Login     

2019, Jan - Feb

Tribute to a mom: How Kathy Janiszewski and a '72 Volkswagen helped inspire a lifelong hobby 

By Tom Janiszewski

I’m not a parent, but one of the things I know that makes a good one is to introduce and expose kids to as many of the things that make life enjoyable. Whether it’s sports, cooking, cars or the arts, once the child shows an interest or talent in something, a great parent supports and encourages their son or daughter to enjoy whatever it may be to the fullest. 

At minimum, it might foster a lifelong hobby. At best, it could be the foundation of a successful career. My mom and dad, Kathy and Jim Janiszewski, introduced me to Volkswagens in the early ’70s by simply buying a used 1972 Squareback to replace their Ford Falcon. There was no conscious decision to expose me to VWs, but they did.

Even at the young age of 4 or 5, I knew that the Squareback was different from most other cars. It had a friendly “face,” sans a mean-looking grille, and it sparked an interest in VWs that only grew into a full-on flame after my mom took me to a screening of “Herbie Rides Again.” 

Mom was born and raised in Fillmore, Calif., and we drove from the Chicago suburbs to California twice in that Squareback with the sounds of John Denver coming over the single-speaker radio (Mom loved John Denver). Once there, we’d see my Uncle Albert’s yellow-over-apple green ’57 single-cab Transporter, which would later be the first Type 2 I ever drove as he let me take it for a spin around the Santa Paula airport. Uncle Albert, Mom’s older brother, was a factory-trained Volkswagen mechanic in the ’60s, and VWs ran rampant in Mom’s family. My grandparents also had a Squareback, and I was sharp enough to notice theirs was older with its slightly more rounded nose and a chrome strip running along the lower lip of the trunk lid.

Because of all of these VWs in the family, I’d seek out Matchbox VWs whenever Mom offered to buy me a Hot Wheels or Matchbox car. I was thrilled to find a silver split-window Matchbox camper in a small hobby shop in Santa Paula, one that looked a lot like Uncle Albert’s truck. Back home, Mom was patient and asked every time we went into the White Hen Pantry convenience store where a purple Matchbox Fastback was always in the display case but always sold out. Turns out that by then, that model was discontinued, but she’d ask every time for me.

Moving into the early 1980s, my interest in Volkswagens really took hold. Mom took me to the 1983 Chicago Auto Show, where I got to sit in Rabbit Convertibles, Vanagons and other new models. As I approached driving age, I was focused on buying an old Beetle as my first car. After seeing the Volkswagen Fox’s debut at the 1987 auto show, my dad suggested I buy VW’s new entry-level car instead. I’d make the down payment, he’d co-sign a loan, and I’d make the payments. Then, on the side, I could save again to buy an old Beetle. He, nor I, had any mechanical experience, and he pointed out that this way, I could take my time learning how to fix an old Beetle while relying on the new Fox to get to school and work. I bought the Fox, and just over a year later, I bought a ’65 Beetle. Both cars are in my garage today.

Between the time I ordered my Fox and its arrival six months later, I’d learned of a new Volkswagen club starting up in Rockford, Ill. — 80 miles from where we lived. Mom didn’t hesitate saying yes when I asked if she and Dad would drive up to Rockford with me to meet the rest of the folks who would become founding members of the Stateline Volks Folks (a local chapter of the VWCA).

In 1995, I added an orange ’74 Westfalia to my collection, and Mom lent her sewing talents by making new orange curtains for it. The ones in the Bus weren’t original, and they’d seen better days. When she was done, the bright orange ones made a huge difference in how the Bus looked. We added a custom touch to the interior with a pair of round bolster pillows she made using original Westy orange plaid fabric. I’d found an identical Bus at a junk yard and grabbed the upper bunk mattresses with pristine fabric. The front seats in my Bus were torn, so I was excited to have original fabric to use to give to the upholsterer. New seat piping was needed as well, and I made sure the upholsterer saved and returned to me the original orange plastic piping and all of the fabric scraps. Mom used the scrap fabric and segments of piping that hadn’t cracked to make pillows that look like they came with the Bus when new.

