Thomas J. DeCesare once made up a Native American character -- Fly Um Kite -- that he used to entertain his own children and their friends, While driving them in the car, he would ask them to search the hills for Fly Um Kite and little heads would turn to search nature for the fictional character.
In his house, he would perform card tricks and magic to entertain them and challenge them, along with a steady barrage of humorous quips. He even studied to become a hypnotist. Mr. DeCesare would pepper his own four children and their friends with questions to keep them on their toes.
The tricks and intriguing character were fictions. His compelling personality and interest in children's well-being were facts.
"He was an amazing man, and I'll try not to cry," said Lynne Jonnet Smith, 48, of Raleigh, N.C., who lived in the same Forest Hills neighborhood as did the DeCesares. She said she considered Mr. DeCesare to be her second father.
"Any time you were with him, talking, it was as if nothing else in the world mattered or existed," she said. "He was totally in the moment, engaged in conversation, and even as a kid, you remember that."
Answering his question rarely ended the interrogation.
"He wouldn't stop," Ms. Smith said, noting his persistence coupled with quick wit. "He'd ask another question because he wanted to challenge your thought process and make you feel you could accomplish anything you set your mind to.
"I spent hours in the living room in the DeCesare house playing games, and I didn't want to be anywhere else," she said. "Even when he was dying, he would make you laugh."
Mr. DeCesare, 80, of Seminole, Fla., formerly of Forest Hills, died Aug. 21 of coronary disease while living temporarily in New Waterford, Ohio.
A native of Swissvale and graduate of Swissvale High School, he apprenticed at his father's company, Fabricators Service, and become a draftsman. He married Mary Barrett DeCesare on May 26, 1956, before serving two years in Army, including one year in Germany. He was honorably discharged as a corporal in 1958.
Out of the Army, Mr. DeCesare took a job in Youngstown, Ohio, before returning to Pittsburgh in 1959 to work as a draftsman for Swindell Dressler. In 1960, he took a position with U.S. Steel Corp. in Braddock to pursue an interest in blast furnaces, only to return to Swindell Dressler several years later. In the 1970s, he was hired by Eichleay Corp. in Pittsburgh, where he started its engineering department, despite not being an engineer. He also served there as a construction project manager.
Throughout his years in Forest Hills, Mr. DeCesare started baseball and softball leagues for boys and girls, among other community efforts.
Laid off from Eichleay Corp. at age 60 in 1992, Mr. DeCesare, with his wife, became regional wholesale distributors for Nvision Graphics Inc., which produced graphics with 3-D images, after their son, Thomas, returned from Texas with one of the company's images that intrigued Mr. DeCesare.
After four years as an Nvision distributor, the DeCesares retired to Seminole, Fla., where he continued playing cards, golf and pool while doing magic tricks for children.
"He would think his biggest plus was his children and his family. He was always worried about me and the kids," Mrs. DeCesare said. "I remember, when he was going downhill at the end, he told me, 'Just remember, we had a good life -- that it's the circle of life.' "
Even on his deathbed, she said, his humor remained intact. Mrs. DeCesare said the only medication she takes is aspirin. When Mr. DeCesare asked her a question in his final days that she failed to hear, he advised her, "Those aspirins are affecting your hearing."
"He turned everything into a joke," she said.
In addition to his wife, Mr. DeCesare is survived by two daughters, Tami Harris of East Palestine, Ohio, and Janet DeCesare-Faber of Austintown, Ohio; two sons, Thomas of Kansas City, Kan., and Nicholas of Columbiana, Ohio; one brother, Francis of Murrysville; and seven grandchildren.
The family requests memorial contributions be sent to the Ohio Hospice of the Valley, 120 W. County Line Road, 1120 Village Plaza, Columbiana, Ohio 44408.
David Templeton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1578.