John J. Varkonda died suddenly on Dec. 31, 2013, despite the valiant efforts of Edgartown rescue personnel, and the doctors and nurses at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. He was 55 years young.
John was born to Ruth Stratton and John Varkonda on August 7, 1958 in Salem, Ohio. John, or as his family called him Johnny Jay, grew up in a large extended family steeped with rich family traditions from his father’s Czechoslovakian heritage. His family owned a small farm where along with baling hay and tending the cows John was able to have horses, which he dearly loved. He and his friends loved to climb mountains and formed the Logtown Alpine Mountain Club. The group mastered the sheer rock walls of Seneca Rock in West Virginia. John made several trips to Europe, biking and rock climbing all over Switzerland. He attended Kent State University and graduated in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in natural resource conservation. During his time in Kent he formed many long lasting friendships. He and his Kent brothers traveled around the country camping here, there and everywhere. John left Ohio to take a job with the National Park Service at Lowell National Historical Park where he met the woman who would become his wife and best friend, Jane Broderick. Prior to taking the job on the Vineyard he also served as the conservation agent for the town of Mashpee and worked for the National Park Service in Boston and at Cape Cod National Seashore.
Jane and John were married on Oct. 10, 1987 and moved to the Vineyard as John had just accepted the position of superintendent of the State Forest for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. John and Jane traveled to Cape Hatteras, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California and Alaska taking in the beauty of the National Parks and vacationing with friends.
They began to build their own home on Meetinghouse Way in Edgartown in 1992 and welcomed the birth of their son, Aidan on August 24, 1997, and their daughter Kasey on April 2, 2003. John adored his children. He went on many school field trips, coached little league for many years and most recently became a gymnastics dad, shuttling Kasey and her team mates to practices and competitions. Though he sometimes thought of taking a job off-Island or another position on Island to further his career, it meant less time with his children and wife, and that was unacceptable for him. His family always came first.
John loved his motorcycles. He had quite the collection at one time, including his dad’s Yamaha and a Triumph. He rebuilt or repaired parts on almost all of them at one time or another. His patience for finding the problem on one of his bikes was enormous. He would be determined to find and fix a problem that most people would have given up on. He was a man who made lifelong friends. Each year he toured through the Northeast states on his motorcycle, while camping with friends he made a quarter of a century earlier during college and his time with the Park Service.
Recently he and his son rebuilt several dirt bikes for Aidan to ride. John was very proud of his son’s interest and aptitude for riding and for the ever constant fixing and tinkering that bikes demand. He recently told a friend that he looked forward to riding with Aidan; he didn’t care where, as long as they were together. He and Aidan took the hunter safety course a few years ago and John and his friends took Aidan deer hunting and target shooting. He was overtly proud of his daughter, Kasey who from a young age excelled at gymnastics. Her “I can do it my way” attitude often confounded him, but he was up for the challenge. He would have not wanted her any other way.
John had many friends, both on and off Island. He was always willing to help others with chores too big for them to handle. John could fix anything, and did. He got along with everyone and was fond of calling his friends his brothers. He almost always ended a phone call or visit with “I love you man.”
John loved to travel, cook, garden and read when he had a chance. His house is full of collections of books he has either read or had collected to read one day. Music was something Jane and John enjoyed together. If you came to their house after work the music would be playing and John would be humming or singing along as he made dinner for his family. His music and NPR broadcasts kept him company while he toiled away on the tractor during fire lane mowing season. His dedication to the environment spilled over into how he ran his household, low energy lighting, composting, recycling, etc. It was a lot of work and easier to throw things in the trash. But for John, the extra effort was worth it.
He is survived by his wife, Jane; his son Aidan, his daughter Kasey; his mother Ruth Varkonda and his sister Lynn Zocolo, both of Salem, Ohio; and his sister Amy Holbrook of Columbus, Ohio. He was predeceased by his father John and his brother Ricky. He was a member of the Dukes County fire chiefs association and served as their treasurer and secretary.
Visiting hours were held on Thursday, Jan. 9 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home, Edgartown Road in Oak Bluffs. A funeral home service will be held on Friday, Jan. 10 at 11 a.m. The Edgartown town hall will be closed from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for the service.
Donations in John’s memory may be made to WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR Station, 3 Water Street, PO Box 82, Woods Hole, MA 02543. A fund to assist the family, Varkonda Family Fund, has been established at the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank.