2017-12-20 / Obituaries

Joseph Milnikiewicz

Joseph Nichlos Milnikiewicz was born in Brooklyn, NY on June 9, 1954, the youngest of three sons. His Ukrainian father worked in demolition while his Polish mother cleaned offices in the old Penn Station, the grand old station that NYC was sorry it demolished.

As a kid, he skateboarded in Prospect Park and took camping trips to the Catskills with his family. He learned to milk a cow during summers working on the Fairbairn farm on Millbrook. In 1969, his parents bought the old George farm off Dry Brook Road.

Joe proudly recounted designing a multi-unit telephone system for his parents’ house at the age of 6. But the nuns at St. Francis never diagnosed Joe’s challenges with dyslexia and didn’t appreciate his hands-on talents. He started college studying physics, but gave up book learning to work in demolition with his father.

After nearly being killed on the job by falling debris, Joe enrolled in the City College of NY to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering with new-found meaning. Joe loved to recount how one of his famous professors invited him to fly his private plane to Cape Cod after school one weekend.

At his first job after college, Joe researched and designed radar systems and computer hardware for Riverside Research, in Manhattan. In 1989, he moved from hardware to software design at a subsidiary of the New York Stock Exchange. Employers valued him for his hard work, his theoretical knowledge of physics and computer science, and his hands-on skills.

Joe was one of those rare people who loved to fix things, to understand how things work, and to try to improve them. His meticulous attention to detail made him a master electrician, carpenter, plumber, roofer, designer, and computer consultant. He soldered big pieces of metal as well as tiny electronic components, his handiwork dotting the landscape both inside and out.

Joe met Cathy Sokil at her sister’s wedding in 1990. It was love at first sight. At the time, Cathy was teaching at Middlebury College in Vermont, so they met midway and planned their wedding in the Catskills. Joe and Cathy were married on June 15, 1991, at the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hunter, with a reception at the old Hanah resort.

Joe was also one of those rare people who was city smart and country loving. He drove like a NY City cab driver but loved coming to the mountains, not only to hike and camp, but also to work on cars. His proudest automotive achievement was to put a Porshe engine into a VW bus. He kept his garage well stocked, but he just never had enough time to do all he wanted. Some projects never got done because they had to be done right.

Retirement finally allowed Joe to move full-time to the Catskills to pursue his own projects, which were never-ending. He prepared the house for Cathy to join him after their daughter left for college. He bought a John Deere and used it to brush hog meadows, down muscle wood, build roads, pick apples, and plant trees.

Joe and Cathy enjoyed biking Dry Brook valley nearly every evening in the summer.

For their 25th anniversary, Cathy planned a once-in-a-lifetime trip which included a week in California, which Joe had never seen, as well as four weeks in Hawaii, where they had honeymooned. Joe did all the driving, along the winding cliffs of Big Sur and on the road to Hana in Maui.

Shortly after returning home, Joe was diagnosed with ALS. He accepted the diagnosis with signature strength and grace. Sadly, the disease took his dominant right hand first, so Joe was cursed not to be able to do the things he loved. But this gave him more time to appreciate concerts and theatre. He rode his bike as long as he could, and enjoyed swimming at the Catskill Rec Center until recently.

Joe loved observing the night sky and was mystified by the secrets of the universe, which he may finally understand.

Joe was very proud of his son Michael, an electrical engineer working for MKS Instruments in Rochester, and his daughter Sofia, known as Fish, who is studying Information Systems, Sciences, and Technology at Cornell’s School of Engineering.

Joe passed away at home in his sleep on December 3, 2017, under the care of the loving Catskill Area Hospice. A celebration of Joe’s life will be held in June 2018.

In lieu of flowers, please contribute to the ALS Association of Upstate NY and the Catskill Recreation Center.

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