After his wife died unexpectedly in September, Steve Skurka strove to make life as normal as possible for his three teenage children. He took on the extra chores - asking friends for tips, such as when to add bleach to the laundry - and spent weeks making pizzelles, which his wife had made every Christmas.
Now he is gone, too.
Skurka, 51, suffered a stroke after shoveling snow at his Havertown home Sunday morning. He was pronounced dead at Delaware County Memorial Hospital around noon, said his older brother, John.
Yesterday, friends and family remembered Skurka for his dedication to his family, to the girls he coached in softball, and to the neighborhood where he lived for more than two decades.
"He was our hero. He just did everything," said Casey Skurka, 20, the oldest of Skurka's children. "He was our support system, our backbone."
Relatives are reeling from the death of Steve and his wife, Mary Jane. They haven't worked out a guardianship plan, but the children are determined to stay together.
"I'm sure, with all the support, we're going to figure out what's best for these children," said John Skurka, 54, of Newtown Township, Bucks County.
Steve Skurka, a PostScript operator at Great Atlantic Graphics Inc. in Malvern, grew up as one of three children in Delaware County. A graduate of Monsignor Bonner High School, he played football and baseball, and later took up golf.
When John Skurka had his first child, Steve Skurka, still single and living at home, surveyed his new niece's room. Looking at the bare floors, Steve Skurka insisted on paying for carpet, an improvement that his brother said he could not afford at the time.
Steve Skurka coached travel softball teams in Haverford Township for nearly a decade. He started coaching when his younger daughter, Tara, wanted to play and the team needed a coach.
Despite the high level of play and competition, Skurka made sure all the girls felt included, said Natalie Carrozza, whose daughter Marcella played on Skurka's team for nine years. He gave them individual attention and time on the field.
"He wasn't a hammer, like some coaches," Carrozza said. "He was very unselfish. He devoted a lot of his own personal time, and he wanted them to have fun."
Tara, now 17 and a senior at Cardinal O'Hara High School, said her father hardly ever missed her field hockey games or her brother Matt's football games.
"Even when they were an hour away, he'd be the one parent who'd drive out there and sit there," she said.
When Mary Jane Skurka died Sept. 19, Skurka wanted his children to feel appreciated. He thanked them every time they made it for dinner or helped him with chores. When his daughters surprised him by putting up the Christmas decorations while he was at work, he burst into tears, they said.
"He never stopped saying thank you after Mommy passed away," Casey said.
Two weeks ago, Skurka's neighbor Dave Fili was struggling to assemble a snowblower in front of his home. After some teasing, Skurka put the machine together. While Fili went to dinner, Skurka fetched the gas Fili would need. At dinner, Fili received a text message from Casey letting him know the snowblower was ready to go.
"He was more concerned about being happy and being with people and making them happy than anything else," John Skurka said.
When the storm hit Saturday, son Matt, 14, shoveled the driveway and sidewalk, but the snow kept coming. On Sunday, Skurka went out to clear the paths at his home.
After shoveling for two hours, Skurka came inside and told Casey that he felt hot. She offered him a drink and then went to grab a face mask she uses to help relieve migraines, thinking it might help. When she came back, Skurka was lying on the couch, unable to talk. Casey ran to get help, and by the time she returned, he'd stopped breathing, she said. Fili administered CPR, but Skurka was pronounced dead a short time later.
In addition to his children and brother, Skurka is survived by a sister, Marybeth Prager.
A Funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Dorothy Church, 4910 Township Line Rd., Drexel Hill. Relatives and friends may call from 9:15 to 10:45.
Donations may be made to the Skurka Children's Educational Fund, c/o Citizens Bank, 1375 West Chester Pike, Havertown, Pa. 19083.