By Deborah Weisberg Southwest Correspondent
Pittsburgh — When Joseph Trempus passed away at 93 last year, the Allegheny County man left behind few relatives and an estate worth nearly $400,000.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission will receive most of it.
Ronald Petronio, Trempus’ long-time neighbor and fishing and hunting partner, handed the commission a check for $349,198.79 at the agency’s quarterly meeting in Delmont in mid-September
As executor of Trempus’s estate, Petronio was made aware of his friend’s wishes a year before he died.
“In a sense I was shocked, but, then again, hunting and fishing was all Joe did,” said Petronio, of suburban Pittsburgh. “Because the outdoors was so important to him, he felt the Game Commission did a lot for him.”
Trempus had some kin, “but they never came around,” Petronio said.
Because Pymatuning Reservoir was one of Trempus’s favorite destinations for fishing and waterfowl hunting, the Game Commission will use the money for exhibits for the new a $1.6 million learning center it is planning to build near the lake over the next two years.
A room will be named in Trempus’s honor, according to agency spokesman Travis Lau.
It will serve as a lasting tribute to an intensely private man who never discussed his will with Petronio in all the years they hunted and fished together.
“Joe was very frugal,” said Petronio. “He never went to shows or out to eat. If he and his wife went fishing or hunting, unless they had their dogs with them, they slept overnight in their station wagon.”
Trempus worked as a billboard installer. His wife, Catherine, worked at Sears. “Joe always wore a light blue shirt and dark blue pants ironed with sharp creases. He was very meticulous,” Petronio said.
As much as he enjoyed hunting small game, waterfowl, pheasants, and deer, Trempus was an equally avid fly-angler who tied his own flies for trout and panfish.
“He never missed a stocking at Pine Creek [in Allegheny County],” recalled Petronio. “For years, he and his wife would drive up to Warren County to help stock a stream there.”
Why Trempus didn’t leave some of his estate to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is a mystery, said Petronio, who even inquired after his death whether some of the money could be diverted to that agency.
“I was told ‘No. What’s in the will is in the will.’”
Petronio became friendly with Trempus after he moved into the same Glenshaw neighborhood more than 40 years ago. “We got to talking and realized we both enjoyed the outdoors,” recalled Petronio, who was one of Trempus’s few friends.
Although he belonged to the Bakerstown Beagle Club and the Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League, Trempus was “a loner,” said Petronio. “He wasn’t a hermit, but he didn’t socialize. No one knew Joe except me.”
He also accepted Trempus’s quirks. “You had to know how to take Joe. He was a perfectionist in everything he did. I mean everything. If he cut the lawn and it didn’t look right, he’d cut it again.
“If he didn’t like the bait he was using, he’d quit fishing. He usually did do well, but if it wasn’t working, he’d stop. It had to be done right or he wouldn’t do it. That was Joe.”
As he aged, and especially after his wife died, Trempus relied more and more on his friend and neighbor to look after things and take care of him. Petronio and his wife, Pat, often took Trempus to dinner.
“He wouldn’t take himself out to eat, but he liked going with us,” Petronio said. “We made sure his bills were paid. We helped him sell his car. We saw to it he had food, clothes and heat. And we drove him wherever he wanted to go.”
When failing health made it too difficult for Trempus to live alone, Petronio helped Trempus select a nursing home, and then visited him several times a week.
On his 90th birthday, the Petronios took Trempus to a special restaurant and surprised him with a cake after the meal. “He told me it was the first birthday cake he’d ever had in his entire life,” Petronio said.
“From things he said over the years, I suspect he’d grown up the hard way.”
When Trempus became frail, Petronio wanted to assure his friend that even in death he would be remembered as the sportsman he was, and included one final splurge.
“When I’d take him to the cemetery to visit his wife’s grave, he’d marvel at fancy headstones, like the ones in rose-colored granite, with carvings,” Petronios recalled. “One day, we were looking at them and I asked him, ‘Which would you pick for yourself?’ and he pointed to one that showed geese flying.”
With approval from Trempus’s attorney, Petronios ordered one just like it and surprised Trempus with it.
“When we took him to the monument place to see it, he was thrilled,” Petronio said.
Gifts such as the one left by Trempus are important to the Game Commission because they demonstrate significant appreciation for its actions, according to Commissioner Dave Putnam, of Centre County.
“We will use this gift in the construction of the new learning center at Pymatuning and will name a portion of the facility in his honor,” he said.
“This gift will be recognized by thousands of people annually as they pass through the new center.”
The commission receives gifts of land and money each year from families that have close ties to wildlife and want to leave a legacy when they pass on, Putnam noted. The agency also receives many offers of property that individuals want to see maintained as wildlife habitat.
“We approve land deals at many of our formal meetings that were initiated by people who want to see lands that they grew up on protected for future generations.”