I have a number of ancestors who featured in their local newspaper quite a lot: there’s my great-grandmother, who announced every game of pinochle she ever played in the weekly-updates column, and Amy (Merrill) Horey, who chronicled every letter and visit from her children so much that the town began to refer to her sons as “Amy’s Boys.” This week’s 52 Ancestors prompt is “In the News,” and I needed to find a new ancestor who featured in the Dunkirk Evening Observer just as often–or even more so–than these two leading ladies. My choice? Peter Tofil, the oldest of Stanley and Salomea (Kuznicki) Tofil’s thirteen children.
Peter Paul Tofil was born on January 18, 1914 in Dunkirk, New York, and he grew up working in his father’s restaurant and selling moonshine around town with his Kuznicki cousins. According to my grandfather, the Kuznicki boys would hide the liquor in their coat pockets and instrument cases, but the Tofil’s would smuggle it in their younger siblings’ old baby carriages. Peter and his brothers grew up carrying out their parents’ shadier business dealings and playing in baseball leagues or on football teams in the city; it was a tough childhood, but one full of fun and adventure. It must’ve been great to have so many siblings to run around with, too.
With two Saints as his namesakes, it seems only right that Peter initially pursued a career in the clergy, and his parents arranged for him to attend St. Francis High School in nearby Hamburg, New York to one day become a pastor of his own church. Peter’s interest in the clergy soon took a backseat, though, to his interest in politics and business, and he (ironically, in my opinion, considering his parents’ and uncles’ line of work) ran for local office for the first time in 1941 at the age of 26. And he won: he and Arthur Maloney were elected to be constables in the city of Dunkirk in November of that year (again, ironic), and he submitted this “Card of Thanks” to the local newspaper in response:
Without the support of friends and voters, no candidate can be successful. It is, therefore, gratifying to learn that so many friends and voters have confidence and trust in me. I shall always try to do justice to such confidence and trust.
Peter served as a constable for two years, and after taking a short break from politics to work in the accounting department at Brooks Locomotive Works, he ran for a vacant position on the Dunkirk Board of Water Commissioners and won. That lasted a handful of years, as well, but he decided to leave the board right before his marriage to Wanda Ryczko on May 7, 1949. That’s when Peter’s name started to make the most headlines in the Dunkirk Evening Observer: after his wedding, Peter entered the race for the mayor of Dunkirk against the Republican incumbent, Walter Murray. And although he lost, it seems as though he put up a pretty good fight. He then set his sights on the position of City Clerk, and he served in that capacity for about five years. There’s an odd article from this period, too:
City Clerk Peter Tofil sustained a sprained ankle when he slipped on an icy sidewalk while leaving the city hall at the end of work Thursday afternoon. Mr. Tofil expected to go to Brooks hospital today to have x-rays taken. The city clerk is the second municipal employee to be injured in a fall on an icy sidewalk.
Peter resigned from the position of City Clerk in 1954 in order to “devote his full time to his job as area salesman for a Buffalo liquor distributor, a position he held prior to his appointment.” Other odd jobs he held over the years include a position as secretary of the Lake City Hose Company No. 3; an attorney in a law firm in Buffalo; and a stint in the procurement division of the United States Treasury Department based in Phoenix, Arizona. (That last one? So random.) It’s not every day that you find an ancestor’s or relative’s story publicized and preserved in their local newspaper, and I’m lucky to have so many articles about Peter Tofil to share. It seems like he led a pretty good life, too–a life well-lived.