Best friends for life

Pat Krolczyk and Shirley Skiera have been best friends for the past 75 years starting a friendship that began when they were only 3 years old. The two friends lives have mirrored each other during that time. (Ken Grabowski/News Advocate)

Pat Krolczyk (left) and Shirley Skiera have been best friends for the past 75 years starting a friendship that began when they were only 3 years old. (Ken Grabowski/News Advocate)

Manistee women share lifetime of memories

“Good friends are like stars, you don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.”

MANISTEE —  Everyone has ups and downs in their lives, but true friendship is knowing that person will be there to share all of those experiences.

There are the family ties, the closeness of spouses, but true friendship takes on a whole different dimension and is something special. For two Manistee women, being best friends is something that has endured for a long time.

Pat (Peterson) Krolczyk and Shirley (Shifflet) Skiera have shared the type of friendship for the past 75 years that doesn’t exist anymore. In a world where people tend to get more distant and separated by miles, it is rare to maintain those friendships.

The two couples were in each other’s wedding parties. Pictured (left to right) are Pat and Harold Krolczyk, with Shirley and Bob Skiera on their wedding day. (Courtesy photo)

The two couples were in each other’s wedding parties. Pictured (left to right) are Pat and Harold Krolczyk, with Shirley and Bob Skiera on their wedding day. (Courtesy photo)

However, their friendship has been almost small town Americana and Norman Rockwell-like in nature at its best. It has endured so long that neither one of them can really remember that first encounter that began when both were only 3 years old.

“Her parents moved next door to my grandparents (Benson) when we were 3 and it just grew from there,” said Skiera. “We were the Concord Street girls, as that is what my husband always called us.”

Krolczyk agreed about not remembering that initial meeting, but fondly recalled some memories from very early in the friendship.

“I remember going to her grandmother’s house and they had these old fashioned dolls that we played with, as there wasn’t any Barbie dolls back then,” she said. “I remember we played so well with those dolls.”

Skiera also recalled the dolls. She said every year her grandma would give her a doll still in the wrappings, but it also included an entire wardrobe she had made for it.

Both of them recalled a hedge that separated the two yards that played a role in the early years of their friendship.

“There was an opening in that hedge and if we would get mad at each other — that happened on occasion — she would always show up with toast and peanut butter or toast with something on it and I guess that was our friendship hedge,” said Skiera.

Skiera said that Krolczyk had an upstairs bedroom and when she would sleep over it would be cold in winter mornings because the house was heated with a coal furnace. She added that they would always hurry downstairs in the morning because Pat’s mom would have hot cocoa waiting for them.

“I can remember my dad would fill up that old furnace at night, but by morning it would be cold,” Krolczyk said.

 Pat Krolczyk (left) and Shirley Skiera were young girls when they first became best friends. The two have been friends for the past 75 years and even married men who lived cross the street from each other. (Courtesy photo)

Pat Krolczyk (left) and Shirley Skiera were young girls when they first became best friends. The two have been friends for the past 75 years and even married men who lived cross the street from each other. (Courtesy photo)

She they just hit it off and even though their lives would take them in separate directions occasionally, they always seemed to gravitate come back together. On a couple occasions Skiera’s family moved elsewhere, but Krolczyk stayed on Concord Street.

“I always stayed there on Concord Street and Shirley did move to California for a short time during World War II. Then she came back and lived in Parkdale for a while, but then came back into town to live with her grandparents,” she said.

Skiera said in some respects, it even amazes them how long the friendship has endured.

“I have always said I can’t remember life without Pat,” she said.

When they were growing up, the two families even shared a telephone party line.

“When we were growing up her phone number was 485J and mine 485R, so if we called each other we had to quick dial the number and push the button down and hold it until it rang,” said Skiera. “Now I am using an iPhone so it really makes me realize how much time has passed.”

As the pair grew older and moved into high school they would spend time together, going to the Manistee Recreation Association, the beach, sporting events, ice skating and to Berglund’s Drug Store for a cherry coke.

“There was a group of about six of us who were friends, but Pat and I were always best friends,” said Skiera. “She had a bigger family than me, as all I had was a brother, so I always said she was the sister I never had in growing up.”

However, like all young girls in the mid-1950s they began to become interested in boys. It turned out to be another interesting twist in the story of these two best friends.

“She had her eye on a guy named Harold Krolczyk, who was a year older than her,” said Skiera with a laugh. “He had grown up across the street from Bob Skiera and they were both working at the gas station in Oak Hill as teenagers. Well gas was only 29 cents a gallon, and we took a lot of rides around Oak Hill. I couldn’t figure out what was going on at first, until I found out she had a crush on Harold.”

Skiera recalled she later ran into Bob, and his friend Dave Kaminski, at the library and she knew at that point she had found the one for her as well.

“I looked at those brown eyes and just knew,” she said. “It just clicked for both of us.”

After graduation Skiera went on to nursing school and Krolczyk stayed and worked at the American Box Board. By that time, both Bob and Harold were working as carpenters for Bob’s brother Tony Skiera who was a well known contractor in Manistee.

Shirley Skiera (left) and Pat Krolczyk graduated from Manistee High School in the mid-1950s. (Courtesy photo)

Shirley Skiera (left) and Pat Krolczyk graduated from Manistee High School in the mid-1950s. (Courtesy photo)

“They worked together and Bob went out on his own for a while before Harold and Bob eventually became partners,” said Krolczyk.

The team of Krolczyk and Skiera built and remodeled many homes in the Manistee area over the years and were well known for their expertise in that area.

“One  thing I want to do some day is take a camera and take pictures of the houses they built, as there are lots of them,” said Skiera. “We got married within six months of each other and were maid of honors for each other and the guys were best men for each other.”

However, the closeness continued as both of them built houses next door to each other on Red Apple Road and each had four children. And through the years, as they continued to raise their children, they remained close friends. But more importantly, their lives continued to mirror each other.

“Shirley ended up working for the Catholic Community and I worked for the Methodist Church and it just worked out that way,” she said.

“We always said it was a story that could only happen in a small town,” added Skiera.

As they grew older life continued to happen, and eight years ago Harold passed away. Bob died last December. The death of their husbands was a deep loss to each woman that shows on the face of the two friends to this day.

“When Bob died the first thing my daughter said to me is, I am going to call Pat,” said Skiera.

Krolczyk said it was the same when Harold passed. They said it was as if they had come full circle.

“Pat said to me we are back to being just the two of us,” said Krolczyk. “We started out at 3 years old here we are now.”

The pair still get together regularly and talk on the phone, but they each draw comfort in knowing the other one is out there when something good or bad happens they share it.

“Other than my family, she is the first one I talk to about it,” said Skiera. “As I got older, I remember thinking this is pretty special that we are still friends and that the fellas were good friends. They worked together and hunted together.”

They said to this day each of their chidren always inquire how the other one is doing as well.

Both agreed that friendship is something you need to work at for it to endure. However, when it does happen, you have a friend for life and that is priceless.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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