“I come from a large family myself,” said the youngest of his parents’ seven children, all raised in Dayton. “It's not like I had nobody. I had older brothers and sisters who are very good to me. But I just went out to visit my aunt and uncle in Philadelphia one summer after my mother died, and that became an annual thing.”
The relationship deepened during those trips, phone calls, family reunions and other occasions.
Eventually, Tony had son Henry, and Aunt Lotte and Uncle Chad found a place in his heart, too.
“He called my uncle and aunt ‘opa’ and ‘oma,’ that's German for grandpa and grandma,” Tony said of his eldest son, now a 6-foot-7-inch artist.
“I am proud to say he is following in my Uncle Chad’s footsteps,” he said. “He has a real desire for fairness and justice in the world. He’s just good and kind to everybody and he is even tall like my uncle. I am very happy about that.”
Lotte, who was about 5 foot, 4 inches tall, died of Parkinson's in 2008 at age 80.
Chad, who had Henry by two inches of height, died at 91 on Saturday, April 25, at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Haverford, Pa., after a painful two weeks battling the coronavirus.
He was never placed on a ventilator, but required oxygen, Tony said.
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Tony said he spoke with his uncle, a former University of Pennsylvania chemical engineering professor who held multiple patents and worked for a private company, two days before he died.
“He was clearly tired, fading and in pain that day. But then he went on to comfort care only and just steadily declined after that,” he said of the father of four. “He had a peaceful passing. His daughter was on the phone with him talking to him. And after that phone call, he just went to sleep and died five to 10 minutes later, not in pain.”
Tony said he and many others in his family would have been there in person, but could not because of restrictions that officials say are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19.
It is not clear how Chad got the virus. He had been living in an independent living community in a Philadelphia neighborhood until he took a fall.
He had been recovering well in the community’s rehab unit until shorty before testing positive for the coronavirus.
“I'm grateful for his long life,” Tony said. “I'm not bitter or angry that he went out this way because he had a good life and died peacefully. I just wish we could have been there for him in the end.”
Now a Columbus resident who works as a public relations manager at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, Tony said he strives to live in gratitude and not fear, but he said there are frightening things about the coronavirus that he wishes people of all ages took seriously.
He pointed to a once healthy 58-year-old he knows of, now on a ventilator due to the virus.
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“It's a problem for all of us. For many of us, we know that if we have mild symptoms, we will overcome them, but what if we have it and we touch or embrace a grandparent or someone with a compromised immune system. That can be deadly,” Tony said. “You’ve got to respect the virus. You have to be responsible and considerate of others. So, wear the mask. Practice proper hygiene.”
OPA AND OMA
Tony says his aunt, who became an assistant to Penn's chairman of pharmacology years after escaping Nazi Germany in 1939 and reuniting with her parents, pediatricians Alice Israel and Julius Ohlmann, in Dayton, was the heart of the relationship.
He said his uncle, the second son of an Austrian-born father and a Miami County-bred mom who died from tuberculosis when she was 22 and he was just 8 months old, was the analytical thinker who had played basketball at Roosevelt despite “three left feet.”
“He was this brilliant engineer who was well-read and intimidating actually. You didn't want to say the wrong thing because he would challenge you on it,” Tony said, laughing. “There was nothing phony about my Uncle Chad. Not at all. His opinion was not a function of the people he was around. You know how some people can be that way? No, he would tell it straight.”
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Lotte graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in chemical engineering in 1949.
Chad was also an engineering student there and went on to earn a master's at Princeton University before going back to UC for his Ph.D., Tony said.
He worked at Northwestern University near Chicago for a while before moving on to Penn.
Lotte was an activist in her neighborhood and a leader in West Philadelphia, her obituary said.
The cookbook author was treasurer of the Friends of Walnut West Library, president of Garden Court Community Association, and was active in Hosts for Hospitals, and on the boards of the Maternity Care Coalition and the Funeral Consumer Alliance of Greater Philadelphia.
“She had a hard time getting around in her later years because of Parkinson's and osteoporosis,” Tony said. “She would still go to the older people in their senior living community and help them write letters, help them with whatever they needed, but not talk about it.”
Chad was born in 1929, the first year of the Great Depression, but never wanted for food, clothing or shelter as a child, Tony said.
But Tony said Chad’s father and grandparents were “hard-ass Germans.”
What was lacking was expressions of love and warmth.
Chad found those qualities in Lotte, who got it from her own mom, Tony said.
Still Tony said he was surprised when one day his uncle gave him an offer he’d never forget.
“I was in college in Dayton trying to find my way and doing well. I wasn't struggling. I was working through college, paying my way. And he pulled me aside one day and said, ‘Lottie and I would like to help you out’,” Tony said. “And then, when I went to grad school, they said, ‘If you need help, let us know. It'll be loan, though. So I borrowed. When I graduated they sent me a note, ‘Don't worry about paying us back. Just pay it forward one day if you're in a position to do so.’ That was it. I was kind of stunned by that. Very appreciative of course.”
With help from his uncle and aunt, Tony earned an associate degree in business administration at Sinclair Community College before transferring to Ohio State University, where, as a pre-med student, he earned a bachelor’s in psychology.
A former reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal, Springfield News-Sun and Dayton Daily News, he earned a master’s degree in journalism from Ohio State.
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“I think they were both pleased I was a journalist,” he said. “I was trying to make a difference in the world. They saw it as a noble profession.”
Tony, who still writes in his current job, said his aunt and uncle didn’t help because he asked.
They helped because they wanted to and could.
And Tony said he wasn’t the only student or person his aunt and uncle helped.
Even late in life, his uncle and his girlfriend were helping students when they could.
“I think they liked me. They knew I was a good student, and I was heading in the right direction. They wanted to make sure I stayed on that path,” he said. “They were full of integrity and kindness and a desire to do good. I hope I follow that example. I am trying.”