How I Became Grandpa Don

Chapter 16
  1990 -  1996

Recorded by Donald J Plefka (Grandpa Don) 
August, 2004 - September 2010 

This period Of time was another of major changes and growth. Most of the events were recorded in 2004 but publishing was halted due to the fact that I wanted to continue to supplement the narrative with family photos. The problem was that I had started to use a video camera and the photos had to be converted from video format and I was having difficulty getting that done. I have since decided to publish without the benefit of photos and may add them later. This story is too important to be left undone.
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1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996
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It was April of 1990 and I remember it as one of the best Greek lamb chops I had ever had. We had gone to dinner at Petty's II restaurant at 159th and Lagrange Road.  I love lamb chops but it is the only thing I can think of to blame for the pain later that night.  I knew what it was as soon as it hit because if you ever had an attack of acute pancreitis you never forget it. Anne took me to the hospital and being able to tell them of my attack the previous April, they quickly confirmed the problem and gave me medication for the pain. 

I asked to be seen by Dr. Doshi, a specialist in this sort of thing as well as diabetes. When I told him of my previous experience and asked why I had another attack in spite of not drinking for almost a year, he said I was an enigma. The attack could have been due to a buildup of enzymes from rich foods (like the lamb chop) or it could be from living on the South side of Chicago. I could have another attack in a week, a month, or never again! There was no way to tell. In any case, in a couple days I was sent home, as good as ever, and Doshi was my doctor. Oh yes, I needed him for my borderline diabetes so Anne and I now had the same doctor.  The bonus was that I now considered it OK to have an occasional drink. But I stayed away from lamb chops for a while. 

In spring of 1990 the J.D.Edwards accounting package was purchased by Kelso-Burnett with Job Cost, Purchasing, and Inventory modules in addition to all the standard accounting features. We planned to implement the system and expected to replace our old software by October. Also purchased at that time were three copies of a PC based estimating program. The Engineering Services Dept. started to become familiar with the estimating program with the intent to tailor it to our needs. In the summer of 1990 it became apparent that help would be needed to implement the JDE accounting system. A task force was formed and I was diverted from the estimating system to  work on the implementation of the Job Cost and Work Order parts of JDE.  I loved the challenge. 

By this time my mom had moved into an assisted living apartment at Salem Village in Joliet. A couple of her friends had gone there and she joined them at this facility run by Lutheran Social Services. There was a nursing home associated which gave us a sense of security. She had a living room which was open to the efficiency kitchen, a bedroom and bath room. The building office was always staffed and lunches were provided. There was also a store for groceries and medications. We were pleased to have her there and so was she. 

Anne was talking to my mom on the phone when, in mid sentence she heard a noise and mom did not respond. The office at Salem Towers was contacted and they set someone to check. When they got to the apartment, Mom was walking with a bump on her head and the phone had been hung up.  She didn't remember what happened. I was called and left work to take her to her doctor. Being a Wednesday, I had to take her to the emergency room and since they could find no apparent cause for her fall, they admitted her for tests. To make a long story short, she believed that she was dying and refused to eat. There was a series of anxiety attacks which further upset her. I finally convinced the doctor to release her and we took her to our house, 

One night was enough to convince us that this would be an impossible situation. Anne could not care for her. Arrangements were made and she was admitted to the nursing facility a Salem Village. Her recovery was slow and it became obvious the she could not return to her apartment. We kept telling her that she could go back when she got better but that was never going to happen. 

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If you look close, Nick, next to his mom, did not want his photo taken with his grandparents

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Anthony enjoys his birthday. 1990b01.jpg (66258 bytes)
Birthdays always involve gift opening ceremonies 1990b04.jpg (81924 bytes)
Spring brought continued construction. 1990b05.jpg (78283 bytes)

The skinny trunk of the tree next door was swelled to four times its normal size by a swarm of migrating bees. They stayed the night, leaving the following day.

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Summertime ...
 and the livin' is easy

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Both Karen and Diane were pregnant that summer. There was the joy of anticipated new life and the concern that goes with it. Privately, Anne hoped that one of the babies would be a girl. The best hope was in Diane but shouldn't their first born be a son? Speculate and wish all you want, nature will take it's course and we prayed for a healthy baby of either gender. 

