By Jim Raykie
Editor, The Herald
---- — The power of social networking and the unbelievable popularity of an average man joined forces last week to provide a heart-warming story.
It started St. Patrick’s Day weekend when a Facebook user posted a photo of Hermitage Walmart greeter Ed Krochka with the accompanying message: “RIP Ed.”
That sparked a major wave of not only curiosity, but admiration for the Sharon man. He was known by most of the posters as that kind gentleman with a booming voice who offered their children and grandchildren stickers when they visited the store.
For most of his professional life, Ed was the owner of the Avenue Flower Shop on Sharpsville Avenue in Sharon near Silver Street. After closing his shop, he worked part time for both Gibbs Flower Shop in Farrell and Palo Flowers in Sharpsville.
In addition, most of his admirers didn’t realize that he was a World War II veteran, serving in India as part of the Air Force. I find it interesting, considering his profession, that he lived on Flowers Avenue.
How recognizable was Ed Krochka? After the initial posting on Facebook, several interested folks called The Herald and emailed us, asking if and when his obituary was going to be published. That, in itself, is a rarity.
Soon afterward, others posted condolences on The Herald’s Facebook page, and people still were calling about the publication of an obituary.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Herald writer Dala Barrow confirmed that we had received his obit, but that it didn’t have a photo to accompany it.
I had remembered seeing one of the photos on The Herald’s Facebook page, and after a 20-minute search of the posts, was able to find it and we published it with Ed’s obituary on Friday.
Thursday night, I posted his obituary on The Herald’s Facebook page, with some kind comments about the avalanche of interest in this gentleman.
As of 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon, the popularity of Ed’s obituary on Facebook was incredible, to say the least. More than 150 people “liked” the story, which is about five times as many for most stories.
The story had garnered a long list of comments, and more than 3,000 had read the story. To put that in context, the biggest Herald stories that we post to our Facebook page have drawn an average of 1,200 readers.
Most notably, again in Facebook lingo, more than 40 readers shared the story about Ed, meaning that they posted it on a friend’s Timeline for them to read.
Of the many comments posted about Ed, here are a few that capture the essence of the man.
Sharlotte Dawson: “Oh no! I loved this sweet man. Such a beautiful soul. He had a very gentle and welcoming spirit that I will never forget. Rest in peace, Ed ...”
Jan Clepper: “What a remarkable man! My daughter looked for him every time we went to Walmart, and not just for a sticker, but for his kindness and that will not be forgotten and did not go unnoticed!”
Aimee Centofanti-Smith: “I only knew him via Walmart, but I just loved him. What a kind soul and sweet man ... I wish I had knwn that he served our country because I would have loved to have had the honor of thanking him for my freedom and giving him a hug ...”
Frances Foster-Austin: “ ... Thank you for all of the times you brought a smile to my face and as well as to all others who crossed your path. Your contagious smile will be forever missed! Looks like heaven was needing another angel ...”
Holly Swogger: “I wonder if he knows how many lives he touched? RIP, Ed. You will be missed ...”
Erin Musgrove: “I had the pleasure of working with Ed. He was always kind and never ever had a mean word to say about anyone. Rest in peace, Ed. Heaven has received an angel, and will accept him with open arms ...”
If you haven’t had a chance, take a few minutes to read the story of Ed’s life. In my nearly 40-year career at The Herald, this has been one of my most interesting experiences - how a kind man of simple means could affect more lives than most of the movers and shakers in our community, many of whom have grabbed headlines for years.
Ed requested no calling hours, instead opting for a Mass at Our Lady of Fatima - St. Ann’s Church in Farrell. It would have been interesting to see the long line of admirers wanting to pay last respects to the kind soul who brightened their day with a smile, a sticker, and a simple message, “Welcome to Walmart.”
Jim Raykie is the executive editor of The Herald and writes this column on Mondays. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org