Saying Goodbye to Little John and His Big Heart
John Przybylinski earned the nickname “Little John” because the plating shop owner who hired him was also named John. We all know it had nothing to do with the size of his generous heart.
Back in May, the owners of Reliable Plating Works—Jack, Jeff and Jaime Maliszewski—celebrated Mr. Przybylinski’s 50 years with them by throwing a surprise party and giving him a special gift: a new Cadillac SRX. Sadly, just eight weeks later, Little John’s big heart did indeed give out. He passed away suddenly July 1 at the age of 69.
A lot of our readers knew John Przybylinski. He was involved with AESF, serving on the board of the Milwaukee branch for many years and once as its president, helping to bring the annual conference to the city he loved. He was also a big fundraiser for what is now the NASF, promoting the government relations effort.
Mr. Przybylinski was a family man through and through. “He loved to talk about his family,” said Janet Petry, a longtime coworker. “He would come into my office and talk my ear off. It was the highlight of my day, and I think his, too.” For Mr. Przybylinski, his kids and grandkids were the greatest people to be placed on the earth since God invented cheese.
He loved his wife, Sandy, he loved his job in the plating industry and he loved his life. An avid golfer and a huge Milwaukee Brewers fan, he enjoyed showing up for work every day at Reliable Plating Works, where he was plant manager in the company’s Elite Finishing division.
To say that his friends and colleagues were stunned by his death would be an understatement. The humble, fun-loving man was gone just a few short days after they had celebrated him. “He leaves a huge hole in the hearts of everyone that got to know and love him,” Jaime Maliszewki said.
But Mr. Przybylinski did more than just talk about his children, Laura, Lisa and John, and his grandkids, Olivia, Celia, Samantha, Max, Johnny and Erin. He also helped to shape their lives and was an active dad.
His son, John Przybylinski, became an all-star baseball player in high school and college, and said that spending time with his dad at Brewers games and tossing the ball around was more valuable than anything he could ask for. “My dad used to get 10-game packages to the Brewers games, and all the kids got to sit in one section,” he recalled several years ago. “I always remember that, and that’s what got me interested in baseball.”
The father’s devotion to community rubbed off on his daughter, Laura, who went into law and joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Several years ago, she was named the Western District’s first Project Safe Childhood coordinator, a position from which she oversaw federal, state, and local resources to combat child exploitation. Laura currently leads the office’s community outreach, helping to educate parents about the dangers of online sexual predators.
Lisa Przybylinski also became active in her own community, achieving the office of PTA president. Just like her father, she learned how to make friends and make a difference.
Little John was very good at his plating job—what other kind of person could boast a 50-year tenure with the same company?—and he was very good at his life. He was a happy man, with good friends and a solid foundation at home. “My dad loved John like a brother,” said Jaime Maliszewski, whose father, John Maliszewski, hired Mr. Przybylinski 50 years ago. “John was the most loyal employee he ever had, and one of his best friends.”
Mr. Przybylinski played Santa every year for the Sisters of St. Francis Hospital. In addition, he and “Big John” Maliszewski often held golf outings to raise funds for the hospital because, to them, it was the right thing to do.
We all go to work every day and punch the clock, but 50 years with a single company shows that you are loved, appreciated and darn near irreplaceable. Many of Mr. Przybylinski’s friends at Songbird Hills Golf Course and Tuckaway Country Club remembered him in a way that we all probably hope to be thought of when it is our time to go.
“Such a fun-loving and caring man,” said Terri Zeh.
Here is Jaime Maliszewski’s touching eulogy for “Little John” Przybylinski:
Family Man and Friend: John Michael Przybylinski, 1945 – Too Soon
When Laura and Johnny asked if I would be willing to speak here today, my initial thought was, I knew I would be willing, actually honored, but able, worried me. John meant the world to my family and me, and getting through this will be tough. John touched so many lives, that it was important to get as much input as possible, so that you would get a good understanding, of how far reaching the actions, of this one man, went.
While talking to friends, family and co-workers, a lot of descriptive words kept popping up. Father, Grandfather, Godfather, Mentor, Boss, Employee, Friend, Buddy, Pal, Supplier, Customer, and a few that I should probably keep until we get to Tuckaway later for a drink. But what was really telling, was that the descriptors used, in front of each of these titles, were all interchangeable. Loving, Loyal, Best, Great, Tough, Strong Willed, Honest, Proud, Direct … All of these help you understand why he was so loved by his family and friends.
To John family was everything, and his whole life was focused on his family. His family, is what drove him to work hard, but still have time for them. My brother Jack reminded me, that when John was putting his kids through college he lived on $20 a week, which included his Friday nights at Poor Richards. This never bothered John, because he was so proud of his kids, and each of their accomplishments. He would always be telling us how each was doing, and succeeding. Whether it was Laura and her law degree, or Lisa, his daughter that hated school, was now the President of the PTA, and even acting Principle for a day, have to admit this one shocked us all, or Johnny playing college baseball. There are a million of these stories that John would tell, and you could just see the love coming from his heart. When the Grandkids came, the stories continued, “Little Johnny says he is hitting em like he owns em” John said with the biggest, proudest, loving smile a grandpa can have. There are a million more of these we can share later as well.
One look in his office and you would know immediately that family meant everything to John. His walls and desk were covered in pictures of family. Some dating back to the 80’s. Look out Gene, Laura was thinking about bringing her 80’s hairdo back.
We also always knew, John loved Sandy. His sweetheart from the time he was 17 and she was 15. He could only wait one week after Sandy’s 18th birthday to get married. His love of wanting to spend time with Sandy, is the reason my dad hired him. He used to hustle like crazy when he was delivering for a customer of ours, so my dad offered him 25 cents more per hour. John immediately gave notice and started his 50 year working career with RPW.
