Former Telegraph columnist mourned

COURTESY PHOTO Former Telegraph columnist Joe Konopka's favorite place to be, his wife said, was in his home office at his computer writing. Konopka died last month after a period of failing health.

Of all the Telegraph columnists – the locals, not the nationally syndicated ones – I’ve known and faithfully at least tried to read over my rather lengthy tenure in this and previous newsrooms, Joe Konopka was on my short list of must-reads.

For Joe, who passed on New Years Day at a Boston hospital – just a day after apologizing to his wife for being “not very good company today” – was one of those rare essayists whose stance on a political or societal topic might leave an unconvinced reader shaking his or her head in disagreement, but also leave them with an understanding of where he’s coming from.

To say Joe – if you knew him as Sidney Joseph Konopka, you must be family – leaned to the political right would be correct. But never did he descend into the abyss of cheap shots, mockery, name-calling or hateful rhetoric that’s become far too commonplace in the world of words.

A Vietnam War veteran who retired from the U.S. Air Force after a 21-year career, Konopka earned a degree in computer science and launched his second career as a tech writer at the former Sanders Associates and later, with Merrimack-based Kollsman.

His widow, Alice Faye Konopka, who goes by Faye, told me the other day how her husband came to be a Telegraph columnist.

“Claudette got him into it,” she said, referring to then-Telegraph editorial page editor Claudette Durocher, who’s been enjoying retirement for more than a dozen years now.

Noting how often Joe Konopka submitted

letters to the editor, and evidently impressed by his writing skills, Durocher called him to see if he’d be interested in joining the rotation of Telegraph columnists.

Faye, whom Durocher knew from Faye’s stint as a Telegraph receptionist, answered, and told Duorcher she’d have her husband get in touch with Durocher.

“He did, and he really enjoyed it from the beginning,” Faye told me. “You could tell he (wrote his columns) from his heart.”

From the day he took Durocher up on her offer, Joe Konopka’s column graced the Telegraph’s Lifestyles section on the third Sunday of each month for some 14 years.

The topics? You name it. Whatever moved him at the moment was usually how he chose that month’s subject, Faye remembers.

A retired military man, Konopka not surprisingly was a staunch defender of U.S. troops, and most always took issue with anyone who as much as questioned American’s involvement in, say, the Iraq war.

He took issue, for instance, with the fairly large percentage of Americans who “claim to be against the Iraq war while professing support for our troops,” likening that seemingly reasonable philosophy to “the mentality I remember from the Vietnam era.”

Anti-war sentiment at home, Konopka suggested, threatened the morale of U.S. troops fighting overseas. “A demoralized army does not fight well,” he wrote.

I could tell by the way this essay was going that the name “Jane Fonda” would come up; indeed, “Hanoi Jane” (my words) led off the fourth paragraph.

Seeing photos of Fonda “sitting on that North Vietnamese artillery piece” was “infuriating enough,” he wrote, but the real kick in the teeth was Fonda escaping punishment for “violating the Sedition Act of 1918.”

In July 2005 Konopka railed against what he called the “illegalism lobby,” going as far as to call the New Hampshire Immigrants Rights Task Force “a front organization for illegal aliens.”

Did any readers object to the assertion? Sure, but none could accuse Konopka of beating around the proverbial bush.

Quite accomplished in the art of shifting gears, Konopka could fire off a screed against political correctness or belittle anti-war protesters one month, then pen a heartfelt eulogy to an 80-something woman in his native Connecticut who “created in me a sense of gratitude for having known her throughout my childhood.”

And there was the September 2012 column in which he paid tribute to longtime Hudson town official Howard Dilworth, who had died at a fairly young age.

“A homespun Socrates” who was “razor wire to tax-and-spend proponents” is how Konopka described the man he befriended at a selectmen’s meeting when a property tax increase was on the agenda.

“Howie once told me, ‘if you have a conservative viewpoint and you don’t keep it to yourself, you’d better grow a thick skin,'” Konopka wrote.

“He was right, of course. I learned that the first time I wrote a letter to the editor,” Konopka added.

Reminiscing the other day about her late husband’s love for composing, submitting then reading in print his columns, Faye Konopka made an admission: There were some columns she opted not to read.

Those, she explained with a laugh, were the ones in which “he went all Rush Limbaugh on me,” referring to the oft-mocked right-wing radio host.

IN JOE’S OWN WORDS

A man of words, Joe Konopka greatly enjoyed an occasional foray into the art of poetry. One day some time ago, Joe began jotting down words that would become verse, and eventually, a composition he titled, simply, “Epitaph.”

Epitaph

“Do not stand at my grave in tears of despair.

Think of memories to save, and others to share.

Though interred I be, I’ve transitioned somewhere.

What is left is not me; don’t look for me there.

I am re-made; I am free; I am shed of all care;

I am brother to the sea, sibling to the air.

I am the Sunrise, that melts morning mists,

I am the red rose, my granddaughter might kiss.

Look for me now, among rivers and trees,

In the song of the Oriole, or the occasional breeze;

Find me in thought, be it clever or wise;

In passion you’ve got, or a young puppy’s eyes.

I am the good earth that nurtures its grain;

I am the storm cloud that furnishes rain.

I am the wild goose, flying south from the cold,

I am the riled moose, that time had made old.

I am the Goshawk, in mating display;

Bathed in the aroma of newly mown hay.

I am the crickets, you hear in the night,

Off in the thickets, expressing delight.

I am the dust, in which zephyrs might play;

I am many such things, at the end of the day.

So grieve not at my bier; just bid me Good-Bye,

For I am not there; I did not die.

– Sidney Joseph Konopka

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