipmunks, Chip and Dale.

Be careful not to say this is “a Mickey Mouse” watch in the derogatory sense. It is not. This time piece still keeps good time. How good? You could set your clock by it.

The silver wrist watch in this collection has a place of time-honored significance in my life. It was a gift marking 40 years at our hometown daily newspaper, The Tribune, in 2009. Ah, IMG_1478those were the years, chock full of good people (and a few not) visiting the city desk in person or by phone, of good memories and sad, of happy stories and sad. Ah, but such is life. Such are the times we live through. This wrist watch, a cherished link to the newsroom, reminds me day in and day out. How timely is that.

The clock on the wall has been in our family for decades. It is 60-65 years old, give or take an hour or two, a day or two, a week or two, a month or two. Who’s counting?

But it’s a tired old clock. It just returned from a cleaning and some repairs a few weeks ago. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick… and then the pendulum stopped and the chimes stopped the other day. Back to the clock repairman it will go. I wonder how much time will be lost before we get it back, and then how much time we will get from it before time stops again. This is the scenario I fear most about our tired old clock: Time’s up!

Finally, the desktop timepiece is a gift from the Tribune Tournament committee after I retired from that group in 2012. I realized I’d had my day, time was ripe to call deska final time out. Time to bid adieu. What better parting gift for a sentimental scribbler than a time keeper flanked by two pens. There is always time for a second thank you, so thanks again guys and gals!

The time of my life. That’s how I look back upon memories such as these and many others. That said, the gift of time is on my hands and my mind this weekend because of what’s to be done.

Time changes.

(A former reporter and  city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario.)


Here’s a yarn that has to be shared

By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

I would tell you who they are, but they insisted on anonymity.
Neither a first nor last name could appear in print.
And never in all my years as a scribbler did I reveal the identity of a source who spoke, as newspaper jargon puts it, on condition of anonymity.
These gals call themselves the Back Room Buddies, that’s all I can say. My mouth is sewn shut.
But their story deserves to be told. They do precious work.
The quilters, meeting weekly for about 10 years, make quilts for “preemies” – babies born prematurely. There are about 10 members but the morning I visited, three were there to work and chat. And chat and work.
A week ago, the quilting group sent 50 of the crafted-with-love quilts to McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton.
A guestimate is that 800 – 900 have been made over the past decade.
Their purpose is selfless, their handiwork speaks of love, their work is heartfelt. That figures: The talented quilters are cut from the same cloth.
Here’s something I did not know – the back of each quilt must be a stitchless, felt fabric because it is the side that comes in contact with the tiny preemies.
The quilts go home with the babies when they leave the hospital. Often, they become precious keepsakes for the families.
Here’s something else I did not know: The Back Room Buddies do this from the goodness of their hearts. They chip in out of pocket for expenses, including rent for the brightly-lit, spacious room and of course the fabric.
The quilting gals say they are not the only folks doing this good work. There are many, many others. That’s one of the reasons they say their names are not important.
The other is they want the spotlight to shine on a stranger who crossed their path in a fabric shop. This is not fabrication.
In a nutshell – well maybe a thimble is more appropriate, here is what happened.
Two of the quilting gals were in Welland’s Fabricland on Saturday past. When a staffer asked about the work they do with so much fabric, one of the gals shared threads from the story about quilts and preemies.
At the checkout, a woman stepped in front of the quilting gals and said she was paying for their fabric.
“We said something like ‘We can’t allow you to do that, this is $150 worth of fabric.’”
But the woman, who had overheard snippets of the conversation about quilts and preemies, was adamant. She insisted on paying the entire amount.
She would not divulge her name, preferring to stay anonymous, the quilters said.
“So this story isn’t about us, it’s about this wonderful woman,” I was told.
And to this day, they do not know her identity.
In the “back room” at Concordia Lutheran Church on South Pelham St., where quilts of beautiful colours, patterns and designs are pieced together, a nameless stranger’s generosity won’t be forgotten by women who want to be known only as the Back Room Buddies.
Betray this trust and they will have me in stitches.
(A former reporter and editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario.)


A reel-life view of Welland in yesteryear

By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

Got a minute?
It’s nice to turn back the clock every now and then.
I did so this weekend. The thought crossed my mind while driving across Main Street bridge.
My flashback was to what I consider a stunning image in a collection from yesteryear.
No, not black and white photos in an album. No, not a collection of Kodacolour prints.
These images are 3-D. They go back to the 1950s. They are the work of the late Ron Lasovich, who used a View-Master Personal Stereo Camera (3-D) to amass a compilation of images of Welland and Crowland landmarks, people and items of personal interest.
I retrieved a View-Master to eyeball some of them. That is how they are looked at: with a View-Master. I had one when a kid in the ‘50s. You probably did, too. I was thrilled by images of scenic places, Disney characters, TV stars and more.
One of my favourites in Mr. Lasovich’s collection is the Main Street bridge.
Back in 1956, it was being given a paint job. The colour was being changed from morbid black to gray as it is in the current day.
One image shows a sign in the foreground with the words: Painting – Proceed at Own Risk. The sign appears so close, so real, so vivid you want to reach out and touch it. Stunning.
Mr. Lasovich, it seems, was fascinated with bridges – and with height. Many of his photos were taken from the bridge master’s cabin with the bridge deck in raised position. He has a great collection taken from the vertical lift Welland South (Broadway) bridge, looking north in the direction of the railway swing bridge.
One series shows the Hochelaga, a laker, approaching the swing bridge; then squeezing through the narrow opening – talk about a tight fit!; then getting closer, closer and closer to the raised Welland South bridge, then finally passing under it.
What a sequence – talk about breathtaking!
Mr. Lasovich, who died in November, 2008, aged 74, told me he received the camera in the late 1940s as a Christmas gift. He did most of his work between 1951 and 1961, finding himself “hooked” on 3-D photography. After his death, his family generously gave me the collection of View-Master reels, two View Masters and various trivia about 3-D because they knew Mr. Lasovich and I shared a passion about our hometown.
I admire images of his old neighbourhood, Beatrice Street, and now largely forgotten neighbourhood icons, such as Maple Leaf School and Sts. Peter and Paul School. There are some stunningly beautiful scenes of the old Sts. Peter and Paul Church decorated for the Christmas season.
Downtown Welland appears bustling in some of the images. The marquee on the once-grand Capitol Theatre boasts about a double feature: East of Eden, starring James Dean and Battle Cry, starring Van Heflin and Aldo Ray.
I spent about an hour looking through an assortment of View-Master reels on this enjoyable trip back in time.
Oh, and among an assortment of people from that period is a young Crowland cop. Standing on King Street near Seventh Street, maybe pausing while pounding his beat – was Reno Cirocco, proud in his crisp, copper’s uniform.
If interest warrants, I am willing to make Mr. Lasovich’s collection of images available for public viewing on a one-time basis. I am willing to arrange date, time and location.
Got a minute? Contact me via my blog, or e- mail to:

(A former reporter and editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ont.)