Celtic Classic’s gentle giant Paul Ferency dies at 63
Paul Ferency, a fierce-looking but affable strongman who could hurl iron balls and hammers higher and farther than just about anyone, died Thursday at St. Luke’s Hospital in Fountain Hill. He was 63.
Ferency of Easton died of complications from a Sept. 8 fall at home, the Lehigh County Coroner’s Office said. The death was ruled an accident.
A native of Wilson Borough, Ferency stood 6 feet, 5 inches and, in his prime, weighed 350 muscular pounds. He played football at Wilson Area High School and was an All-American shot-putter at East Stroudsburg University before going on to earn an international reputation as a world-class Scottish Games athlete.
Ferency was a three-time Highland Games champion at Celtic Classic in Bethlehem — he was key in getting the annual festival started — and finished among the top five contestants in international competitions in Scotland, Finland and Iceland. He also competed in more than 50 strongman competitions. Later, he coached and served as a weight-training supervisor for Lafayette College.
In a Lehigh Valley Marketplace magazine story in 2018 about his recovery from health problems that beset him after an infection, Ferency said he was “among the top 5% of people on earth when it comes to strength.”
During the Highland Games at Celtic Classic in 1990, he set a record, since broken, by tossing a 56-pound weight 17 feet, 7 inches in the air.
Afterward, he did a cartwheel. The big man’s size and strength were intimidating, but his personality was not.
“You would think he would rip your head off when you see him, but he was a great guy,” said John Detzi, who attended East Stroudsburg with Ferency and now runs Detzi’s Tavern in Wind Gap with his brothers, Joe and Jeff. “He was a very funny guy. He had a lot of dry humor and a hell of a vocabulary. When he would say things he would just throw in some of these words.”
The Detzi triplets were star players for the university’s football team. Once, a scout for the Seattle Seahawks came to check out Jeff Detzi. Ferency happened to be at the field.
“Paul was more or less telling this guy ‘I can lift the back end of a Toyota,’” John Detzi recalled. “The guy said ‘I don’t give a damn how many Toyotas you can lift if you can’t play football.’”
Detzi said Ferency also had a marvelous memory.
“I always said he had the mind of an elephant,” he said. “He sometimes wouldn’t even study until a day before the exam and he would retain all that information.”
He never stopped working out. Tim DeSchriver of Delaware — the son of East Stroudsburg’s longtime track and field coach, the late Dick DeSchriver — was 5 years old when Ferency arrived at the university.
“He was a huge man and he used to play with me all the time,” DeSchriver said. “He would put me on his shoulder and throw me like I was a 16-pound shot put ball.”
DeSchriver said Ferency didn’t play football because his knees weren’t very good. Most people considered that a loss, as Ferency towered over other players.
“[Football coach] Denny Douds would see him and shake his head and say ‘How is this guy not on my football team?’” DeSchriver said.
Ferency was an all-out competitor. He also loved to see his friends succeed. Bob Orazem of Staten Island, a retired New York City firefighter who ran track at East Stroudsburg, remembered edging a heavily favored Bloomsburg University runner at a 1978 meet.
“I won by about two inches,” Orazem said. “Paul picked me up and put me on his shoulders and did a victory lap with me. I was embarrassed but I had no choice. It was like I won an Olympic medal.”
Neville Gardner, who owns Donegal Square in Bethlehem and was one of the founders of the Celtic Classic in the late 1980s, said Ferency participated in early promotions and appeared on the first poster for the event, in 1988. He is pictured holding a caber — a heavy, long pole, essentially a tree trunk, thrown for distance.
Mark Will-Weber, a Bethlehem author who was a track and field teammate of Ferency’s at East Stroudsburg and coached alongside him at Freedom High School, called his friend a “Paul Bunyan-esque” figure who moved happily from throwing a shot put to throwing cabers in Celtic competitions.
“It was a great segue for him to go from track and field events to that,” Will-Weber said. “He used to like to throw weird objects around anyway.”
Ferency was accustomed to drawing stares because of his size, and had fun playing his fearsome appearance against his jovial personality.
“He was just a bigger-thanlife character, no pun intended,” Will-Weber said. “I remember him occasionally going up to a girl he liked in a bar and saying ‘Date me, small one.’”
Morning Call reporter Daniel Patrick Sheehan can be reached at 610-820-6598 or dshee[email protected]
A native of Wilson Borough, Paul Ferency stood 6 feet, 5 inches and, in his prime, weighed 350 muscular pounds. He played football at Wilson Area High School and was an All-American shot-putter at East Stroudsburg University before going on to earn an international reputation as a world-class Scottish Games athlete.