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Around The Grange
Grangers Jane And Thaddeus Wendell Remain Inseparable

By M.A.C. Lynch, The Hartford Courant (12/20/09)

  DECEMBER 20, 2009 --

On Christmas Day 1945, Thaddeus Wojtkiewicz arrived home after three years of fighting in the Pacific Islands.

On Armistice Day the following year, Jane Gryszkiewicz had a surprise for him. "I proposed to her on Nov. 11, the 11th month, and it was our 11th date," Thaddeus said. He was not expecting her immediate "Yes," response.

"Aren't you going to think about it?" Thaddeus asked.

"I already did," Jane said. Little did she know her affirmation would entail changing both of their last names, cutting ice blocks out of caves or living in a van for three months.

Jane recognized Thaddeus right away when he came into the local bakery where she worked in 1946. He had been two years ahead of her in elementary school, her mother and his grandmother were friends, and "his father always used to come to the bakery for bread," Jane said.

Thaddeus' mother refused to sign permission papers for him to join the Navy after his brother was killed on the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, but when he turned 18 in March 1942, he enlisted and spent three years building bridges, hospitals and causeways overseas during World War II. Jane also lost a brother in the Pacific, when his plane was shot down over Guadalcanal.

They both were from families with 12 children and lost several siblings in childhood. Jane's war effort before her bakery job included painting dials for anti-aircraft equipment at a manufacturing plant and peeling carrots in the hospital kitchen in Westfield, Mass., their hometown.

"She hit my eye," Thaddeus said after seeing Jane at the neighborhood bakery. They both performed in a minstrel show at their parish during the winter, but it wasn't until the summer that Thaddeus invited Jane on a double date.

At the end of the date, "I was hoping he'd say, 'When can we meet again?'" Jane said. A week later, he did, and "It was just the two of us."

They walked everywhere. "We only lived about a block from each other. Her folks did not have a car, and my folks did not have a car," Thaddeus said. He pedaled Jane a few times on the handlebars of his bicycle, but she wasn't wild about it.

At Christmas, Thaddeus gave Jane a hope chest, and for her birthday in February, he took her to pick out an engagement ring. On Aug. 30, 1947, they were married and toured the mid-Atlantic states for a week. "By that time, I bought a car. I splurged," Thaddeus said.

They settled in Westfield, and Thaddeus, 22, worked as a machinist in a motorcycle shop while Jane, 20, continued at the bakery. When they were expecting their first child a year later, they wrestled with changing their last name. "People would not take the time out to learn our names. I was called 'Hey, you' or my serial number in the service," Thaddeus said. He and Jane did not want their children to endure that humiliation.

"We had reservations. It took a lot of guts to do that," especially since their families were disapproving, Jane said. Thaddeus' brother had changed his last name to Wendell, as did another brother eventually.

In 1949, the first of their three daughters inherited the new name, Wendell. Five years later, when Thaddeus took a job in Newington, they moved to Longmeadow, Mass. He became a machinist and inspector at his brother's business, Dell Manufacturing, which supplied aircraft parts to Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky Aircraft. Dell later moved to Farmington, and in 1968, the family moved to Simsbury.

When their youngest child went to school, Jane began working "mother's hours" at the local McDonald's, followed by eight years at Avon Clock and Lighting Co.

Though they had no sons, Thaddeus led a Boy Scout Explorers troop and loved camping. "We had a summer place in East Otis, Mass., and we did a lot of camping" in the Berkshires, at the Connecticut shore and on Lake George, N.Y., Jane said. Camping near Lake Ticonderoga one summer, they took their lanterns, bucket and axe to cut a block of ice out of a cave where graphite was mined for Ticonderoga pencils.

They drove cross-country three times, visiting their daughter in Montana en route, and upon retiring, Jane and Thaddeus drove to every national park in the country, except in Florida and Alaska. "We lived in our van" for three months, and people repeatedly asked if they were on their honeymoon, Jane said. A few years ago, they visited Alaska.

"Her mother used to call us 'the gypsies'," Thaddeus said. They've been active in Simsbury Grange, Farmington Valley Pomona and the Connecticut State Grange since they retired and attend monthly VFW meetings as well.

"They're inseparable," their daughter Anita Brucker says. "One's not there without the other. They always did everything together, always."

"I'm afraid somebody's going to steal her," Thaddeus says.

"I had other boyfriends, but Thaddeus was the one for me," Jane says, 62 years after choosing him.

"She's my honey. We love each other, and that's it. We just do what comes naturally. It's give and take. You both have to bend a little," Thaddeus says. In the midst of discussing their years together, he stops and calls out to Jane, "I still love you, hon."


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