Anne and I served regularly as Eucharistic Ministers, unusually at the 7:30 a.m. masses on Sunday. We liked to get up early on Sunday and go to the less crowded mass. Upon arrival at church the assignment list was checked to see if one was to be a bread or wine minister and at which communion station. Even when not scheduled, there was usually a 'no-show' or two so it was rare that we did not serve. There were always two 'facilitators' and when assigned to the wine facilitator position, the glasses had to be purified after mass. 

Anne made a change from being a seventh grade catechist to being a Minister of Care. It was less demanding for her. After a number of training sessions she was commissioned and received her Pix, crucifix and prayer book. She soon had a couple of assignments. One morning a week she would take communion to home-bound people. The hosts were carried in the small round Pix. She found this to be a very rewarding ministry and very much appreciated by the recipients. 

The October, 1990 date for implementation of the new accounting and job cost software for the company was missed but we were making progress. The system was written for general contractors and things worked a little differently when you are a 'specialty' sub-contractor.  Besides, we wanted to do things "our way", not the way some far off computer programmer thought it should be done.

November 1, 1990 was a glorious day in the Plefka family. Kelsey Lynn Plefka was born to Karen & Dan. She was a beautiful healthy baby girl. Anne finally had her long sought granddaughter.  But wait! There is more! On November 26, Diane and Tom became the proud parents of Caitlin Fiona. (Is Diane Irish?) After five grandsons in a row we now have two granddaughters. Grandma is beaming! 

A first for the Plefka clan

Dan, Karen, Nick & Kelsey

Nick & his new sister.

Grandma has a granddaughter

Diane Plefka brings home a bundle of Joy and Caitlin joins the Plefka clan ...
... a second granddaughter


The Albano boys
Christmas 1990


November was marred, however by the sudden death of Anne Marie Dolan. The Dolan's were part of the group of "Mount Greenwood baseball friends" that got together for pinochle regularly. We rotated between homes each time and chose opposite gender partners by lot. Your partner could not be your own spouse. Tables were numbered 1 through 3 (or 4) and the loosing partners of each hand moved to a lower table with the looser from the lowest going to the highest. The stakes were 25¢ a hand and 25¢ a 'set'. This was the first of our 'card club' to die and was a shock to us all. 

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I reached the astounding age of 60 this year and we started to seriously think about retirement. The assumption was that I would work part time helping with project estimates at Kelso. Much of it could be done at home where I could manage my own time as well as eliminate the two hours a day of travel. Even if I could afford to retire prior to 65, I could not because we needed the health insurance provided at Kelso-Burnett. Besides, I enjoyed my work. 

Caitlin Plefka is Baptized  
Mother - Daughter -
Grandmother Marx -
Great Grandmother

Parents with God Parents



Our Friend Cleo   Anthony has a birthday

Blow out the candles!

 Sylvia Plefka

Dominick Albano

  Kelsey Plefka is Baptized

Parents and Godparents

The Grandparents


Our two dolls
Caitlin & Kelsey


Diane, Tom & Caitlin (7 Mo)

Yes, she goes underwater ...
No problem!


Visiting Mom at the nursing home was getting to me. She complained that I didn't come but when I did she was anxious for me to leave because it was always time for ... something. Mom always made a point of telling me she wanted to die, "... like her sister Kate". She was hurting. But she always mentioned that her step-mother didn't take care of her and that is why she had all these ailments. I gave up trying to reason with her but tried to tell her that she had to forgive her step mother. She would not do that.

She seemed to enjoy visits from the teens from the local church and she had several "friends" among them. The nearby priest said mass every Monday but when I asked if she went, she told me that she always goes to mass on Sunday. I explained that that was the Lutheran service but she said no, it was mass and she received communion every week, commenting about the priest, "She is very nice." ... So be it!