As I began my restoration of the ’65 Beetle, I decided to turn it into a faithful Herbie replica. I knew I wanted the graphics painted on the car, and I knew Volkswagen had a genuine Herbie on display at its Stiftung AutoMuseum in Wolfsburg. Mom and Dad were with me on a trip to Germany, and Mom brought her seamstress’ measuring tapes so we could calculate Herbie’s stripes and graphics and their placement. She held the tape while I took photos to record the measurements. Back home, she was incredibly tolerant of the borrowed spare hood in her living room as I was creating the templates that would go with the car to the paint shop.

My enthusiasm must have rubbed off onto my mom in the late ’90s, when New Beetle fever was sweeping the scene. She was at the dealer with me in 1997 as each of us put deposits down for one of the first batch. Mom’s arrived first, and they took delivery of the car on their 32nd wedding anniversary. Because I was willing to wait for the hard-to-find green model, mine was an early 1999.

By 2013, I’d racked up over 325,000 miles on my New Beetle, so I decided it was time to treat myself to a replacement. In July of that year, I took delivery of my Beetle Convertible TDI. As was the case with the New Beetle it was replacing and the ’88 Fox before it, Mom and Dad drove me to the dealership when it arrived. 

Dad later came around to VW when he grew tired of how large Chrysler’s minivans had become. He traded his third consecutive minivan in for a 2012 Jetta SportWagen, and he still talks about how well the Jetta handles. My mom never would get to drive the Jetta due to her health.

At about the time they bought the Jetta, my oldest nephew, Johann, really took an interest in Germany. Mom suggested that he ask me if, when I went to Germany next, he could come along. I was thrilled. He saved for his own airfare, hotel and food to join my better half Joe and I as we traveled to Germany in June of 2017 to attend the vintage VW show in Hessisch-Oldendorf. A visit to Wolfsburg would follow, then we’d take a train to Munich once the car stuff was over.

A week before we were to leave for the trip, Mom wound up in the hospital due to internal bleeding that the doctors quickly fixed. Doctors had found a couple small tumors in her abdomen a few months before that they had been treating, and one of the tumors had ruptured. The surgeon advised that it’d take some time for her body to absorb the lost blood, so they wanted to keep her in the hospital. Mom insisted we take our trip as planned, so the three of us headed to Europe as she would have been upset if we didn’t.

A week into the trip, I awoke to my phone ringing at 5 a.m. on a Monday in our hotel, steps away from Wolfsburg Castle. Mom had died. She was 72. 

We had been trying to get home since the day before when we heard her condition was worsening. British Airways’ customer service center was closed on Sundays, and they didn’t have service out of Hannover (the closest airport), so we wound up in Wolfsburg as we had originally planned, with the intent to call the airline Monday.

We were eventually booked on a Tuesday flight out of Hamburg. It was only Monday, and I needed distractions to get through the day, so we decided to see the sights and tour the VW plant as planned. As I walked through the same museum where Mom and I had measured Herbie’s stripes and numbers years before, it occurred to me that it was so typical of my mom to ensure I was where I was happiest if I couldn’t be with her in her final minutes; I was in Wolfsburg surrounded by friends who had also flown in from the U.S. for the Hessisch-Oldendorf show.

It’s been over a year since Mom died, but her involvement in this hobby of mine persists. Those orange Bus curtains she made 23 years ago are faded, and a couple small holes have appeared. They’ll never be replaced. It took a while, but I’ve reached a point where I can smile a little as I close them while camping on a warm summer night, thinking about how Mom supported me in this wonderful hobby. She was the best, and I miss her terribly. VWCA

Tom Janiszewski | volkstom@sbcglobal.net

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:

  • NEW ERA:  Technical advances and a dedicated staff help keep the Autoist running smoothly.
  • BIG BANG THEORY: What’s the 2018 Passat GT got to do with a long-running TV series?
  • TYPE 3 HEADACHE: What went wrong with a Squareback owned for 40 years? It’s a long story.

