Local businessman John Prozeralik, founder of the former John's Flaming Hearth restaurant, died Sunday, Aug. 24, at Mount St. Mary's Hospital and Health Center.
Prozeralik, 90, donated his body to the University at Buffalo. The family is currently making plans for a memorial service.
Although Prozeralik was involved in many other local businesses, he was best known in the Town of Niagara for the restaurant bearing his name on Military Road.
"There a lot of people that have good feelings and good memories of the business and also John. He was a very hard-working man," said Dorothy Rolling, town historian.
The town lost a landmark when the restaurant, known for its steaks, was closed and torn down, she said. It used to attract everyone from international dignitaries and celebrities to company picnics, she said, noting the current chain steakhouse planned for the site doesn't compare.
"It's a shame," she added. "You could talk to anyone in the area and they'd know about it (John's)."
Born in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, Aug. 17, 1924, Prozeralik began working in the eighth grade to support his mother and nine brothers and sisters after his father died in a coal mining accident.
Family was always important to him. When he purchased the former Swiezy's Grove on Military Road in 1954, his sisters and brothers came from Pennsylvania to help him make his restaurant a success. It was his sister, Ann Driscoll, who started to make the popular pumpkin ice cream pies. She also made the restaurant's demi-loaf homemade bread.
His sister, Mary Koplun, helped run the kitchen. Brother Nicholas Prozeralik, signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as a pitcher, tore his rotator cuff and ended up running John's Flaming Hearth until it closed in early 2006.
John Prozeralik received one of the first Small Business Administration loans in 1965 to expand John's Flaming Hearth to 450 seats. His staff grew from five in 1962 to 112 in 1966. The restaurant featured its own bakery, butcher shop and laundry for its linen tablecloths and napkins.
Prozeralik was a standout baseball player as a teen and played semi-pro ball in the Wyoming Valley League. He was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as a catcher, but with the start of World War II, he enlisted in the Army. Wounded in the South Pacific, he received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
He came to Niagara Falls as a catcher with the Niagara Falls team in the Middle Atlantic League. Prozeralik worked at DuPont as a bricklayer, played on the plant's team, and later worked in construction.
In addition to John's Flaming Hearth, Prozeralik started other businesses in the area, including Frontier Beef, Compass Leasing, RKR Dial-A-Phone, Hotel Niagara, Quality Inn, Bison Electric, McCabe Electric, five Stuckey Restaurants, John's Flaming Hearth of Lackawanna, SkateHaven Skating Rink of Lackawanna, John's Flaming Hearth of Batavia, United Office Building, Meadow Drive Apartments, Hardings Restaurant, Air Niagara Airlines and Northland Holdings of Florida (Real Estate Management).
Survivors include brothers, Nicholas (Lucille) and Fred (late Elizabeth) Prozeralik; and sisters, Mary (late Peter) Koplun and Eva (late Nicholas) Shalayda. He was predeceased by his brother, Michael (late Stella) Prozeralik; and sisters, Ann (late James) Driscoll, Helen (late George) Murray, Betty (late Walter) Kusk and Pauline (Peter) Slota. John also is survived by several nieces and nephews.