But, I was feeling guilty about my relationship with mom and I spoke to a priest about it. He suggested that I may resent the fact that she never told me about my adoption and advised me to tell her that I knew. Anne and I discussed it and decided that there was no reason to do that since it could  make her feel insecure. I was her only son. However, my attitude changed with the realization that there was probably a hidden resentment there on my part. After all, I was truly grateful to have been adopted and this was ... my mom.

Fr. Rich Homa attended one of the meetings of the Liturgy Board to lead us through the process of discerning membership in the parish Pastoral Council. At first I was reluctant, not wanting to get involved in parish politics. Fr Rich assured me that it was not going to be that way and I was hooked. I had been about at the end of my term as a member of the Liturgy Board but as their representative on the PPC it was extended. So now I had two monthly meetings to attend. 

The October, 1990 date for implementation of the new accounting and job cost system was missed, but by fiscal year end of 3/31/91 the critical parts of JDE had been run parallel with the old KB system. On April 1. 1991 JDE went `on line'. Procedures continued to be refined during the year and kept me very well occupied. 

The end of the year found Diane in a "family way" again. 

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I had been bothered with constant ringing in my left ear for some time and when I asked Dr. Doshi about it he sent me to a hearing specialist in February of 1992. Tests were done and he told me I had tinnitus. When I asked what could be done he explained it as a deterioration of the nerve endings in the ear and that there was no surgical remedy. He said there were medications that may help but most people find their side effects intolerable. He asked if it keeps me awake at night and I replied that nothing keeps me awake. His response, "Then ... live with it." So I do.

At Kelso, the bulk of the work on the JDE Job Cost and Work Order systems was finished and I was able to resume work on the TRF Estimating System.  The TRF Estimating program's advantage over the KB program was it's flexibility. The estimator would be able to include every item in his computerized estimate, not just assemblies that had been preprogrammed. Parts, assemblies and menus could be added and revised without the need to employ a programmer. Along with flexibility comes complexity.  The task that I took on was that of incorporating parts that KB used, combining them into assemblies and menu selections that KB estimators would find familiar and easy to use. The goal was to have 90% of the assemblies and parts that a KB estimator needs, available through menus and to have these menus arranged in a manner that is consistent with the old KB system if possible. The target date for a `workable' system was set for the Fall of 1992.

We planned to bring my mom home for a birthday gathering for her 81st birthday. There were two of her great granddaughters she had never seen and so the entire family would gather that Sunday. I visited her on Friday and told her our plans but she said she was too weak and if she didn't feel any better she would not come. Her arthritis was painful and she asked why God would not let her die the way her sister Kate died. She said that she was a useless burden to everyone including herself. I brushed aside her complaints and told her that she would enjoy the day away from the home. 

That Saturday Anne and I went to the 4:30 p.m. mass. It was the first Sunday of Lent and the parish gave out cards on which we were to write a prayer request which would be placed at the alter. I wrote, "I pray that God will relive my mother of her pain and anxieties." On Sunday morning the nursing home called. Mom was having trouble breathing and was on her way to the hospital. We met her there suspecting her usual anxiety attacks but they admitted her with pneumonia. We got her settled into a room and she seemed to be better and requesting food, a good sign. However, she again said she wished she could die. I told her that she could not die until she forgave her step-mother because she was waiting for her at the gates of heaven with a baseball bat. We all laughed.

We decided to have the family gathering anyway. Plans had been made and food prepared. A few of us would go to the hospital to visit later. As the family gathered at our house, the hospital called. She was worse and we should come. Dan and Tom went with me and found that she had died before we arrived. Did God answered our prayer? Did mom forgive her step-mom? In any case her suffering was done on March 8th. 

We arranged to have the funeral mass at St Julie parish. When we made the arrangements and found that Fr. Kurt Kalas would be the presider, I selected Mathew 25:34 as the Gospel reading only because Fr Kurt had mentioned a few days earlier that he often uses that passage when he does not know the deceased. Then, at the mass when the Gospel was read, followed by a meaningful homily, I realized a connection that had been hidden. When Fr. Kurt come to greet us for the "sign of Peace" I asked him to add some comments after Communion and gave him a brief suggestion. His comments began; "In 1931, Joseph and Sylvia Plefka took in someone else's baby. He was hungry, and they fed him. He was naked, and they clothed him ... etc." Thus my adoption was finally made public. Many relatives were surprised and several expressed relief and joy that it was known. 