PLUS OUR REGULAR COLUMNS AND FEATURES:

  • Frontdriver – Richard G. Van Treuren
  • Small Talk - VW and Audi news - quickly
  • Retro Autoist - From the archives
  • Parting Shot - Photo feature
  • Local Volks Scene - A snapshot of local chapter activities
  • VW Toon-ups - Cartoon feature by Tom Janiszewski

LOGGED-IN MEMBERS CAN SEE THE ENTIRE AUTOIST ISSUE BY CLICKING ON THE COVER PHOTO ABOVE.

 

 

Autoist Archive

May-Jun | 2019
From beater Bus to dragstrip demon

The Goblin Works Garage team, part of a UK-based collective that rebuilds vehicles as part of a cable TV series, takes on a 1969 VW Bus.

 

Mar-Apr | 2019
Anniversary Theme

February’s Chicago Auto Show paid tribute to the anniversaries of four venerable marques, including VW’s Jetta GLI.

 

Jan-Feb | 2019
Tribute to a mom: How Kathy Janiszewski and a '72 Volkswagen helped inspire a lifelong hobby

From this VW Bus, Kathy Janiszewski emerges with her wedding party in July 1966. She inspired her son, Tom, to follow a passion for VWs.

 

Nov-Dec | 2018
Commemorative Issue

In commemoration of its milestone 500th issue as publication of the VWCA, the Autoist gets a facelift for the first time in a decade.

 

Sep-Oct | 2018
2019 Jetta: New, Larger Economy Size

Some things come in small packages, and the seventh generation of VW's popular Jetta sedan delivers.

 

Jul-Aug | 2018
What's in your garage?

Amid the chaos, a home to vehicular gems and memories.

 

May-Jun | 2018
GTI AUTOBAHN: VW's latest version is a shopping cart full of enjoyment

Pack 220-hp and 258 ft.-lb of turbo kick under this hot hatch's hood and you've got a grocery-getter with options.

 

Mar-May | 2018
ARTEON: VW introduces its stylish replacement for the CC model.

Volkswagen’s attention to detail is notable in its new Arteon sedan, which made its debut at the Chicago Auto Show.

 

Jan-Feb | 2018
ONCE A PRINCE, NOW A KING?

Volkswagen has upped the ante by inflating the 2018 Tiguan to almost mid-size capacity. Is it fit for a king?

 

Nov-Dec | 2017
FLAMING GOOD TIME

Hundreds of VWs of every stripe gathered at Foster Park in Kokomo, Ind. for the annual Oktoberfest.

 

Sep-Oct | 2017
62nd VWCA Convention Wrap-up

Members gathered at the throw-back Cascade Drive-in Theater for "Cars 3," part of the VWCA Convention

 

Jul-Aug | 2017
Back To The Future Car

Cliff Leppke's 1983 Scirocco has notched its share of more than 333,000 miles in trips to Road America in Wisconsin. The latest covered about 3,000 miles during a whirlwind vacation excursion.

 

May-Jun | 2017
Swingin' time is in store for members, guests at 62nd annual Club gathering

Augustino's will get members rocking while the NIVA Club will roll out another lineup of VWs at its annual BugFest, part of the VWCA Convention in St. Charles, Ill.

 

Mar-Apr | 2017
Will VW See The Light?

VW once again evokes the memory of the beloved Microbus with its new concept called I.D. Buzz, which created quite a stir at the annual auto show in Detroit. (Photos by Tom Janiszewski)

 

Jan-Feb | 2017
Costly Mistake?

Joe Mayer says he's not out to punish VW over its diesel scandal - he just wanted to make some extra money on a car he thought would be junked. (Photos by Joe Mayer via jalopnik.com.)

 

Nov-Dec | 2016
WATTS OF FUN . . . . . . Meet the new e-Golf

Here's the car that, when you give it a charge, you'll get one back. In VW's first important pivot from its diesel scandal, the e-Golf provides an opening salvo in the carmaker's goal to electrify its fleet.

