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Lightning on skis 'Fuzzy' Martinkovic, 89, has had a fast-paced life

  • AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS 89-year-old John "Fuzzy" Martinkovic of Penn Forest Township was always athletic. While working as a miner, he fought in the Golden Gloves. Later, he learned to ski in Vermont and then returned to the area to…
    AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS 89-year-old John "Fuzzy" Martinkovic of Penn Forest Township was always athletic. While working as a miner, he fought in the Golden Gloves. Later, he learned to ski in Vermont and then returned to the area to become a ski instructor. Note the horn on his right ski pole. During his years as a Poconos ski instructor, he'd honk the horn on his ski pole to call his students to their lessons.
Published December 19. 2009 09:00AM

What's Fuzzy and has a horn on his ski pole? That can only be former ski instructor, 89-year-old John "Fuzzy" Martinkovic of Penn Forest Township. During his years as a Poconos ski instructor, he'd honk the horn on his ski pole to call his students to their lessons.

Fuzzy gained his informal moniker as a young boy. His father died when he was two years old and his mother could only speak Slavic. After seeing a Tom Mix movie with some friends, he had trouble trying to describe the bad guys saying, "They had fuzzy fuzz under their nose."

"That's a mustache, Fuzzy," they told him and the name stuck.

Although he loves to ski, you won't catch him on the slopes when the weather is threatening. He's been hit by lightning once and he's not going to let that happen a second time.

On the morning of July 3, 1965, as his wife, June, sat in a hammock and her mother sat on a bench between two trees, Fuzzy was building a stone fireplace outside their newly build chalet house-the first house in the newly created Bear Creek Lakes development.

"By the time I was nearly finished, I felt a few drops of rain," Fuzzy said.

As he went to get a saw from his truck, he touched the door handle as "all hell broke loose."

"I heard great noises, saw gigantic wheels going round and round, and then like the sound of a champagne cork 'pop,' all was quiet," he said.

With the aid of the two women, Fuzzy crawled to the house.

"June took off my shoes. My socks had holes in them as though made by a lighted cigar. The bottoms of my feet were burned like crisp bacon," he recalled.

The lightning had split a tree, then hit the truck and rolled across June's mother's feet, singeing them. Then it hit their German shepherd, throwing him into the air, and finally knocking out their well pump on the way to ground.

Fuzzy had holes in his feet where his flesh was burned, and in his socks, probably where there were nails in his shoes, that provided a concentrated conduction path. It's been over 40 years, and still the feisty senior refuses to go outdoors when a storm is impending.

There's one other thing that scared Fuzzy. In 1940, he joined the merchant marine, serving on the oil tanker E.J. Henry. He was on his third trip, traveling to Port Arthur, Texas to fill its hold with oil, just a short while after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

"The Henry was going to pick up millions of gallons of oil," Fuzzy said. "We were told, 'No smoking on the ship because of fumes.'"

"I was lookout on the bow," he said, " and I see a submarine."

After the few moments of dealing with the realization that he was on the equivalent of a powder keg that was within moments of being attacked, the sub identified itself as American. When the Henry docked, Fuzzy resigned and decided on a safer job.

He enlisted in the Army.

Having grown up in Lansford and worked in the mines, he was assigned to the Engineering Corps. He was promoted to sergeant and helped build pontoon bridges for Patton's Third Army. He served in France, Germany, Luxembourg, England and the Philippines.

Fuzzy was always athletic. While working in the number 11 mine, he fought in the Golden Gloves. In 1957, he learned to ski in Stowe, Vermont. He returned to northeastern Pennsylvania to become a ski instructor and to run the Buck Hill Falls Ski School.

He apprenticed as a carpenter, and with June, built their chalet home. June died 10 years ago.

As a child, Fuzzy was often alone because he didn't speak English. He was routinely truant from school after seventh grade. One day, he hopped a coal train bound for the Hauto Tunnel.

Because he was small, he had to step on whatever he could to get down. What he stepped on was the coupling lever.

"When I stepped down, I uncoupled the train in the tunnel and the train continued without the cars," Fuzzy said. "I jumped off and ran like hell."

Now that he's gotten older, there's just about no one left and he's pretty much alone again, except his English is a whole lot better.

He still enjoys the outdoors and skis whenever he can-as long as there is no change of lightening.

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