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John Polyniak Remembered For His Selflessness, Kindness And Positivity

Dylan Roche
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September 18, 2018

For countless families in the Pasadena community, John Polyniak of McCully-Polyniak Funeral Home was a voice of comfort and compassion during a time of grief. For members of the Pasadena Business Association, he was an active volunteer and uplifting friend. And —most importantly — for his family, he was a father and husband who showed love, kindness, patience and humor in everything he did. No matter how they knew him, all agreed that when he passed away in August after a battle with cancer, Pasadena had lost someone truly special.

“Whenever an opportunity presented itself when he could help another person, he would do so without hesitation and usually without telling anyone,” said Valerie Polyniak, John’s wife of 42 years. “He was humble and didn’t think it was necessary to be praised for his acts of kindness.”

Valerie and John knew each other since childhood. As their son, Scott, explained in his eulogy at John’s funeral, “Their love story is a classic. They first crossed paths on Audrey Avenue in Brooklyn as Mom was playing in a street baseball game. Dad sensed it was one of those unique can’t-pass-up moments despite not yet having his 13th birthday. Their first official face-to-face meeting, arranged by a mutual friend, resulted in Dad fleeing the scene in nervous terror. He later built up the courage to say hello.”

The couple stayed close through their teen years and eventually married just three weeks before John’s 22nd birthday. One of Valerie’s most beloved memories of him is the time he secretly arranged a ceremony to renew their vows on her 40th birthday in 1994. “A couple days before, he told me to pick out a pretty dress and make sure the kids looked nice because he had something special planned,” she recalled. “I was shocked to find so many friends and members of our family waiting in the sanctuary for our mini-wedding to begin.”

Those closest to the Polyniaks knew them as “John and Val,” because there was never one without the other. “Over the years, people have always remarked about our love being truly special, and one friend even said that if our marriage didn’t work out, he had no faith in marriage at all,” Valerie said.

Together, John and Valerie raised their children, Scott and Julie. There were years filled with acts of love, moments of laughter and lessons to be learned. A humorous story Julie remembers is her ninth birthday, when her dad was tasked with picking up her cake on his way home from work. “He got the cake and then carried it out to his car by holding the handles of the grocery bag without even thinking that the cake would then be sideways and slide down in the box,” she said. “When he got home and Mom asked to see the cake, he pulled it out and instantly realized what he had done. He felt terrible, and being 9, I was pretty distraught, but now we look back on that birthday and laugh and lovingly refer to that cake as the ‘accordion cake.’”

John bonded with Scott over little league baseball, Ravens games and ACC hoops, with John being a dedicated volunteer coach. “My first practice, I was so afraid to step on the court,” Scott said. “He sat with me, having my back as always. I’m glad he forced me to stick with it that day because it’s a game I grew to love. When I was 11 or 12, we created our own independent baseball team, the Magothy Marlins, with custom uniforms and handpicked players from this area. As a start-up team, we were able to compete with the Little Orioles and some of Maryland’s best travel teams.”

John was just as loved in his professional life as he was in his family life. After earning a business degree from the University of Baltimore in finance and marketing, he pursued a career as a stock broker before he joined Valerie in running the funeral home.

It might surprise some people to know that even someone as caring and charismatic as John would struggle to be outgoing. “I think it took a long time before Dad felt comfortable in his role at the funeral home, so he decided to seek out opportunities in the community where he could network, build some social confidence, help the local businesses, and be involved in events that were his and his alone,” Julie said. “While Dad was already a very compassionate person, joining local associations and becoming more involved within the church truly helped him come out of his shell and find a voice that he was then able to apply within the business.”

John served as an active member of the Pasadena Business Association, where Executive Director Sandi Parrish described him as the type of person who could engage people even if they didn’t want to be engaged. “He was easy to talk to; he had that way of getting you out of your doldrums and making you laugh and forget about everything,” she said.

Lisa Hart of Arundel Federal Savings Bank, who has served as president of PBA and is a close friend of John and Valerie, always knew John as someone with a smile on his face and ready to lend a hand. “He was the most upbeat, positive, kindest man I’ve known in a long time,” she said.

It was during Hart’s term as president that the PBA came up short a religious leader to say grace before one of its lunch meetings. Hart turned to John and asked him if he would do it — and a tradition was born. John became the designated person to lead the PBA in prayer before each of its monthly meetings up until his death. “He really threw his heart into it,” Hart said.

Though she is sad to lose a friend, Hart takes comfort in remembering John’s interminable positive attitude. “You’ve got to stay positive and keep going,” she said, recalling encouragement he would frequently give her. “So that’s what we’ll do.”

Hart’s sentiment is one that is shared by John’s family, who saw him keep his spirits up even while he battled cancer. It’s proof that although he has passed on, his influence remains here in those who loved him.

“The past couple years have really been a challenge to each of us as Dad endured surgeries, treatments and seemingly endless doctor appointments,” Julie said. “During that time, Dad rarely lost his smile or his effortless ability to make those around him laugh. In difficult times, he would always say, ‘It’s all good,’ and remind us that everything was going to be OK. I can’t help but smile whenever I think of him and will strive to maintain this positive outlook throughout the rest of my life.”

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