 

Sep-Oct | 2016
61st Annual Convention

What's an anniversary without a cake? This one didn't go far or last long as Club members enjoyed a variety of activities, including a Sunday car show and picnic, part of the 61st Annual Convention.

 

Jul-Aug | 2016
It's Time To Show Off

A couple of Karmann Ghias are resplendent at the Michigan Vintage VW Club's Festival in Ypsilanti, Mich.  The club held its 29th event in May, while Mid America Motorworks in Effingham, Ill., saluted the air-cooled crowd with a big show in June.

 

May-Jun | 2016
Windfall for TDI owners?

The scam was on as early as 2008, when this Candy White Jetta TDI Clean Diesel model, embellished with green plant matter, was rolled out.  In case anyone had a doubt, VW added the wording "Not a concept car."

 

Mar-Apr | 2016
Lost In Translation

VW CEO Mattias Mueller was in the hot glare of media lights at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, providing the company's latest response to the diesel emissions scandal.

 

Jan-Feb | 2016
VW's Game Plan

VW remains embroiled in a high-stakes game involving government agencies  and hundreds of thousands of owners of diesel models. The company's car on the road of Life has taken a big detour.

 

Nov-Dec | 2015
Engine with a split personality puts VW on the hot seat

The news in September was beyond belief for many VW and TDI enthusiasts: Volkswagen executives admitted that the company intentionally produced cars that violated clean-air laws.

 

Sep-Oct | 2015
Big bites of fun at the 60th VWCA Convention

Doug Narczewshi from Spring Valley, IL, looks over an assortment of water-cooled VWs on display at NIVA's Bug Fest event, part of the 60th VWCA Convention in suburban Chicago.

 

Jul-Aug | 2015
1969 Beetle gets a second chance to adorn the silver screen

Crew members working on the film "The Good Blonde" prepare for a shot on the California coast involving a 1969 Beetle owned by VWCA member and correspondent Lois Grace.

 

May-Jun | 2015
My Mom, the Daredevil

Around 1960, Cliff Leppke had no idea what was in store for him while being ferried about by his mother. Needless to say, his head was up and his eyes were open.

 

Mar-Apr | 2015
It's Show Time!

The Northeast Illinois Volkswagen Association has an activity-packed weekend planned for the 60th VWCA Convention in suburban Chicago.

 

Jan-Feb | 2015
Diesel Memories

Jack Pavie of suburban Philadelphia had to wait several months to get his 1975 Rabbit diesel, one of three models he enjoyed in the '70s and '80s.

 

Nov-Dec | 2014
Golf Lessons: Three new models charge up hatchback lineup

The scene at the Salamander Resort in Middleburg, Va., where Cliff Leppke and other media members ran the 2015 Volkswagens through their paces.

 

Sep-Oct | 2014
Having fun with miles per gallon

A morning commute for a 2012 Golf TDI has become a test on how high the fuel mileage will end up. It hit a high mark in July.

 

Jul-Aug | 2014
2014 VWCA Convention: Wagons, wagens and more - where the buffalo roam

In the VWCA's 59 years of Conventions, the setting in Hudson, Mich. was unique. Just ask VWCA's Tom Janiszewski, the guy driving the orange 1974 Camper.

 

May-Jun | 2014
New Beetle milestone: Though this 1999 model has shown it's flaws over 15 years and 90,000 miles, it's been a blast to drive

May 25 marks the 15th anniversary of my family's New Beetle ownership experience. It was on that day in 1999 that we took delivery of a brand new red GLS model from Kempthorn Volkswagen in Canton, Ohio.

 

Mar-Apr | 2014
Dune buggy with a twist at the Detroit Auto Show

There's a saying that everything old is new again, and since the New Beetle's production debut in 1998, that has been the car's underlying theme.

 

Jan-Feb | 2014
Back At The Ranch

At northern California getaway, Vernon and his family found plenty of ways to enjoy life