My aunt Blanch Jecman, wife of mom's step brother, told me she had urged them to tell me to no avail. She also told me that she thought my birth mother was a doctor at the hospital. That is why they were able to keep me in the hospital for a month while arrangements were made for the adoption. That assumption proved to be wrong.

On July 26, 1992 Kelley Annemarie was born to Diane and Tom. We now had three granddaughters! She was a hearty and healthy baby and we were overjoyed. 

On July 18, 1992, Andy Kalabus, Jr. died. Andy was Anne's cousin and the same age as her brother. He had been golfing, experienced chest pain and had a heart attack. He and his family had just moved back to this area after being in another city. He left his second wife, Suzan, and a young son and daughter. His mother and dad were disturbed because Suzan arranged for burial in East Moline, Illinois, near her families home. Auntie El and Uncle Andy never did approve of the second marriage. It was a tragic situation. I was asked by his daughter from his first marriage to give a eulogy at the chapel. I was honored to do so although a new challenge, particularly with the strained family situation. His first wife, Mary, attended with their two daughters and son. 

By the end of the year, the PC based estimating system was ready to be used by Kelso estimators. As with anything new, it was accepted by a few but resisted by many. I continued to work on it, improving it's usability using suggestions and requests from the users. I tried to get others to use it by distributing a cartoon showing a medieval knight in front of his army saying, "I don't have time to see a salesman, I have a battle to fight", while the salesman was behind the tent with a machine gun. 

Anne was really enjoying her work as a Minister of care and found it very rewarding. For myself, membership on the Parish Pastoral Council was fascinating as well as rewarding. We were an advisory body for the pastor in matters of parish ministry. The day to day operation of the parish was the job of the staff and the pastor. My fears of being involved in parish politics were unfounded. We had developed into a well oiled machine with everyone working toward the same goals. 

In addition to my formal work at the parish, I loved to attend the special services of the season. Our liturgies were what my spirit needed and we were acquiring many new friends, both in ministry and among the other parishioners.

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By early 1993, the PC based estimating system was in use by enough people at KB and the old "main frame" system was retired. I continued to add new features and could do a good deal of the work at home two or three days a week. I would also travel to the company's branch offices to consult with estimators and assist them in learning to use the system. In addition, we had started to use CAD (Computer Assisted Design) computers for our drafting needs. The Cad draftsmen were under my supervision. I loved all this "computer stuff".

Summer time found Karen and Dan expecting another baby. Anne and I were bursting with pride in our growing family. The holiday gatherings were a time of joy. 

Fr. Homa held a series of "town hall" meetings and the parish launched a drive to raise funds to build a new church. Masses were being held in the church building as well as in the activity center. The divided congregation was not ideal and the number of masses was a strain on the staff. I was a member of the Pastoral council and as such drafted into the fund raising efforts. As a member of the "Major Gift's" team, I called on major contributors to ask for pledges of "special" value. Being a major contributor ourselves, we were asked to make our pledge prior to approaching others. 

The problem was that although we were living well, we had little in the way of cash or savings. We were relying on the sale of company stock for retirement funds. That was it! I approached my fellow members of the management team at Kelso-Burnett and gained permission to donate some of my KB stock. It had to be on the condition that the parish immediately sell it back to the company.  And so, I approached Fr Homa with the plan and pledged a quantity of stock to be delivered in five annual installments. My pledge was based on the value of the stock in 1993 which was about $100.00 a share. The bonus was that my cost for these shares had been about $1.00 each and I would be able to take the current value as my income tax deduction. (Thank you God & IRS.)

I never thought that I could call on people and ask them for money. But, I had learned that if there was something that needed to be done, I could at least try. We were given the names of people who were good regular contributors. We made an appointment and brought literature, talked a while, answering questions and then presented a letter from the pastor. We were asking for big bucks! I was amazed at the results. There were some rejections but the process was well organized and an overall success. After the 'major gifts' phase was completed we than approached the majority of the parishioners for their more modest pledges. 

