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Life Story / Obituary
May 16, 1942—June 7, 2016
The son of immigrants, one of whom jumped ship in the port of New York to start her own way in the world and the other who cut glass for chandeliers at Marshall Field in Chicago, Lawrence John Paulik was born in 1942. Joseph was seventy when Larry was born. Margit was forty. He was their youngest child, born eleven years after their son George and nine years after their daughter Margaret. Larry would often wander along the lakeshore in Chicago, tossing stones into the surf, chasing his dog Brutus through the wet sand. The beat of the city thrummed through his childhood: bus rides to buy groceries in the basement of Field’s; voices and footsteps in the apartment above; shoveling coal into the furnace in the winters; the hum of the El tracks. His father passed away of stomach cancer when Larry was six. Margit was left to raise a restless little boy alone, structuring his life around daily mass, Chinese food in the Jewish neighborhood of Rogers Park, an occasional ball game at Wrigley Field. A friend dared him to venture onto the frozen lake one winter only to feel the ice breaking under his feet. At St. George High School in Evanston, he found he had a talent for football. He was a guard, bulked up on daily breakfasts of scrambled eggs and cow brains. Margit couldn’t go to the games, couldn’t watch him pounded into the mud. His buddies would chide him, envious of his biceps, “touch your shoulder, Larry.”
All State in high school, he had offers to play football for several schools, but chose Michigan State. At practice before the start of his sophomore year, he suffered a bad sprain. A prank call to a random dorm room by his teammates: “put the shortest girl there on the phone for Larry” led to a coke date with Barb, a week into her first year. She was shy, reserved, but was drawn to his gregariousness, his humor, his optimism. He, blond and blue-eyed, was enthralled with her dark hair and wide brown eyes, absolutely besotted from that moment on. On crutches, he hobbled to Campbell South to pick her up, and when they decided to continue their conversation into a dance that evening, hobbled back with her to her dorm to change, hobbled back to his dorm to change, back to pick her up, to the dance, then back to her dorm late that night to drop her off. That was the beginning of a life together that spanned over fifty years, during which they were rarely apart, in which they grew into adulthood together, grew through faith and wrestled with the Church, and had four children, four dogs, several cats, and the occasional glimpse of a deer in the backyard.
Their devotion to each other is the greatest example of love their children have ever witnessed, a love of service, mutuality, respect, holding each other through waiting for test results and cancer, through the frustrations of camping with four small children in days of rain; the joys of grandchildren, the pride of watching graduations and seeing their son Joe on stage. Susie followed Larry’s interest in the study of theology; Mark has Barb’s artistic spirit and gentle bearing; Larry beamed when reporting the latest of Katie’s commitments to the transformative social development that sends her around the world; Joe brings Larry’s comic timing and Barb’s creative intelligence to the theater. They were grateful when their children discovered their own loves: George, Robin, John and Stacey. Their children are grateful that Larry and Barb made their home a refuge from an often confusing, mostly chaotic world.
Larry’s devotion to Barb outweighed an initial interest in the priesthood. He tried to go to medical school but his intentions centered more on patient care than organic chemistry. So he worked for Hewlett Packard for thirty years, equipping hospitals with cardiac care and neonatal equipment. Those with whom he worked appreciated his honesty and integrity, his wide grin and self-deprecating humor. The technical aspects of his work formed a lifelong fascination with computers; before they were ubiquitous, he built the first personal computer in our neighborhood, a Heathkit from mail order.
The camping trips with a two-tone green Dodge van and a small Jayco pop-up. Lawn-chairs and stories around a big fire. Summer holidays at a family cottage on the St. Clair River. Larry loved the water and the woods, the birds and mountains. Hiking the Appalachian Trail, with Joe in the Shenandoah Mountains: 100 degree weather and forty-pound packs; hitchhiking back to the car, the first to pick them up was a family from El Salvador—Larry chatted about his trips there, and they could talk about the towns. With Mark on the cross-country move to Portland, maneuvering a U-Haul down steep roads. With Katie renovating their house in Baltimore. With Susie’s husband George at Notre Dame Football games. Larry fulfilled a dream to go to Mozambique to see where Katie met her husband John and meet his family; they roasted a pig in celebration.
On his walks, he photographed flowers for Barb to paint, breathing in the heady smell of moss and sunlight. He loved both the clamor of voices at a party as well as the silence of the trees moving in the wind. He taught his children to love the night sky and the way the stars appear brighter from a mountain, away from the oppressive city lights. He taught his children to honor nature, to honor native traditions, with an ear to what the trees can teach us. He discovered a love for cosmology, for how quantum physics and the Buddhist spirituality of interconnectedness combine.
He ate healthy but loved a greasy dive, like Carm’s Beef on the South Side. He loved a beer and burrito at Bell’s with Tony after a ride. He loved to be in the wind on his bike, loved the strain of going uphill, loved the speed and freedom of the road. He loved to stop for a Plainwell ice cream. He loved Barb’s blueberry pie, especially after picking Michigan blueberries. He reveled in touring the National Parks in the Lazy Daze; he loved polishing the RV, loved hearing Barb read to him as he navigated the winding roads. He loved to read, and never ceased in his curiosity of the new. He loved meeting people and would drive Barb crazy, always the last to leave the church after mass. He loved to work wood, the comforting scent of fresh lumber, the feel of sanding a surface smooth on his fingers. He loved a good protest march, loved the cause: for peace, for clean water, for migrant rights, against the wars. He loved to hold his newborn grandchildren, would marvel at their tiny faces. He treasured Annie, Will, Noelle and Sumbi, blowing kisses into the Skype, a twinkle in his eye. He was, at his core, a lover: of Barb, of his family, of God, of ideas. He believed that we are here to be good lovers and he loved well. He lived for a just world, he lived for a better world, his primary ambition toward holiness.
Written by Susie Paulik Babka