Donald Malcolm

Donald Malcolm, a World War II veteran who became a loving father, grandfather and great-grandfather, died Wednesday. He was 86.

He had struggled in recent years with heart disease and circulatory problems.

He was best described by his contrasting characteristics: tough but sentimental, hard-working but happy and carefree. A native Scrantonian and a memorable character, his life will carry on for years in stories told by family members.

Donald Robert Malcolm was born July 15, 1926, to Elizabeth Broadbent Malcolm, a first-generation American, and James Malcolm, a Scottish coal mine laborer who immigrated to Scranton in 1906. The youngest of three children, he never finished middle school, opting to work instead to help his parents. Explaining this to younger family members years later, he used to joke, perhaps hyperbolically, that he "threw his books in the river," after taking his last class. With his mother's permission, Malcolm joined the U.S. Navy at 17 years old on March 21, 1944. He was inspired to enlist following the death of a cousin, a Marine in the war, and the promise of three meals a day and a warm bed. He worked below deck in the boiler rooms of giant war ships, rising to the rank of first-class firemen. He spent time aboard the USS Constellation and the USS Antietam, according to Navy muster rolls and other military records. His travels included a stop in Le Havre, France, but he did not see any combat during the conflict. He did suffer an abdominal hernia during his service, leaving him a small scar on his stomach following a minor surgery. Years later, he liked to joke with his grandchildren that his belly had, in fact, been struck by a cannonball.

After honorable discharge, he returned to Scranton. He soon met his future wife, Helen Anne Yankoski, whose traditional Lithuanian Catholic parents did not approve of her relationship with a Scottish Protestant. In 1947, the two eloped in Endicott, N.Y., despite an alleged 911 phone call by Yankoski's mother reporting her missing. Or so the family story goes.

Donald and Helen Malcolm settled next door to Donald's parents on Heermans Avenue in the Plot section of Scranton near the Lackawanna River. Railroad tracks ran past their backyard, but on the plus side, their block was among the few in the neighborhood that did not flood regularly.

The couple had three children, and for nearly 30 years, Donald worked a third-shift job as a factory mechanic and loom operator in the Petersburg Silk Mill. Many evenings on his way to work he would stop for a coffee at the Castle Restaurant on Providence Square or Nardozzi's Pizza in Dunmore to place an order for a large tray, accompanied each time with the same strict instructions, "Don't burn the bottom."

His beloved wife died from colon cancer in 1981. He never remarried. His textile factory, where he worked for most of his adult life, shut down not long after her death, and years later, the mill was turned into luxury loft condos. Always wanting to stay active, in the decade or so that followed, he worked several odd jobs as a grounds keeper, auto mechanic and gas station attendant before retiring at age 70.

During his later years, he enjoyed the companionship of the late Verna O'Hara, of Scranton. The two lived separately at the Jackson Heights Apartments on the West Side, but they frequently ate dinner together and spent many evenings watching old Lawrence Welk episodes, listening to the Pennsylvania Polka on WVIA, and playing bingo and gin rummy.

He moved to the Gino Merli Veterans Center in 2010, and he often expressed appreciation for the wonderful care he received. He loved making new friends and enjoyed the many outings residents would take. Those who knew him well realized his tendency to be caring and comical.

He was preceded in death by his parents; his wife; his brother, James; his sister, Doris; and his son-in-law, Frank Ciesielski.

He is survived by his daughter Barbara Ciesielski of Moscow; sons, Robert Donald Malcolm of Dunmore; and Brian Malcolm of Lake Ariel. He also had five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. He gushed with pride over all of them and considered their successes his greatest legacy. He liked to see the good in everyone, particularly when it came to the young children in his family.

"All good kids we've got," he used to say, "especially when they're sleeping."

Visitation and services will be private and open only to family.

Arrangements by the James Wilson Funeral Home, Lake Ariel.

In lieu of flowers, contributions should be made to the Resident Welfare Fund of the Gino J. Merli Veterans Center, 401 Penn Ave., Scranton, PA 18503.

Published in Scranton Times on Jan. 12, 2013