Ana Rose arrived on November 4, 1993. She was beautiful as were all the others. We didn't understand what had happened. The first five were boys we wondered if we would ever have a granddaughter and now, four girls in a row. We couldn't be happier.

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In the spring of the year my curiosity got the better of me. I had assumed, for no valid reason, that I had been adopted from St Vincent's Home, operated by Catholic Charities, and so I wrote a letter to Catholic Charities stating that I knew my birth name was Harry Ronald Cecora and I was adopted and by whom. Could they give me any additional information?  They replied. See Catholic Charities letter. I discovered:

"Your birth mother's first name was Florence. Her middle name was Lucille. She was divorced. This is the only information we have in our record. Our caseworker noted that Florence had planned adoption for your future and arranged for temporary care in the newborn nursery at the hospital where you were born on May 6, 1931. It was Evangelical Deaconess Hospital at 5421 South Morgan in Chicago. This hospital later became Christ Hospital and moved to Oak Lawn, IL, where it is now located.

Your adoptive mother contacted our agency on May 26, 1931. She was in that hospital, having delivered a premature baby who died. She stated that she knew you were in the nursery and available for adoption, and she wanted to adopt you and only you. Arrangements were made to obtain Florence's signature on the adoption surrender. Her signature was received by Evangelical Deaconess Hospital, on June 2, 1931. Our agency had no direct, personal contact with her. That is why there is no information about her. Her surrender arrived in our office on June 5, 1931, legally freeing you to be placed with your family.

Your parents came to our office to pick up a letter stating that our agency would supervise your adoption. They then went to the hospital and brought you to their home as their son. It was typical, in fact the norm, for adoptive parents, in years past, not to talk about adoption with their children, because they wanted to protect the child from an "unknown past." They believed that the less said, the better. Their own infertility and the extreme social stigma against illegitimacy were the basic factors in their decisions not to openly deal with adoption with their children. Now, adoption is handled in a much more open and honest way, which is healthier for all concerned."

With this startling information I started doing computer searches for Florence Cecora but found none. Was Cecora her maiden name or her married name? Did she marry again and become known by yet another name? There was no way to know so I gave up looking.

Kelso-Burnett was thriving with good business and better profits. The strategy to be the best electrical contractor, not the largest, paid off. We were selective about the projects that were bid by not wasting time on projects that had too many bidders or bidders that were not qualified to do a competent estimate or perform the work. There were also several mergers and expansions into the fields of communications, alarm systems and such. The company stock was increasing in value and the amounts in our ESOP (retirement) plans were increasing along with it. We are told not to put all our eggs in one basket, particularly in the stock of the company for which we work. Often that is very wise advice. But that is where our eggs were. My rational was that everyone in the management of the company had their eggs in that same basket and right from the top, that basket of fragile eggs had to be protected and nurtured. I felt safe. 

Our retirement plan, at this point, was to use the money from the sale of the Kelso-Burnett stock that I owned outright to pay off our mortgage and then live on the proceeds from the ESOP plan and Social Security  supplemented  with part time estimating. Since it was a private corporation, it was mandatory to sell the stock back to the company when leaving. I dreaded the tax hit that I would incur from the stock sale but knew of no way to avoid it. The appreciated value was over 90%. But of course, with that much profit, how could I complain?

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These last years at KB were enhanced by the annual spring management meetings. They were held in places like Tucson, Palm Springs and San Diego. Our spouses were with us and good friendships were formed there. Management meetings were held each morning and generally involved long term strategies and plans rather than the day-to-day operation of the company. Most of the men went golfing in the afternoon while the women shopped or lounged at the pool (with me). Every evening was a dinner event, sometimes at a first class restaurant or a local hot spot. "We lived in the manner to which we would like to become accustomed."

The trip to Palm Springs was memorable because on the morning we were to leave, Anne had an allergic reaction to the combination of her medication and the citrus breakfast. She was rushed to Betty Ford Hospital in an ambulance with swelling in her throat that made it almost impossible to breathe. She was soon treated and released but we had to stay at the resort an extra day. (Tough duty.)

