Raymond Nowak Sr. died Friday (Sept. 22, 2000) in his West Seneca home while listening to a CD of one of his favorite singers, Frank Sinatra, crooning "The Shadow of Your Smile."
The 70-year-old former traffic manager for Herriott Trucking and Gioia Macaroni Co. was an unusual man in many ways, according to his wife, the former Rose Lukonis.
"He lost both of his legs below the knees in a railroad accident in 1939, when he was 9 years old," she said. "But he didn't let that stop him. He was fitted with artificial legs and got on with his life."
She explained that Nowak and other youngsters were trying to hop freight cars when the accident happened.
Nowak, a big, brown-eyed man, was born in Buffalo. After his accident, he learned to play the trumpet and became a jazz buff. He developed a deep, rich singing voice and was called upon to sing at parties and social gatherings.
His wife said he loved to sing "Because of You" and "My Way."
Nowak also was known for his sense of humor. With the proper adjustment of his artificial limbs, he stood 6 feet, 2 inches tall. But most people didn't know he had artificial legs because he was so adept at using them. So, when asked how tall he was, he often would reply, "How tall would you like me to be? Six feet? Six feet four?" He then would explain that he could adjust his height if he wanted, his wife remembered.
He was a member of the Catholic Church and also was a Mason and a Shriner. He was a member of Zion Lodge, F&AM, in Orchard Park and Ismailia Shrine Temple.
"He told people that the Catholic Church didn't like the idea very much but that the Masons and Shriners didn't object," his wife said. He told her he was living his life "My Way."
Nowak, who also worked as a freight salesman for Frontier Distribution before his retirement in 1985, was a member of the Buffalo Transportation and Buffalo Traffic clubs.
After his retirement, he enjoyed woodworking. He taught himself fine carpentry and enjoyed honing the craft with many projects in his home basement shop. He also took delight in keeping up his property, family members said.
His wife said he was proud of the "perfect" 30-foot spruce tree in front of their well-kept home. He planted the spruce as a 2-inch seedling and watched it grow.
Though he never met Sinatra, he met and was photographed with many famous jazz and big-band era performers when they appeared in Buffalo. His wife thumbed through photographs of him with Mel Torme, Buddy Rich, Tony Bennett and other greats of the music world as she recounted his life.
Nowak, who began smoking in the 1950s, was diagnosed with lung cancer 15 months ago.
"He was optimistic and fought it as hard as he could," his wife said.
Mrs. Nowak said Hospice workers provided "wonderful" care for him. Meanwhile, family members played his favorite songs. "They told us that the music was soothing to him and brought down his blood pressure and helped his heartbeat," she said.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Nancy Ann Nehl of West Seneca; a son, Raymond Jr. of Seattle; a sister, Helen Crosson of West Seneca; and two grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, 4928 Seneca St., West Seneca. Prayers will be said at 9 in Hoy Funeral Home, 3855 Seneca St., West Seneca. Burial will be in St. Matthews Cemetery, West Seneca.