ELKHART — Any big event in the Werbianskyj family — good or bad — calls for “pyrohi.”
On Friday, March 22, the family gathered to make this Ukrainian version of the pierogi and share memories of Mark Werbianskyj, who died Monday in a workplace accident at Parker Hannifin in Ligonier.
Werbianksyj was born to John and Sandra Werbianskyj on Nov. 23, 1957, in South Bend. He graduated from Elkhart Memorial High School in 1976 and served in the United States Air Force from 1976 to 1983.
“Whenever someone needed help, he was the first there,” his brother, Greg Werbianskyj said.
Several members of the family can share stories of times Mark Werbianskyj saved them from car trouble, often dropping whatever he was doing and driving miles out of his way to help them.
“It was the coldest day of the year and my alternator went out,” his sister, Sabrina Mullen said. “He was out there at 6 a.m. changing my alternator so I could get to work.”
Werbianskyj often used his technical expertise and large tool collection to help his friends and family with projects around the house.
“He was my personal electrician,” Werbianskyj’s uncle, Dwight Fish said. “He was a man of many talents and a great big heart.”
“He was always giving of himself without question,” Greg Werbianskyj said.
Mark Werbianskyj had been known to give away his possessions to family and friends.
Werbianskyj was always up for an adventure. In 1994, he took his nephew, Jon II, to Woodstock.
“I was 19,” Jon Werbianskyj II said. “I was an adult now, so it was time for some adult fun.”
The duo loaded up Mullen’s car (it was the only car in the family with air conditioning at the time) and drove to the festival in upstate New York.
“You had to park the cars 20 miles away (from the festival),” Werbianskyj said. “We were literally across the Hudson River from the cars.”
On the last day of the festival, the two men were walking to the shuttle bus that would take them back to their vehicle when they noticed many of the other revelers had simply abandoned their campsites leaving everything from tents and coolers to shoes and clothes.
“He was like, ‘We can’t just leave this stuff,’” Werbianskyj said. The men hung a tarp on a 25-foot pole and carried it between them, picking up items as they walked.
“We almost missed the last bus,” Werbianskyj said. “We tied the whole thing to the top of the car. It was very ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ coming home.”
“All that and all I got was a T-shirt and a muddy car,” Mullen joked.
On another occasion, the two men took an impromptu trip to West Virginia to go white water rafting.
“He always made sure you were doing fun stuff,” Werbianskyj said. “He would use everything to have adventures. He valued those experiences.”
Mark Werbianskyj’s father, John, remembers his son as a mischievous child.
“He gave us a run for our money growing up,” his father said. “He was a little sneaky.”
Werbianskyj said his son would sneak off with his friends to a farm down the road where they would secretly ride motorcycles.
“I just didn’t want him hurt,” Werbianskyj said. “Of course I didn’t find out until 10 or 15 years later.”
That mischievous streak runs in the family.
The heavy ladle the family was using to fish the cooked pyrohi out of a boiling pot of water was stolen from the Nazis by Mark Werbianskyj’s grandfather as the family left Ukraine for America.
“He stole it and drilled the holes himself,” said Werbianskyj’s aunt, Oxana Werbianskyj, pointing to the Nazi symbol, an eagle above a swastika, engraved on the handle.
Werbianskyj’s wife, Diana, whom he married in 2008, said her husband’s mischievous spirit and sense of humor brightened her life.
“He made my day every day,” she said. “He made my life a lot brighter.”
“I could express so many feelings I have about Mark. He was my angel on Earth,” she said.
Her husband made sacrifices to allow Diana to fly to California to visit family while he visited his own out-of-state relatives less often than he would have liked.
“He went out of his way to make sure I was well taken care of,” she said. “I would never ask for anything and he would spoil me. I kept trying to tell him to spoil himself.”
Diana said her husband was a music lover and the couple attended the Lollapalooza and Riot Fest music festivals in Chicago last year. They also traveled to visit family and friends in South Carolina, Colorado and California.
“He loved to travel,” his sister Tamara Moore said. “He never flew except when he was in the Air Force. He drove everywhere.”
He also enjoyed entertaining family and friends. He and Diana hosted an annual Fourth of July party and Werbianskyj would spend hundreds of dollars on fireworks.
“It was all for the entertainment of the kids,” his wife said.
“He led a pretty full life,” John Werbianskyj said.
A visitation for Mark Werbianskyj will be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 23, at the Walley-Mills-Zimmerman Funeral Home, 700 E. Jackson in Elkhart.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. at the funeral home.