Michael "Mike" Skittle, Jr.July 6, 1926 ~ January 6, 2018 (age 91)
Michael “Mike” Skittle, Jr., 91 of Canonsburg passed away peacefully on Saturday, January 6, 2018.
He was born on July 6, 1926 in Canonsburg to Michael Skittle, Sr., and Anna Bobic Skittle who preceded him in death.
On October 28, 1950 he married Ann Gontz who recently passed away on December 18, 2017.
Mike was a proud WWII veteran, having served as a 3rd Class Petty Officer in the US Navy’s Construction Battalion, the Seabees. He participated at age 18 in the Battle of Okinawa, the last and one of the most intense battles of the WWII Pacific Theater. During the engagement, Mike was a truck driver, delivering supplies and building materials for the construction of the Yontan and Kadena airstrips and transporting both American soldiers and Japanese POWs. He witnessed Kamikaze attacks, saw the Bockscar,( the plane that dropped the second atomic bomb in Nagasaki), and watched harbored US warships light up the night sky in celebration when Japan surrendered. He was a lifelong student of WWII Pacific Theater history and was a member of VFW Post 191 and the Houston American Legion.
Mike lived his life with the Seabee “Can Do” attitude, approaching work and personal life with vigor and industriousness. Mike started his civilian career as a coal miner working with his father at the Westland Mine. He then joined Donaldson Supply Company as a diesel truck mechanic and professional truck driver. He met his wife, Ann, at a polka party at the SNPJ Hall in Strabane, Pa., and spent the next 67 years dancing around the kitchen and at polka parties to their favorite Slovenian polkas. He was a life-long member of SNPJ Lodge 138. Mike’s home was always a source a pride, as he built the house from the foundation to roof. He was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. His hobbies included buying, refurbishing, and selling vehicles (56 in all), remodeling houses, reading under his favorite maple tree, camping, and traveling to historical sites.
At the request of the deceased, visitation, services and interment are private. Arrangements have been entrusted to Salandra Funeral and Cremation Services, Joseph P. Salandra, owner/supervisor, 304 West Pike Street, Canonsburg, 724-745-8120.
Polkas are playing today. My father always said, “You can’t be unhappy when a polka is playing.” These joyful songs are a source of comfort to me and my family as we celebrate the life of my Dad, Mike Skittle, Jr.
My father is and will always be the smartest and hardest working man I know. Born with an inventive mind, capable hands, and a sharp wit, he tackled life with vigor and industriousness. He was, in a word, “fierce.” His key to life was always being interested in new things. About 2 years ago, he wanted to know how to text.
My father had many roles. He was a paperboy, sailor, house builder and remodeler, plumber, electrician, bricklayer, coal miner, diesel truck mechanic, truck driver, historian, dancer, protector, provider, and a devoted brother, husband, father, and grandfather.
Mike Skittle fell in love with his life partner, Annie Gontz, at a polka party in Strabane in 1948. They proceeded to dance together in marriage for 67 years. Their song was “Blue Skirt Waltz.” At his first dinner with his future in-laws, my Dad was startled to find that chicken on the menu. Daddy had raised chickens as pets during the Depression and never ate poultry after his favorite pet became dinner one evening. But this Russian girl was special. Taken as he was, my Dad took a few bites before hiding the rest in his suit pocket. My Mom said that the meal was an accidental test of true devotion.
My Dad had a dream - to build a perfect Cape-Cod-style house for himself and his beloved honey. Daddy bought a lot caddy-corner to his parents’ house and hand-built his home - digging the foundation and raising the roof with the help of his father and a neighbor, Jack Roseman. He would work 2 shifts at the Westland mine and then come home to work on the house. He did the wiring and plumbing himself - just by reading manuals. The house was always a source of pride and happiness. He was delighted recently when a contractor said that it was very well-designed and built.
Daddy was an expert at fixing bicycles as a child and then he shifted his focus to cars, vans, trucks, campers, and cement mixers. He owned 56 cars in the course of his life, each meticulously refurbished to tip-top shape. His cars were special. He added racing stripes, decals, and sharp hubcaps. My Mom sold the cars. The first person to see the car always bought it.
Of course, my Dad was our personal expert. When I needed to buy a new 4-wheel drive car, he found a used gray jeep at Washington Ford. My Dad said “This is perfect! 7000 miles. Great condition.” I said, “This car is exactly the same as the jeeps they use at CONSOL’s coal mines! They are all this same gray. There are 50 of them in the parking lot. I want a pretty car.” “OK,” he said, “we will look.” We went to about 5 dealerships in the area, but ended up back again at the Ford Dealership. My Dad said, “This is definitely the one.” I said, “Daddy. I don’t want a gray jeep.” He looked at my Mom and said, “Hon, can we pay half for this jeep?” My Mom smiled, “Why Yes, Mike, we can.” Then my Dad looked at me and said, “How do you like the color now?”
My father worked with his brother, Matt, at Donaldson Supply Company as a diesel truck mechanic and truck driver. My son’s first word was “truck,” because Grampsey brought home a different truck every day at lunchtime to show baby Timmy. When he retired, he continued to work “freelance” as a cement truck driver.
Daddy also loved history and travelling. Over the summers when I was growing up, we traveled every weekend to see something historic, military, or just interesting. We went to Gettysburg, Washington DC, Niagara Falls, Navy shipyards, the Cleveland Air Force Museum, the Titusville oil drilling museum, and the Indianapolis races - to name a few. We camped in tents, tent trailers, and conversion vans (converted by my Dad). I had trouble picking what to write about for “What I did on my summer vacation.”
My Dad was tough and strong, but also sweet and sensitive in many ways. He never let me or my daughter ride roller coasters at Kennywood without his arm being protectively around us. He had a love for all animals, not just chickens. I can still see him carrying sick baby birds into the house, so gently in his grease-stained mechanic’s hands, with the hope that my Mom could make them well again. He loved cats and cats loved him. Stray cats came and sat on this chest when he worked under the car in our driveway. Birds visited him daily under his favorite maple tree, where he happily read on summer evenings. He once said to me, “I want to come back as a bird, free and flying high, seeing everything. Leave when it’s cold, come back when it’s warm. Perfect. ”
Daddy was a proud WWII veteran, having served as a 3rd Class Petty Officer in the US Navy’s Construction Battalion, the Seabees. He is our family’s hero. He participated at age 18 in the Battle of Okinawa, the last and one of the most intense battles of the Pacific Theater. During the engagement, Dad was a truck driver, delivering supplies and building materials for the construction of the Yontan and Kadena airstrips and transporting both American soldiers and Japanese POWs. In typical Mike Skittle fashion, he stenciled “Mike Skittle – Canonsburg, PA” on the back of his truck. As he drove, he said that he would hear servicemen calling out “Hey I’m from Houston!” or “Hello, I’m from Meadowlands.” He witnessed Kamikaze attacks, saw the Bockscar, the plane that dropped the second atomic bomb in Nagasaki, and watched harbored US warships light up the night sky in celebration when Japan surrendered.
Finally, when my Dad set off each morning, the last thing he did as he headed out the door was put on his cap with the specially-bent, squared-off brim. He would always give the cap a jaunty tilt to the side, the tilt of excitement and spunk, getting ready to do a good job. As he heads off to his new adventure, I am certain he is putting on his cap and giving it a little push to the side.
Washington County Humane Society
1527 PA-136, Eighty Rour WA 15301