Chet attended the old Tech High School and then served aboard the USS Shangri-La at the tail end of World War II. He then began a long career on the Great Lakes, retiring as a wheelsman on Bethlehem Steel's thousand footer Stewart J. Cort. (The Cort was assembled in Erie, PA.) He had also served on the William P. Snyder, the Steamer Johnstown, the Schoonmaker and a number of other freighters. He was working on the Lakes when the Edmund Fitzgerald sank, and was quoted several times in the Erie Times News reminiscing about that fateful night.
"He paid many visits to the crew in the sports department at the Times Publishing Company. Chet always had conversations in Polish with sportswriter Dennis Michalski. Never could figure out what those two were talking about," said Patrick Lyon.
"I have many fond memories of seeing Chester on the Cort when my sisters and I would go to visit my dad. I have no idea how or when it happened, but when we were very young, we decided that Chester was Santa Claus (it was the beard) and during the 'off season' from Christmas, Santa's 'day job' was sailing with our father. Ever the good sport, Chester played up the nickname for us, well into our adult lives. He was such a wonderful, fun-loving man," said Andrea Coppens.
"I worked with Chester for many years on the Cort. Always an upbeat, friendly man," said Robert Larson.
Chet was a man of mystery. He spent many winters in Texas and Mexico. He traveled to Poland to visit the town where his parents were born, and traveled extensively throughout the U.S. He was very knowledgable about U.S. lighthouses, and judging by his photos, he visited most of them.
Chet could often be seen walking downtown with a newspaper under his arm. He would stop in to visit his friends at local businesses, McDonald's and the public library.
Chet took many of the pictures of Downtown Erie that have been featured on this blog. He almost always had a camera strapped around his neck, and seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
Chet passed away on August 3, 2008. He was buried in Wintergreen Gorge Cemetery.
|Young Chet steering the ship.|
|Chet the Barber at his shop.|