Celtic Clas­sic’s gen­tle gi­ant Paul Ferency dies at 63

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Daniel Pa­trick Shee­han

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]

MORN­ING CALL FILE PHOTO

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.

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