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Joseph Gorsic/Jožef Goršič, 98, of Elmhurst, IL passed away in his home on September 13, 2022, surrounded by his family who loved him dearly.
Joseph was born in his home, on a family farm known as Čemetija, in Ponova Vas, Slovenija, on January 6, 1924. He was the loving son of the late Marija and Janez Goršič, the third of six children. He was the dear brother to France (widower of Mary) Goršič, preceded in death by sisters and brothers Marija (Jože) Sivec, Ivan, Stane, and Angela Goršič. The beloved husband for over 55 years of Franciska Gorsic, née Mavec. Loving Father to Milena (wife of John) Zerdin, Daniel Gorsic, Fr. Gregor Gorsic, Olga (wife of Sven) Eckardt, Helena (widow of William) Rounds, Lidija Gorsic (wife of John Sarinas). Proud Grandfather of Claudia (wife of Michael) Hoekstra, Julia Zerdin, Daniel and Joey Gorsic, Liam Eckardt, Will, Lucas, and Amelia Rounds, Troy and Lana Sarinas.
Words of Remembrance for Joseph Gorsic, from memories shared by his family
For the last weeks of his life, our Dad – “Oči” in the Slovenian language – basically lived off of two to four candy-corns a day plus about a half of a cup of water.
As a matter of fact, one of his grandchildren has as his favorite memory of Oči – and this grandson was only four years old when he said this: “I love shaking hands with Oči and I love it even more when Oči gives away some candy-corn!” Oči was generous in giving them out, but he also did keep track and rationed out his stash of candy corn, too, in a healthy way!
Many of us, his children (and also a few of his grandchildren) remember “diktacija,” dictation: when Oči would read a sentence in Slovenian, sometimes twice if needed and requested, and all of those gathered – whether just one, or two, three, four or however many of us – would write in Slovenian what he had just spoken – dictation – practice, repetition.
In his daily life, Oči was a teacher who strongly professed his faith above all – in words, for sure, but also as one of us put it: Oči, “You have taught me many things over the years, many of them indirectly through the way you have lived your life.” For all of us, his strong faith was paramount. The vision of Oči praying – at his bedside on his knees with the rosary in his hands which his Mother had given him – is a powerful, recurring moment in the memory of his son, who was called to become a priest of Jesus Christ. For Oči, praying the rosary was a daily commitment, joy, and strength –something he also wished to share and pass on to his children and grandchildren. One grandson stated: “Oči gifted me my first rosary and inspired me to pray the rosary on my own even when we weren’t together. He also taught me the importance of prayer at all times of the day.” Through prayer, Oči kept the Lord, Jesus Christ, and Mother Marija close in all of life’s hills and valleys.
Oči’s faith got him through difficult times: as a young man of barely teenage years, he was sent to the big city of Ljubljana. There he stayed with an uncle and his family and worked for him outside school hours – but otherwise, his primary focus was growing in knowledge at the newest-built “Ljubljanska gimnazija,” which is the equivalent of our preparatory high school, and there he continued his studies right through World War II. During that war, as a young man transitioning into university studies, he fought as a Slovenian Home guard, a “Domobranec,” and was sent for a time to the area of Slovenija near the Adriatic Sea, but less than a year after that assignment, he was called back to Ljubljana to help with the Communications and Publications Division of the Home guard until the end of the war.
By God’s Providence, right at the time when World War II ended, Oči escaped from the betrayal and massacre of some 12,000 Homeguard-Domobrance. This crime against humanity included the killing of his 19-year-old brother, Stane, and many of whom were simply executed for their political beliefs – no court process and no crimes were ever charged, but just executed brutally for not bowing to the communist dictatorship. Having escaped a communist country that disowned him, Oči was without citizenship. He found his way through southern Austria with a dear friend, Miro. The two of them survived some months by helping out mostly widows on Austrian farms along the way, many of whom needed the help since so many of the landowners had been sent off to war and never returned. Eventually Oči and Miro found their way to Vienna, and, through the Jesuit Order, they were given a place to stay. There, in Vienna, Oči studied Agricultural Engineering.
Around 1950, a decisive moment happened in Oči’s life: he had one last exam to complete in order to receive his diploma, but then he received an opportunity to come to America, to Joliet, Illinois, by invitation of his Uncle “Stric Martin,” who was residing and running a grocery store and butcher shop here in Joliet. So the timing was such that he needed to make a choice: either to stay in Vienna and finish his studies OR to travel to America in the window of time offered to him. He chose to leave Europe, hardly knowing any English whatsoever, and by boat he crossed the Atlantic to New York, and from there by train to Joliet, Illinois. He was allowed to immigrate because Stric Martin had acquired for him a job at Curtis Candy Company in Cary, IL, doing farm work on a large dairy farm and being one of the many who would help produce the Baby Ruth candy bar!
After completing the minimum required year of work in Cary, he rekindled the desire to study, and went to the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, continued studies in Botany, and then, once accepted to the University of Chicago, he further entered into the mysteries of plant life, in particular the Collinsia heterophylla, and the Genetics underlying trait inheritances.
His faith and trust in God gave him the strength to return to Slovenija for the first time in 1963, although it was very risky because he was on a black list due to his continuing anti-Communist stance– but he so greatly needed to see his beloved mother again, his living brothers and sisters, and his beloved place of birth, the family farm with the local name of Čemetija, that he risked it hoping that as an American citizen now the Yugoslav government would not go after him. At that time, he had to be so careful not to put any of his extended family living in Slovenija at risk, since they remained there and could be seriously questioned, persecuted, even harmed when he left them to return to the United States.
