Cultivating a family and lifetime together: Hatfield greenhouse owners depart life as one

  • Frank and Linda Skawski CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Dianne Skawski-Pride and Frank Skawski talk about running the farm in Hatfield since their parents, Linda and Frank Skawski Jr., died. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dianne Skawski-Pride, Frank Skawski and Vanessa Skawski talk about running the farm in Hatfield since Linda and Frank Skawski Jr. died. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Vanessa Skawski waters newly planted flowers at Skawski Farms in Hatfield which was started by her grandparents, Linda and Frank Skawski Jr., who recently died. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Back left, Victoria Smiarowski, an employee, Vanessa Skawski, Michael Skawski, Dianne Skawski-Pride, and Frank Skawski talk about where to put trays of newly planted flowers and plants at Skawski Farms in Hatfield. The family farm was started by Linda Skawski and Frank J. Skawski Jr., who both recently died. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/16/2022 9:10:14 PM
Modified: 1/16/2022 9:09:09 PM

HATFIELD — By most familial accounts, Frank J. Skawski, Jr. and Linda Skawski were always together. 

The couple founded and co-ran their Hatfield business, Skawski Farms, that has thrived for more than four decades. Season after season, Linda could be seen helping a customer at the register while Frank Jr. would blast polka music beside his seeding bench in the greenhouse. In October, they celebrated 60 years of marriage. And earlier this month, the couple that was always together left this world together on the same day. 

“The fact that they died on the same day was like they cheated the ‘till death do you’ part,” said the couple’s eldest son, Frank A. Skawski. “They both went together.” 

Frank J. Skawski Jr., who was born on May 10, 1939 in South Deerfield, and Linda Skawski, who was born on Sept. 22, 1943 in Whately, both died on Jan. 4, just six hours apart. 

The couple’s daughter Dianne Skawski-Pride said that on behalf of the family, they didn’t want to provide public details surrounding her parents’ deaths. After Frank had notified his father of Linda’s death, Dianne said that she and other members of the family were trying to coordinate her obituary and then hours later, the family had to process the grief of losing Frank Jr. as well. 

“It was a lot happening over a short amount of time,” Frank Skawski said. “And we didn’t have either one of them to ask about things.”

Dianne and Frank said that the impact their parents have had on them and the greater community has been vast. Since announcing the couple’s deaths, the family has been showered with an outpouring of love and support through social media, phone calls and voice messages and a basketful of letters and cards. 

Before establishing their business, Frank Jr. and Linda were married on Oct. 7, 1961. Frank Jr. then served in the U.S. Army for two years before going to work at Center Millwork in Northampton as a finish carpenter. Linda became a mother and later went to work at Bradlees in Northampton. The couple have a total of five children, including Frank, Dianne, Cathleen Reed, Joseph Skawski and Michael Skawski. Although the Skawskis originally settled in Easthampton, they moved the family to Hatfield in 1978. 

After Center Millwork closed, Frank Jr. went to work at the University of Massachusetts. Around 1979, Frank Jr. and Linda opened Skawski Farms with one small greenhouse and a roadside stand. In the early years, the family-run business grew cucumbers and cabbage before focusing on greenhouses with the help of Frank, who serves as a full-time employee and manager of the business with his brother Michael. Over the last four decades, the business has expanded to more than one acre of greenhouses.

Although Skawski Farms serves customers seasonally with hours open from April through July 1 as well as from the day after Thanksgiving into December, work is year-round for the family. Once the season is finished, three weeks later, the staff at Skawski Farms is planting next year’s crops, said Frank. 

“This is a business that takes a lot of commitment. Every day you gotta be here, no matter what day of the week,” said Dianne. “Everyone in the family understands that. Someone is always here taking care of stuff. It’s pretty fluid.” 

Growing together

Sixty years of marriage is a long time, but for Frank Jr. and Linda, it wasn’t a milestone they bragged about. According to the couple’s children, their anniversary was something they celebrated quietly and privately. 

“They’d go out to dinner together. It was a quiet day,” said Dianne. “It was the same with their 50th anniversary. That’s all they wanted.”

Time with their family was important to the couple. Each month, they’d gather with their children and grandchildren for birthdays, family milestones and holidays. Outside of the farm, deep sea fishing trips were also a way to keep in touch. Linda, who was known just about everywhere she went, also was known for her cooking and made a batch of galumpkis for every occasion. Frank Jr. also always had a camera in tote, capturing and chronicling every moment. 

Back on the farm, the love of growing has sprouted throughout generations of Skawskis. 

“I’ve been here every single day,” said Frank, glancing around the farm one day last week. “I’ve spent every day for the last 40 years with my parents. My father had to be one of my best friends in the world.” 

Whenever help is needed, family members make themselves available and a plan is made as a family, said Dianne. 

In recent years, Frank Jr. and Linda had been less active with the business as other family members slowly took over the responsibilities of the greenhouses. Prior to his passing, Frank Jr. had also bought a new tractor to help bring his 21-year-old granddaughter, Vanessa Skawski’s ideas to fruition, including planting chrysanthemums, pumpkins and Indian corn. 

“We already knew my father set up things for Vanessa and we want to see her succeed,” said Dianne, who started a farm of her own with her husband Jeffrey Pride and son, Hunter Skawski-Pride in central Maine.  

The family atmosphere is something the Skawski children will continue to sow. For the last 10 years, Frank’s partner, Laurie Sinon has been helping out at the register. Grandchildren, including Hunter Skawski-Pride, Robert Reed, Madeline Skawski and Nina Skawski, also pitch in when they can. As the family forges on, the growing business will continue to strengthen the Skawski family bonds. 

“This (farm) is the tie that holds everything together,” said Michael.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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