Obituary: John 'Jack' Karl Slemenda / Turned loss of his hearing into a lifetime of service

May 31, 1920 - Sept. 15, 2012

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Jack Slemenda lost his hearing at an early age but turned a life-changing personal setback into a long life of service to others.

Mr. Slemenda, 92, of Boynton Beach., Fla., died Sept. 15 of congestive heart failure.

He was a Pittsburgh native who lived and worked here for most of his life, settling with his family in Lawrenceville, Bloomfield and Dormont. He moved to Boynton Beach in 2007 after his wife, Cecelia, died.

He was a house painter by profession and worked as a painter for the Pittsburgh Housing Authority.

When he was 2, he contracted spinal meningitis and lost his hearing. That led him to commit his time and energy to a cause he believed in -- helping others to cope with hearing loss. At the DePaul School for Hearing and Speech, he was introduced to sign language. "That was his introduction into the deaf community and deaf culture," said his son, John Slemenda Jr. of Spartanburg, S.C.

Mr. Slemenda served on the board of the Pittsburgh Association of the Deaf as president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. The club is marking its 85th anniversary on Saturday. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Society for the Advancement of the Deaf and the Pittsburgh Association of Deaf Senior Citizens.

James Noschese of Forest Hills, another active advocate in the local deaf community, met Mr. Slemenda 40 years ago. "All through those years, he was a true leader in the club. He helped people find employment. He had excellent relationships with then-mayor David Lawrence," Mr. Noschese said.

He recalls when one of his college mates who was also deaf was involved in an auto accident in the '70s and lost his mobility. "He wasn't able to use his arms and so he couldn't use sign language."

Mr. Slemenda launched a fundraising effort. "I was impressed by the way he took charge of raising money to provide an electric wheelchair."

In his spare time, Mr. Slemenda enjoyed storytelling and sketching. "He was a funny guy. He had a great way of weaving stories," his son said. "He was a good man -- thoughtful, concerned, caring. He was very generous with his time. He would love to tell a good story and pull your leg, but he would also listen to you very carefully and show a sense of empathy. He had those people skills. He loved people."

He was also an avid sports fan, his son recalls. "Until the day he died, he was talking about Honus Wagner and Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente."

In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, Joyce Slemenda of Boynton Beach, a brother, Robert Slemenda of Beaver, a sister, Jean Rittmeyer of Ross, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held today at 10:30 a.m. at Jefferson Memorial Funeral Home Chapel, 301 Curry Hollow Road, Pleasant Hills.

obituaries

Adrian McCoy: amccoy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.


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