Once he had completed his studies in Botany and Genetics, he found employment for a short while at Marquette University, and finally settled for some 31 years at Elmhurst College, now Elmhurst University. His desire to complete a job which he had intended to do inspired Oči to return to Vienna in 1965, even though he had already received a Ph.D. from the Department of Botany at the University of Chicago. Nevertheless, there on his return trip to Vienna, Oči completed that last exam which he had left hanging and promptly received his Diploma as an Agricultural Engineer, 17 years after his premature departure.
Also during that early time of employment, to be precise, in 1966, on a summer trip in southern Austria to go hiking into the mountains, at a local Gasthaus Inn, Oči happened to meet a 21-year-old, Slovenian-speaking young lady, who was bold enough to ask her guest whether he was not going to finish his “filana paprika” (that is, his second of two stuffed peppers), to which Oči replied “no, he was not going to eat it,” and this waitress promptly sat down next to her guest and enjoyed eating it right next to him! That, of course, is Mom! And so a relationship began! Eventually, marriage, 6 children, and the joys and hardships of family life – some of which included being a provider for a larger family, going to work on the family farm in Slovenija in the summer months over many years, teaching us how to drive stick-shift, being a source of support for us kids into our adult years, helping our Mom with the care of several grandchildren, etc. – all family life has its challenges, they are unique to the makeup of each of our families!
His love for Slovenija cannot be overstressed – and into all of us, his children, he instilled it, and it has soaked in deeply. Again there, in Slovenija, we learned from him a deep respect for our ethnicity. We all commented on how we learned patience, perseverance, and discipline on the family farm when summers allowed us to make regular visits growing up … that was a result and the benefit of being a college professor in a school system with summer vacations!
Many of us remember grueling days of farm work on the family farm, days on which, at the end of them, we would never want to repeat ever again… the heat of the day sun, the sweat, okopavanje, grabljenje, zmetavanje, the thirst, the dust of the hay barns, etc. But not only on the farm – also going mountain hiking and sometimes pushing the timeline to get back for a certain work made us learn perseverance and never giving up. A number of us remember what one of us said: “I’ll always remember climbing up Triglav together for the first time.” Triglav is Slovenija’s highest peak. One of us added, “Oči, you have taught us the importance of culture and [so] sparked my interests in learning several languages and traveling the world.”
All of us, no matter where on this planet we were, learned from Oči that, as one of us put it, “your work will always reflect on you, good or bad…. if you work hard, it will speak for itself.” Oči taught us to take pride in any job we do, to always challenge ourselves to be a better person, to be your own biggest critic, to have faith in people, family and most of all, God. Oči was in many ways like St. Joseph, present and quiet (today’s word would be a “homebody” or introverted to a certain degree—not like the social butterfly he married, by the way!), but of course, once he started addressing one of his passionate topics, he was like a fast-moving train: very hard to stop! One of us remembers debating for a couple of hours on whether she could go see a movie with friends (a fond memory for her, maybe not so much for Oči!).
A memory of one of the younger of us siblings (when Oči was mellowing with age) was just sitting in his lap and watching late night Johnny Carson or the Mask of Zorro TV show, or many mornings, sitting in his lap and being fed oatmeal.
During the year, outside of the summer months, Oči would bring us (sometimes it was more like “drag us”) up to the greenhouse at Elmhurst College on the roof of the Science Building, where he had planted his thousand or so plants to study their genetic inheritance traits. He needed our help up there to tie the thin, growing stems to two small plant-support sticks stuck into each small, 4-inch- wide planting pot – another lesson in patience, perseverance and discipline! A number of us remember the aching legs and backs after standing and bending over those tables of plants on the cold concrete floor until the job was done and the fledgling plants were secured. Now, there were other moments when studying nature with Oči was a lot more fun, as many of us have experienced too, when Oči would take us on walks: in the neighborhood mostly, and sometimes on nature walks—and we would walk: he, explaining about the plants and trunks and flowers and leaves we were observing on the way, and we, his young companion walker, asking our own questions. He would share with us his impressive botanical knowledge: he knew the Latin-and/or-Greek-based scientific name of most plants, as well as the vernacular or common names of these plants and not only in English or Slovenian, but also in German, and actually, most of the time in all four languages! He seemed to want to test his own knowledge and memory as he was also sharing it with us!
One of his grandchildren shared this memory: Oči, “I remember going over to your house and sitting at the kitchen table and you teaching me Slovenian. We sat there for hours going over simple things and I remember how excited you got when I answered your questions correctly. You have such patience, while being so nurturing and loving, and I could instantly tell this about you when you were teaching me Slovenian. Another favorite memory I have with you was when you came over for a family party and opened my biology book and showed me what different types of trees looked like. You spent at least an hour explaining the different leaf shapes. Your passion of botany has inspired me and you enjoy sharing your vast knowledge with everyone.”
Oči, while not a very musical man himself, also had a strong appreciation for instruments, music, singing, and dance. He loved to hear his children and grandchildren practice and perform their musical talents. One granddaughter shared: “I loved to dance to The Lawrence Welk Show while Oči was watching and clapping.” Time and moments with his grandchildren continuously energized him and made him smile all the way through to his final days with us.
One last memory from one other grandchild: she said: “You have taught me to be grateful for the life I have. My favorite memory with you was when I was a little girl around Christmastime when the whole family would pray the rosary. I remember looking up at you while you were praying and it brought joy to me, being with the family.”
In the name of all of us, Oči’s family: Thank you all, Hvala lepa, for the outpouring of love and support for our family!
The Arbor Day Foundation
211 N. 12th Street Lincoln, NE 68508, Lincoln, NE 68508
Web: http://Arbor Day Foundation, see https://www.arborday.org/