The first roses of the season, including Our Pearl, bred by my friend the late Paul Jerabek, which is the first rose to bloom in the Spring, and the last to stop blooming in the late Fall. I thought the chive blossoms were also pretty.
Overnight on Sunday/Monday Paul Jerabek, my friend and 65-year member of the Euclid Avenue Congregational Church Choir, died after a few weeks of declining health. What is remarkable is that Paul was 98 years old, almost 99, and until a few weeks ago he was very active, still doing many things around the church, living in his apartment at the Breckenridge Village retirement home in Willoughby, driving himself to events.
As I said, he was a member of the choir for 65 years before retiring a couple of years ago–in his 90s–because he felt that his singing was no longer up to his own standard. (Truth be told, he was still doing just fine, especially for someone of his mature years.) He and his late wife Alice had sung for many years in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus under Robert Shaw, Robert Page, Margaret Hillis and others.
Paul was kind, unassuming and modest, but he had many talents. After retiring from his main career he became a prize-winning rose breeder. I will never forget visiting his home where he had what seemed to be an acre of beautiful rose bushes. As a gift, he once gave George and me a cutting of his own breed “Our Pearl” which continues to flourish at our house in Cleveland, being the first rose to bloom in the spring, and it is always the last rose to die in the winter. Paul was also an award-winning photographer of professional calibre. His pictures—especially of his own roses—have been published in many magazines.
There are some of us who assumed that Paul would outlive us all, so it came as an immense shock on Monday evening when I heard of his death. We will be discovering many things around the church that he just “took care of.” I especially will miss him with the choir, because for the almost 25 years that I’ve been at the church, he has filed away the choral music that the choir performs. It’s a big job that I never had to worry about.
On Monday evening I volunteered with the crew from my church that every 5th Monday prepares a meal for homeless people in the inner city of Cleveland. When I arrived for duty at 3:00 (I don’t usually get to help because I’m usually at work when they prepare and serve.) Paul’s daughter Cyndy Henderson and grandson Peter Henderson were preparing a salad. I asked what they needed done, and they said I could help with the salad. (This was before I knew that Paul had died, and no one said a word about it.) I found out later that I had stepped into Paul’s usual role for the preparation of the 5th Monday Meal—he had prepared the salad. I was honored to take his place.
I—along with his many, many fans—will miss him. Rest in peace, Paul. I know that you’re still here with us in spirit.
On Thursday this week the Plain Dealer had an article about my friend and former choir member Paul Jerabek about his skills and career as a rose breeder and grower. Janet Fillmore, the Plain Dealer reporter who wrote the story, had written about Paul last year upon his retirement from the Euclid Avenue Congregational Church choir, which I’ve directed for the past 23 years, after seventy years. I am privileged to have one of Paul’s roses, “Our Pearl” in my garden, named after the late EACC staff member Pearl Doray upon her retirement from the church. It almost always blooms late into the Fall, almost until Christmas. I sometimes refer to it as our Christmas Rose.