We had an exceptionally good time on the trip to San Diego. Anne loved the beach and we sat for hours watching the waves roll in. We became the heroes of the group when we contacted Diane's sister and her husband who were living on the navel base at the time. Tom arranged a tour of the USS Kitty Hawk, the aircraft carrier to which he was assigned. 

On June 30, 1995 we were shocked by the death of Dominick Albano, Jr., Anne Marie's father-in-law. Seemingly minor illness had escalated into pneumonia. St. Christina Church lost a dedicated usher and we all lost a friend. I still remember his stories of aircraft maintenance during WWII as well as his work stories afterward. He had had an extensive work shop in his garage and spent many hours there. He also did part time construction jobs at Arellio's Pizza. (The families were related.) 

The new church building at St. Julie parish was finished and it was dedicated by Cardinal Bernardin during a glorious ceremony. Many of us loved it immediately. Others hated it. It was not your conventional church but having been involved in the planning I understood and accepted the design concepts with joy. And, for the first time, the parishioners of the parish could gather together around a single alter to celebrate the Eucharist. (See Church.)

1995 the KB management came to the conclusion that the J. D. Edwards Job Cost system did not provide the tools needed to easily track project progress and project the final profit.  It did not provide a method of incorporating “pending" contract revisions.  In addition, entry of percent complete for detailed activities is difficult and does not produce reports in a form desired by our contract managers. As a result, a task force was set up to develop a PC based management system which is easy to use, produce the desired result and is easily integrated with the JDE system.  It was decided to use the Microsoft Access database for this application.  A series of meetings were held to define the requirements of the application.  After going to a training course, I started working on the application which was named “Project Financial Management System" I loved this "computer stuff". 

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I had been living for some time with a hernia at my navel but it was getting to be a problem. In January of 1996, I took some time off and had it repaired. It was supposed to be an outpatient procedure but I had to spend the night in the hospital. My recovery was also slower than I expected due to my overweight problem. 

While recuperating I worked on the “Project Financial Management System ".  By early 1996 a “beta” version was  being tested and in April of that year version 1.0 was put to use. I continued to work on it as users suggested changes or found 'bugs' but this was my last major project at Kelso-Burnett Co.

I could have retired on May 6, 1996 but insurance kept me on the job an additional month. The time was needed to have us covered under COBRA rule until Anne was eligible for Medicare. When the time came, I wrote the following letter:

James Kostek
Executive Vice President
Kelso-Burnett Co.  

This letter serves as my official notification of my intent to retire as an employee, Vice President and Director of  Kelso-Burnett Co. on June 14, 1996.

 This will culminate slightly over forty  years with the company.  Those years have been rewarding in many ways.  

More important than the monetary rewards are the positive experiences with the people I have worked with during this time. There is also the fact that  Kelso-Burnett is an excellent company due to management’s fair treatment of employees, customers and vendors. 

I retire with mixed emotions considering the fact that I have always found my job enjoyable and challenging while working with fellow employees who are “top of the line”.  At the same time, I look forward to a more relaxed time of life.

I was hired in March of 1956 by Mr. Ed Flanagan with the words “If you want to take a chance on Kelso-Burnett, we’ll take a chance on you”.  I know that I won and I like to think that I was able to contribute to a winning company.

 Thank you, Kelso-Burnett

 Donald J Plefka,

Vice President

And, Thank you God ... I overslept, looked at the ad ... answered it ... One of my miracles. (See "On a Monday Morning")

Before I retired I made the final payment on my pledge for St Julie's building fund drive. By 1996 the stock had a value of $168.82 per share. My actual donation was 50% greater than our original pledge and almost 100% tax deductible. The parish was happy and I was happy. God had been good.  This increase in value also meant that my funds at the time of retirement were far greater than I had anticipated. The more we gave to the church and other charities, the more we received. We could not keep up. Could it be that god is extra good to those he knows will share His gifts? That was our experience.

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