Measure twice, cut once
by Mike Roknick
Joseph D. (Don) Sebastian, 76, of 377 Cohassett Drive, Hermitage, died on March 30, 1979, in his home after being ill for several months.
Mr. Sebastian was born in Dunbar, Pa., on July 31, 1902, to the late Daniel and Maria Pucciuto Sebastian. He married the former Sunda Bonasera on Sept. 3, 1927.
An avid musician and accordion player, he owned and operated Sebastian Music Store in Hermitage which was originally located in downtown Sharon.
Mr. Sebastian served for 36 years with the U.S. Postal Service, both as a postman and postal clerk. He worked five years with the postal service in Pittsburgh and spent the remaining 31 years at the Sharon office where he retired in 1958. While with the postal service Mr. Sebastian was a charter member of one of the first credit unions in the area, the Mercer County U.S. Employees Federal Credit Union, which was founded in 1935.
Mr. Sebastian was a member of the Senior Citizens Bowling League of the Shenango Valley and treasurer of the Wednesday Senior Citizens Bowling League at Thorton Hall, Sharon. He also helped to organize the local Order of the Sons of Italy in America No. 875. He was a member of that organization and also was a third degree member of the Knights of Columbus No. 684, Sharon.
Mr. Sebastian is remembered fondly by his family.
“My father was a great accordion player,” said his son Don. “He never had an accordion until he was 17. By the time he was in his early 20s he was teaching others how to play. He continued to teach a few years before he passed away.”
He also recalled that his father created an all-accordion band and dance bands. He wrote music continuously. Among his favorite songs that he wrote were the “The Farrell Polka” and “Wintertime Waltz.” He made records of these and other songs.
“He got me started in playing and teaching music and that’s how I got myself through college,’’ Don said.
While his formal name was Joseph, fellow workers at the post office knew Mr. Sebastian as J. Don, and those in the music world knew him as Don.
As Mr. Sebastian’s music career grew, he bought a top-of-the-line accordion in the early 1940s that listed for $1,000 – an enormous sum at the time. He promoted himself as “Don Sebastian and his $1,000 accordion,” Don said.
Don recalled the time when his father bought a new car for the family in 1948. Cars were scarce at the time because car production ceased during World War II. But instead of using the car himself Mr. Sebastian turned the keys over to the rest of his family.
“Many times he walked to work while I drove to school,” Don said.
His other son, Joseph Jr., recalls that music was the love of Mr. Sebastian’s life.
“That wasn’t his vocation, it was his avocation,” Joseph said. “He told me one time, ‘Without music there’s nothing.'”
During the Great Depression one of Mr. Sebastian’s students wanted to buy an accordion, Joseph said. But the student couldn’t afford the accordion.
“My father just told him to pay him off when he could,” Joseph said.
His love of music was so overpowering that he retired from the postal service at age 55 so he could devote all of his time to music. A number of times Mr. Sebastian added players to his band to make it sound better even though by doing that it cost him extra money.
Mr. Sebastian and George Tomko, a supervisor at the Sharon post office, would travel throughout the area playing music. Tomko was known for his voice. Both of the men also could be heard on local radio stations.
“He had a radio show on WPIC in Sharon on Sunday afternoon,” said Joseph. “I usually made a recording of it so he could scrutinize it later.
He went on to teach many students who became professional accordion players. Joseph also remembers that his father’s band played at the Blue Sky Inn in Greenville for several years.
“They had quite a following of people who loved Polkas,” Joseph said.
“I don’t remember him missing a day of work,” Don said. “He was very generous and would do anything for his family.”
Mr. Sebastian had a famous saying when it came to doing things. “I always remember Dad saying, ‘Measure twice and cut once,’ ” son Joseph recalls.