Obituary: Frank J. Wintruba / He made thousands of men look better
An old-school haberdasher who stood his sartorial ground in an increasingly sloppy world of ripped jeans and baggy T-shirts, Frank J. Wintruba loved to make other people look good because it also made them feel good.
His passion for dressing others stylishly drove him to polish the look of many thousands of boys and men during his 63-year career. It wasn't enough that they bought a suit from him, said his son Frank J. Wintruba. He also made sure to "wrap them up" by helping them pick the right shirt, tie, handkerchief and possibly even dress socks to match, he said.
That love of style, of course, also applied to his own comportment.
"My dad never left the house without a pocket hankie in his suit, a matching one -- it had to match the tie," his son said. "I think I was 40 before I knew my dad owned anything other than khakis and suits. It was all about dignity and self-respect for him."
Mr. Wintruba, most recently of Dravosburg, died of pancreatic cancer Sunday. He was 85.
Born the son of Frank J. and Edith Sarvey Wintruba, Mr. Wintruba grew up in the blue-collar town of Munhall Junction, near the Rankin Bridge, and -- at least at first -- led a footloose childhood.
"He was a rascal when he was a kid," his son said. "I dare say he started smoking when he was 8."
Mr. Wintruba attended Munhall High School but did not finish on schedule, because he enlisted in the Navy in 1944 at age 17. He soon became a ship's shopkeeper aboard the USS Dauphin, ferrying Marines throughout the Pacific.
During his service in the Pacific, Mr. Wintruba was present in Tokyo Bay for Japan's surrender and, before that, witnessed the terrible toll Japanese kamikaze fighters took on American ships and troops.
"Watching those kamikaze airplanes, that was frightful because you could see them on the horizon diving on other ships, bombing other ships," said the younger Mr. Wintruba. "That was a tough one because there's nowhere to go -- you're like a sitting duck on that ship."
After his discharge in 1946, Mr. Wintruba returned to Munhall, where he worked to finish his high school education and graduate. He worked a midnight to 8 a.m. shift as a security guard for a bank Downtown while finishing his studies, then got a job at the Boggs and Buhl Department Store on the North Side after graduating in 1947.
He worked as a floor walker at first, helping customers find the right department. Then he got a job in the store's men's and boys' department and discovered his love of clothing, and of helping others dress well.
"The first part of it was style, and the second part was seeing someone well fitted and well dressed," his son said.
Mr. Wintruba married Catherine Dixon in January 1948.
In the early 1950s, Mr. Wintruba took a job as an assistant buyer of men's clothing for Schwarzenbach's Department Store in Cumberland, Md., and the family moved there. After a few years, the family moved back to Pittsburgh so Mr. Wintruba could take a job as a buyer for Jaison's Department Store in McKeesport. In 1959, Mr. Wintruba took a job as a buyer of boys' clothing for Gimbels.
In 1970, he left Gimbels to strike out on his own, traveling between State College in the East, Erie in the North, Akron, Ohio, in the West and Charleston, W.Va., in the South to sell men's clothing to small, independent men's stores.
After 17 years on the road, however, Mr. Wintruba decided he needed to find a quieter job at age 67. So he took a part-time job at Burlington Coat Factory at Southland and then on Mountain View Drive.
There, even at a chain store not typically known for cultivating its customers' personal attachment, Mr. Wintruba offered haberdashery services that developed a loyal following until his retirement in 2010, his son said.
"It was just how much he loved it -- he felt that passion," the younger Mr. Wintruba said. "He was a class act, no doubt about it."
Mr. Wintruba is survived by his wife and children, Frank of Dravosburg, Debbie Verbanick of Munhall, Kathy Fabian of Finleyville, Dave of Munhall and Mary Beth Kail of Dravosburg. He also is survived by his sisters, Eleanor and Anna Smecker and Edith Saalinger.
Friends will be received at Savolskis-Wasik-Glenn Funeral Home in Munhall today from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. A Mass will be celebrated Wednesday at 10 a.m. in St. Therese Church in Munhall. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, The Gulf Tower, 707 Grant St., 37th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15219-1916.
First Published November 20, 2012 12:00 am