Rick Paraschak, right, with his son, Ephrem. Photo courtesy of the Paraschak family

One of Rick Paraschak’s favorite topics of conversation over the last several months was the pending arrival of his first grandchild in May.

Sadly, he won’t get to meet him.

Paraschak, 66, died Sunday of complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. He is among Maine’s first victims and the first to be identified publicly.

Rick Paraschak. Photo by Wesley Maggs/Boro Photography, LLC

“Losing a family member in any situation is a horrible experience,” Paraschak’s son Ephrem Paraschak said in an email to the Press Herald. “However, the complications caused by the virus , which does not allow you to see your loved one in person, or your other family members who are grieving – is by itself an incredibly unnerving situation.”

Paraschak was a longtime Maine Department of Transportation employee and a 25-year member of the fire department in Naples, where he lived most of his adult life and raised his two children, 35-year-old Ephrem and 33-year-old Esther.

Ephrem said his father had no underlying health conditions, but his symptoms grew from mild to serious within a day and he ended up in the intensive care unit at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

“One of his final acts of helping protect his family was staying in his home as soon as he came down with symptoms … (so) as not to expose anyone,” his son said.

Paraschak grew up in Williamstown, New Jersey, which was a farming community then but has since grown into an extended suburb of Philadelphia.

As a young man, he worked as a heavy equipment operator and got a job in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he met his ex-wife, Adele Joy Jones.

After their children were born, the couple moved to Maine in 1987 to be closer to her family in Falmouth. They settled in Naples.

His children share the same birthday two years apart, which “always brought my father amusement and joy,” Ephrem said. He would joke that he could save money on birthday parties.

When his children were young, Paraschak always volunteered to coach their sports teams or lead scout troops and didn’t miss an event. When Esther was a cheerleader, he traveled to watch her perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York and at a national competition in Florida.

“After thinking about memories for a bit, I think one of the most memorable traits of my father (other than being one of the most caring and supportive fathers I can imagine) was that he was incredibly driven,” Ephrem said. “But more importantly, (he) wanted to help other people achieve their potential. From mentoring young firefighters to helping friends and the community with projects, he was always looking to help people bring out the best in themselves.”

Rick Paraschak

 

Both children stayed in Maine as adults. Ephrem is the town manager in Gorham. Esther is a resource and financial analyst with Poland Spring and Nestle Waters North America.

Paraschak had been a Maine DOT employee since 2000 and most recently was a utility coordinator on construction projects.

“Rick touched many lives as a reliable team member throughout MaineDOT and as a respected liaison with many utility companies and contractors,” Commissioner Bruce Van Note said in a statement. “He was a consummate professional who did his part making Maine a better place for the traveling public. We will miss our friend’s wonderful smile and laugh.”

In addition to his DOT job, he also managed a successful excavation business, Earth Solutions.

“My father was also known for his skill in being able to utilize proficiently any type of construction/emergency vehicle or heavy equipment, so much so that he would also train young firefighters in emergency vehicle operation and safety,” Ephrem said. “A running joke within the family was that my father’s skill stopped as soon as he left land and went over the water.”

He crashed his boat into the dock more times than the family could remember.

Paraschak found time for service, too. In addition to joining the Naples volunteer fire department, Paraschak served over the years on the Evergreen Credit Union Board of Directors, the SAD 61 School Board, the Naples Board of Selectmen and the Naples Planning Board. He was remembered for his even-tempered approach.

Robert Fogg, who also served on the planning board, said Paraschak’s death was a shock.

“We’ve been friends and neighbors for 30 years, and more recently co-members of the planning board,” Fogg said. “Always the voice of reason. Smart. Honest. Highly respected. There’s a huge void in our community that won’t go away anytime soon. People like (him) are supposed to fade away slowly.”

Rich Cebra, a lawmaker from Naples, posted on Facebook that Paraschak was “one of the most decent and dedicated residents of our community. He had a true heart of service for his neighbors, the people of Naples.”

Paraschak and his wife had been divorced for decades, and he also leaves behind a longtime partner of almost 20 years, Marian Rabe of Bridgton. Ephrem said she is “obviously devastated” but is in good health.

The family doesn’t know where or when Paraschak contracted the coronavirus, although he attended a trade show in Las Vegas in March. He returned shortly after his 66th birthday on March 12.

One of the ways he celebrated was taking a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. He posted a picture on his Facebook page and called the experience “amazing.”

Ephrem said his father developed symptoms not long after returning to Maine. Less than a week later, he tested positive. The symptoms were manageable for several days but then deteriorated, his son said.

Because of the circumstances, the family was not allowed to visit him in his final days.

“We cannot thank the staff of the Central Maine Medical Center ICU enough who made every effort to update us remotely and allow us to see our father on an iPad during his final days,” Ephrem said. “They are facing an uphill battle and deserve more credit than can be given.”

His family is still in shock that Paraschak won’t get to continue traveling with Marian or get to hold his grandson next month.

Ephrem said his advice to any Maine family when it comes to the coronavirus is to heed the recommendations of experts to stop its spread.

“I would also ask that everyone please support our medical professionals, from our first responders to healthcare workers wherever possible,” he said. “As a twenty-five year veteran of the Naples Fire Department, my father would be of the same opinion that these individuals face a daunting challenge with limited resources.”

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