Remembering the namesakes of Tuski Memorial Park

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published September 4, 2013


HAZEL PARK — Great change is afoot at Tuski Memorial Park, at the corner of Vassar and Tucker, east of John R and south of Woodward Heights. Volunteers from CityEdge Church have fixed up the playground equipment, installed two patios and created a welcome center around the park sign, with a berm and curved retaining wall. They’ve been working on a full-sized volleyball court and plan to add a pavilion, as well.

But do you know the meaning behind the name of the park? Twenty-five years ago this Christmas, a great tragedy befell a family deeply involved in the city, and it is in their memory that the park is named.

It was Christmas Day, 1988. Edward Tuski and his wife, Duchesne, both in their early 50s at the time, were driving along a paved road in south Lapeer County, heading eastbound. Their youngest child, Michael, 21, and Duchesne’s mother, Theresa Nowak, accompanied them.

They were headed to see family that evening when, around 5 p.m., a drunken driver going north on a dirt road blew past a stop sign at 80 mph, T-boning the car the Tuskis were driving. Death was instantaneous for all involved, drunken driver included.

Therese Scarpace, the oldest child of Edward and Duchesne and the only girl among their five children, had been expecting her parents to visit that evening. She had hosted the family’s Christmas Eve gathering, and her parents had been there Christmas morning to see her two children, ages 1 and 3, open their gifts from Santa. They were to return that evening to help clean up after the Christmas Eve party.

In the interim, Therese was visiting one of her brothers, a police officer who was working that day.

Scarpace remembers being at the police department, dropping off bundles of food while her two kids ran around the building, everyone in festive spirits, when the call came through.

“My brother just got this look on his face,” Scarpace recalled. “He just said, ‘It’s mom and dad — I’ve got to go,’ and as he’s heading out, I follow him, not knowing what’s going on. I hand off the kids to my husband. All I knew is something was wrong — my brother was extremely upset. He knew there was a fatality, since he was being called to the sheriff’s department, not the hospital.”

They drove there together in his patrol car.

“Once I got there, that’s when everything started to unravel,” Scarpace said. “It was pandemonium, with the media there and everything.”

Scarpace lived in Royal Oak at the time. Back home, her husband connected with one of her remaining brothers and kept trying to reach the third brother in New York. Soon, all four of the surviving children knew the fate of their parents, grandmother and brother.

And they’ve been dealing with it every since.

“Through my profession in the field of social work, I know it takes seven years, on average, for a person to come to terms with the tragic death of a loved one,” Scarpace said. “Here, we have the tragic death of four loved ones, from multiple generations, so it takes much longer.”

Her parents had always been deeply involved in the community of Hazel Park, coaching baseball and basketball, volunteering for PTA and athletic boosters, and getting involved in council and mayoral races. They worked in scouting and on beautification projects around the city. Duchesne was on the city’s Parks and Recreation board, while Edward always took it upon himself to maintain Vassar Park, right across the street from where they lived.

“He was like an extension of the park,” Scarpace said. “My dad would go there to pull weeds and pick up litter. If the swing were broken, he would fix it. He was there all of the time, and my mom could step outside and yell over to him if she needed him. And on Christmas, my family would have something called the Snow Bowl, where my brothers and dad would go over to the park to play football in the snow. And when my kids were born, my dad was even more vigilant to keep up the park, so they could go over there and have safe fun.”

Vassar Park has since been renamed Tuski Memorial Park in their honor. It’s been part of the healing process for Scarpace and her siblings.

“I always look for positive ways to honor my parents, my brother, my grandmother — to look at their contributions and their life. That’s how I’ve learned to maintain normalcy, by incorporating them however I can,” Scarpace said.

She gave examples such as baking their favorite cakes at her daughter’s wedding, or planting her mom’s favorite flowers.

“Some say you should forget and move on, but no. You learn to remember and incorporate those memories in a way that enhances your life. You take from the past to help with the present and give to the future.

“It’s a positive process, a journey,” she concluded. “It’s not like fast food, in and out, quick and easy. You reframe everything, and Tuski (Park) is a reframing.”

Scarpace described her dad as “a very quiet nurturer,” and her mom “an alpha nurturer,” saying they were “unconditional in their love.”

“Both of my parents instilled in us a sense of accountability to the community,” Scarpace said. “I see it in every one of my kids, and now the grandkids. My parents said, ‘You can’t complain if you don’t do anything about it.’ That lives on in us, through volunteerism in the community.”

Jack Boughton, a retired teacher from Hazel Park Public Schools, and his wife, Janet, knew the Tuskis. Now Clawson residents, they used to live in Hazel Park. Many of the Tuski children were on the track and field team Boughton coached.

“As a teacher and a coach, you come to really appreciate parents who become involved, not only because their own kids are there, but because they come to love all of the kids. It’s always great for young people to have a good example of what a strong nuclear family is like, since not every kid has that,” Boughton said. “They were the epitome of the American family — strong in their faith, strong in their community commitment. They were terrific friends, and they live on in the hearts of Hazel Parkers.”

Boughton noted how all of the surviving Tuski children grew up to give back to the community: Scarpace, in her social work; and her three brothers: a police officer, a mechanical engineer and the president of a college.

Now, the community is giving back to them. Scarpace feels incredibly moved by the changes taking place at Tuski Memorial Park.

“It’s jaw-dropping,” Scarpace said. “My dad would’ve been thrilled with what’s going on here. So would my mom. It rejuvenates the spirit.”