SWARTZ CREEK — Patricia L. Schoenfield remembers catching the bus from Swartz Creek to Flint after school, and spending her evenings working with her father, Paul T. Spaniola, at Paul’s Pipe Shop.
Spaniola, of Swartz Crek, died Aug. 27. He was 100 years old. But in a manner fitting his personality, his work will continue.
“My father was very industrious,” said Schoenfield, 75, of Gaines Township. “His motto was, ‘Work very hard, and whatever you do, do it very well.’ He was an extremely hard worker. He had to work hard to make enough profit to raise 11 kids, at a business that was a hobby.”
Born in Musekgon and raised in Owosso, Spaniola began working when he was a kid, selling newspapers on Owosso street corners. His resume included stints as a theater worker and a bellhop, also in Owosso.
Spaniola set his sites on Swartz Creek when he took a job shining shoes at a pool hall his brother owned. He later bought the business and christened it Paul’s Tavern and Pipe Shop.
Perhaps surprisingly, it wasn’t the hobby that led to the pipe business, but the business that led to the hobby, said Spaniola’s daughter, Janice E. Caudle of Davison.
“He didn’t start smoking a pipe until after he started blending tobacco,” she said. “He said he thought he’d better be able to tell what it tasted like.”
Spaniola’s interest in pipes was sparked by a bet, said son James W. Spaniola, 77, of Fenton.
“He sold pipes at the tavern,” he said. “It was just something you did then. You’d sell pipes, cigars, tobacco, chewing tobacco. Someone bet him that he couldn’t sell a dozen of these (high-end) $5 pipes. He sold them all. He let the farmers trade in their old pipes. Then he cleaned up those and sold them as used pipes.
“He got more interested in pipes after that. He started blending tobacco so he could be a full-service pipe shop. That’s what you’d do. You’d get some private blends together, and people would come to your shop to buy your blend. He had some customers who would come out from Flint, and they talked him into moving the business to Flint.”
Spaniola closed the tavern and moved the pipe shop to Flint in 1947. The tavern was located “three stores west of Fortino’s” Food Market, said Schoenfield. The building burned in 1959, and the lot was converted for parking.
Over the years, Spaniola bought hundreds of pipes. And hundreds more. And more.
The West Valley News, formerly a semi-weekly newspaper that covered Swartz Creek, once quoted him as saying, “I’ve got pipes coming out my ears.”
“People sometimes ask how many pipes he had,” said Schoenfield. “I can tell you exactly. Too many!”
Spaniola continued to go to work at the Pipe Shop every day until he was in his early 90s, said Schoenfield. Caudle and another of Spaniola’s children, son Daniel, have run the shop since Spaniola’s retirement. They will continue to keep the family business open.
“Family was extremely important to him,” said Schoenfield. “He restarted the family reunion because he insisted we all needed to be together.”
“He took care of us,” said Jim Spaniola. “He made sure we had what we needed.”
That fatherly care didn’t stop when Spaniola’s children reached adulthood. One year, soon after Christmas, son Dan’s house caught fire.
“He lost everything,” said Spaniola’s son-in-law, Michael Shumaker, retired director of Public Works for the city of Swartz Creek, and the current 4th Ward representative on the Swartz Creek City Council.
Shumaker said that, at the time of the blaze, Spaniola still owned the home at the northeast corner of Miller and Morrish roads, where most of the Spaniola children grew up.
“By the next night, the family had a full house set up for Dan and his wife and kids,” Shumaker said. “We all took things from our homes — rugs, silverware, dishes, furniture. We cleaned the house and got it set up.
“When my mother passed, three of my sisters-in-law helped with the funeral. If you were in the hospital, you had visitors and things were taken care of for you. If there was a wedding, a graduation, a funeral, whatever, you helped. Family stuck together. And if he asked you to do something, you felt honored to be able to do it for him.”
While Spaniola made sure his children had what they needed, he did not always give them all they wanted.
“We all had to work,” said Jim Spaniola. “We worked at his store or at my aunt and uncle’s store (Fortino’s Food Market). When I was 10 years old, he took me to the newspaper so I could get a job delivering papers. They said they didn’t give routes to kids younger than 12. My dad told them, ‘I sold papers when I was 10 and my son will, too.’
“Then I started delivering the Detroit Times, News and Free Press. They were heavy and there were a lot of homes. A lot of people took all three papers on Sundays. Dad would drive me around on Sundays, but the rest of the week, I had to ride my bike. I look back and think about my buddies who got to horse around, and I think now that dad taught us valuable lessons.”
Schoenfield said her father enjoyed being around all people, not just family.
“He loved to entertain,” she said. “He had a lot of one-liners and he liked to do card tricks. It didn’t matter where he went — on a plane, at a funeral or a wedding — he’s pull out his cards. Even at restaurants, even if he didn’t know the people. He was not bashful, and no one was a stranger.”
“He was good to everyone,” said Shumaker.
“He gave us life in more than one way,” said Jim Spaniola. “He was our father, and he taught us life.”