“Blink and you’ll miss it” could easily apply to Bressler, Pennsylvania. This tiny Swatara Township community a half mile from the Susquehanna River is just a few blocks long. Yet, Bressler is making a huge difference in the lives of those touched by autism.
Every year, the Friendship Fire Company in Bressler holds the Richard E. Plesic, Sr. Memorial Golf Tournament to support autism treatment and research. The golf tournament is actually the biggest of several fundraisers to support this cause. Throughout the year, the fire company holds smaller fundraising events, such as a Pampered Chef party, Friendly’s Night, jewelry parties, softball games, and raffles. Recently, the club raised almost $1,300 in a head-shaving event.
“We’re blessed that so many people have compassion and really care,” said Cheri Maletestinic. “We have a lot of people with different ideas. They all take it [the fundraiser] on as their own. We’re always asking for donations and adding to the baskets we raffle off at the golf tournament. We have nice prizes. It takes a lot of energy and many, many people.”
The inspiration behind this commitment was Richard E. Plesic, Sr., otherwise known as “Buddha.” Throughout his lifetime, Plesic worked for the community. A visionary leader, he oversaw the expansion of the firehouse and designed the community picnic grounds. He took a leadership role in almost every project, and the community rallied around him.
Plesic’s father, a Slovenian immigrant, settled on a farm in Bressler and later subdivided the land among his descendants. Plesic, Sr. toiled at the local steel mill all of his life. Yet, he still found time to build houses for family members from materials he bought at auction and to collect timepieces – “1,500 antique clocks and watches, wall to wall, in cases everywhere in the rec room,” recalled his son, Richard Plesic, Jr. Ultimately, though, working the swing shift “took a toll on his health,” his son said. “He could never rest.”
When Plesic, Sr. became ill, the community wanted to do something to honor him. Friends dedicated the social club in his honor and then started the golf tournament, though Plesic never golfed a day in his life. “If they were going to raise money, they wanted to do it for a cause,” said Plesic, Jr. The cause was autism, a disorder that personally affects members of the Plesic family. “We had 12 to 16 golfers the first year. Every year, it grew bigger and bigger.”
Plesic, Sr., who passed away in 1996, is memorialized with a plaque at the Friendship Fire Company. It reads:
“… provided a lifetime of devoted service to our community of Bressler and to Swatara Township. His character, vision, leadership and dedication moved him to serve us as ambulance driver, firefighter, township commissioner, fire company president, club steward and to be a wonderful husband, father and grandfather. His dreams, enthusiasm and countless hours of service helped shape our town into the community we are proud of. He can never be replaced and will be sadly missed yet fondly thought of always.”
Naming the tournament in his father’s honor “was not the family’s doing,” Plesic, Jr. stressed. “We got involved as it started growing. We’re just one of the many players. It’s just an honor to see that people respected my dad so much.”
His sister-in-law, Sally Plesic, nodded in agreement. As she often tells her two daughters, “their last name means something.”
In this compassionate, close-knit community, the older people are dying off, but the families that established Bressler are still there and the kids’ kids are close. Every year, the families gather for a picnic. “It’s always the same faces,” said Richard Plesic, Jr. “We’re like a big extended family.” Polka bands play, they roast a couple of lambs, and families serve up cabbage and noodles and other Croatian and Slovenian ethnic delicacies. “People make the journey home,” he said.
Charlie Maletestinic’s own roots in Bressler run deep. Said his wife Cheri, “I can walk down the street and say this is Charlie’s aunt, this is Charlie’s cousin. There are only a couple of streets. The whole way up High Street, I can see family.”
One hot summer day when the couple’s son Nicholas was 3 years old, he ran away. Wandering off is common among children with autism. A cousin had inadvertently left a door open in their home. “I’m hyperventilating, because I can’t find my child,” Maletestinic recalled. But barefoot Nicholas simply walked to Aunt Bonny’s house. “That’s part of family. He knew where to go. It could have been a scary situation.”
Just about everyone on the Richard E. Plesic, Sr. Memorial Golf Tournament committee is part of the original families remaining in Bressler. At first, the committee directed tournament proceeds to autism research. Seven years ago, when the Maletestinics were struggling to place Nicholas at The Vista School, the committee wanted funds to benefit local children with autism. As of last year, the committee voted to split proceeds between Vista’s fledgling adult services program and Penn State Hershey College of Medicine.
For Cheri Maletestinic, it comes down to community, the closeness. “When someone is down and out, we pick each other up.”
The 20th annual Richard E. Plesic, Sr. Memorial Golf Tournament will be held Sept. 10, 2016, at Dauphin Highlands Golf Course, with a picnic to follow at nearby Emeric Cibort Park. Cost is $95 per golfer. Registration is 7 a.m.; shotgun play starts at 8 a.m. To further details or to register, please download the brochure or contact [email protected].
Plesic Golf Committee members include, from left: (front row) Andrew Radic, Jr., Charlie Maletestinic; (middle row) Bonnie Radic, Natalie Cibort, Rich Plesic, Jr., Jamie Galinac, Mark Plesic, Sally Plesic; and (back row) Vince Radic, Jr., Jeff Varner, George Ofak, and Grant Weyant. Not pictured: Cheri Maletestinic and Darby Musa.