Shortly after, my father asked John, “not that you are not working hard, but when you worked for our customer, you hustled like crazy, what was that about?”
John answered, “That owner was a jerk, and timed my route. So when he road me, I took my time, that way, I knew that if I hustled when he was not with me, I could get 20 minutes to get lunch at my girlfriend’s house.”
John loved to spend time with Sandy playing golf. He was so proud when she retired and was now playing all the time. He felt so good that all of his hard work was paying off, and they were finally getting a chance to do the things they wanted.
Many families that loose a loved one, have to worry about, “did he know, I loved him”, or “did he really, love me?” This family does not. Each of you can rest assured knowing that your Grandpa, Dad and Husband loved you like no other, and that he knew, that you ALL, loved him. The fact that he knew this, made him feel like the Richest Man in the World.
John treated my family, as family, as well. My brother Jack considers John his second dad, and wanted to thank Laura, Lisa and Johnny for sharing their dad with him. Jack learned so much from John, how to use tools and work on machines, to never quit until the job is done, and to work hard and play hard. These play hard stories will have to wait until Father Dennis leaves. But it was not just work, that John taught him, it was how to be a great dad. How a dad needs to sacrifice for his kids, and put his kids needs before his own. This was important when Jack became a single dad with four boys in private high school and then college.
My brother Jeff keeps thinking of the time we were playing golf in an outing, and John walked ahead to find his ball, while Jeff waited for the green to clear. When the green cleared, Jeff hit his ball, and it was going right at John, so he yelled fore! John covered his head and started to run (obviously this happened many, many years ago). He must have run about 10 yards, and while in mid stride, the ball struck him between the neck and shoulder area, leaving an instant deep red mark. John let out a stream of words that I will not repeat at this time, but looked to be ok. Jeff started to laugh, thinking, if he just stayed still, the ball would have missed him by 10 yards. Jeff wanted to apologize, not for hitting him, but for laughing so hard. Jeff’s memories of John will be of golf, laughing and having fun.
My sister Jodi remembered how John, her God Father, always told her he had her back. She remembers how he tried to be neutral when he refereed her high school basketball games. But John could not help himself. He had to tell her, “come on girl, you got this”, when he handed her the ball on a crucial free throw. This totally eased her and helped her relax. She also loved that fact, that he had an amazing ability, to make you feel like the most important person in the room. She said, “That man always made me feel special, important and loved. I know, I was just his Goddaughter, but he made me feel like an only child around him.”
I always viewed John as a cross between a very close uncle, and a brother. He gave me sound advice, about how to deal with my dad at work, or that I was being too hard on my little brother, like a good uncle. But then he would rib me and drive me to be a better athlete, like an older brother. He was good at this, and it definitely helped me, and I love him for it.
My Dad loved John like a brother. He was always amazed that John never asked for a raise, and that my dad never had to tell him his hours. John was the most loyal employee he ever had, and one of his best friends.
Jose Lopez, his wife Maria and Daughters Dulce and Lupita will miss John dearly. Jose worked with John for 36 of John’s 50 years at RPW, and says, John treated his family like his own. Dulce remembers John as a wonderful, admirable person. Not only was he her father’s supervisor, but a friend to her father and his family. Dulce remembered the days that she would visit her father during his lunch break, and she would see this wonderful white haired man driving a forklift. One day he stopped and asked if she wanted to ride along, and of course she did not hesitate. It was the coolest thing ever, so every time she would visit John would always make an adventure by letting her ride with him on the forklift. Spanish is Dulce’s first language and every time she would see John, she would say “mami Abuelito”, abuelito translates to grandpa. She called John grandpa, because of his famous white hair. When John asked Jose what his daughter was saying, Jose said she is calling you Grandpa. John did not hesitate and allowed her to continue calling him grandpa. Dulce has many memories of her grandpa. One in specific, is when Jose announced that Dulce was engaged. Her grandpa and Sandy (aka: her grandma), took her, her fiancé, and her parents to celebrate their engagement. Grandpa and grandma gave her and her husband advice.
Dulce said, “She will never forget that, because not only did they give us advice, they gave us support. I will always cherish that memory. –Thank you grandpa.”
Maybe this is why John is so loved by ALL of his friends. He treats them all like family.
John’s friendship and guidance reminds me of my favorite quote by Tony Robbins, “Remember, we become who we spend our time with. The quality of a person’s life is most often a direct reflection of the expectations of their peer group. Choose your friends well!”
I know that having John as my friend, made me a better person. I hope that I can do the same, for my other friends. It would be a great tribute to John’s friendship, if we all made ourselves, a good friend to be chosen.
John’s heart was huge, and the Sisters of St. Francis Hospital know this all too well. John was their Santa for many, many years. He would go all out, with make-up and the full costume. His character was so good, that his own grandchildren did not recognize him. He loved to hand out gifts to the sick kids and would try to lift their spirits and get them smiling. But this was not enough, he helped my dad for many years, and later me for the past 15+ years, to run a golf outing fundraiser for the same sisters. You could always count on John to tell you straight up, and not mince words. John had a knack of cutting out the BS and getting down to the real issues, so that our committee always stayed on point, helping the kids and their families.
I will never forget this man, and what he has done for my family, my community and me.
One last saying that I would like to extend to the family.
If God brings us to it, he will bring us through it.
In happy moments, Praise God
In difficult moments, Seek God
In quiet moments, Worship God
In painful moments, Trust God
In every moment, Thank God
John we all love you, and hope that you have you perfect foursome in heaven, and are hitting nothing but fairways and greens.
God Bless you and your loving family!
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