By PETER H. MILLIKEN
Thomas J. Repchic deeply cared about the South Side neighborhood in which he lived, worshipped and died.
Neighbors remembered Repchic, 75, who was killed Saturday in a drive-by shooting, as a man who would do favors for people, such as helping people with disabled cars, upon request.
Repchic and other members of his family mowed grass on vacant lots where houses once stood, and Repchic fought to keep open the post office around the corner from his house, recalled Bill Boston, owner of Boston Machine Co.
“If you asked him for [help], he’d give you anything he had. You couldn’t have asked for a greater guy,” Boston said.
Repchic declined to follow the decades-long population-migration trend from the city to the suburbs.
“He wouldn’t do it. He said he would die here. He would never leave this area,” recalled Boston, who resides in New Castle, Pa.
The machine shop Boston has owned since 1996 is on Trenton Avenue, across the street from the two-story house Repchic and his wife, Jacqueline, occupied for 46 years.
When Boston would work late hours in the shop, Repchic would sit with him because of his concern for Boston’s safety, Boston recalled.
“His grandchildren were all out cutting grass. Why? Because grandpa didn’t want it looking like a dump, and he didn’t want it to look like somebody wasn’t living here,” Boston said of Repchic’s neighborhood philosophy.
Jacqueline Repchic, who survived the shooting, suffered the amputation of her leg, which was hit by a bullet.
“They were both very soft-hearted to anybody that ever came to their porch, their door, or even walking down the street. You wish you had these people in your neighborhood,” Boston said of the Repchics.
Shaded by stately old trees but plagued with urban blight, Trenton Avenue is a short north-south street in the city’s Uptown district, one block west of Market Street.
City directories list only a handful of occupied houses; and a drive down this three-block-long street reveals many vacant residences, some boarded up and some simply displaying broken or missing windows.
Repchic, an Army veteran and a General Motors Lordstown retiree, was fatally shot in the car he was driving after picking up his wife from her job as a receptionist at St. Dominic Church, where Repchic and his wife were members.
The Repchic homicide was the second slaying of an elderly St. Dominic Church parishioner this year, the first having been the Jan. 23 shooting death of Angeline Fimognari in the church parking lot after a Saturday morning Mass.
Jamar Houser awaits trial in the Fimognari case, but no suspects have been arrested in the Repchic case.
As to what the city needs to prevent a repeat of these tragedies, Boston said: “It needs to have a culture change.”
“The only people that actually deal with the problems around here are the police. And it’s like the families, they bury their heads. Nobody saw what happened” when police respond to an incident, Boston added.
“There’s nobody being held responsible for what’s going on,” he added. “We need to support the police as much as we can. They work hard.”
“When Boardman put up all those flags coming down 224, [Repchic] begged the city to put them up and down Market Street. Tom was a patriot, and he wanted the city to display these flags,” said John Syphard of Boardman, a supplier of machine parts to Boston’s shop.
“If they wanted to do a service or honor Tom in any way, they would do that,” Syphard said of city officials.
“He was great. He’d do anything for anybody,” Janice Whitfield, a Trenton Avenue homeowner, said of Thomas Repchic. “He always sat on the porch and watched all the houses,” alerting his neighbors and police to suspicious activity, she said.
The Repchics would help serve meals to elderly people at St. Dominic, she recalled.
The neighborhood needs more vigilance by residents to prevent a repeat of the tragedies, said Whitfield, who displays a “Crime Watch” sign in her front window.
“The cops come by here, but it’s just really not enough,” she added.
“There are too many gangs, just too many unruly kids out here,” she observed.
Christopher Buday, another Trenton Avenue homeowner, described Repchic as “a pretty nice guy,” adding: “He’d help you out if you needed it.”
A lifelong Uptown area resident, Buday, 49, is a Mahoning County 911 dispatcher, a former Craig Beach police chief and a former city taxi driver.
“I have no desire to move out to Boardman or Poland or Canfield,” said Buday, adding that he thinks suburban houses are “overpriced.”
As for what it would take to improve the neighborhood, he said: “Returning to traditional family values would help. It’s a combination of everything. I mean it’s not just more police presence.”
“People have just got to start being decent people. That’s basically what it is,” he added. “I think a lot of people now in this city are just surviving. They’re just existing. They’re not looking forward to anything but just to survive from day to day.”