June 27th, 2015 1:28 am

First Posted: 5/22/2013

Mornings at West Side Auto provide much more than the opportunity for area residents to fill their cars with fuel.

They provide owner Ron Gitkos with the chance to help folks start their day on a positive note.

“Ron is such a beautiful person,” said Isabel Parry, stopping by early on a recent morning. “He has a wonderful smile and a great attitude.”

It’s a sentiment expressed by many. So much so that West Side Auto, located in the geographic center or heart of West Pittston, can be considered the “heart” of the town in a variety of ways.

Gitkos embodies the sense of community and of “giving back.” He believes area residents have given him the opportunity to succeed since the business opened in 1973 when he was just out of the service, and in the same spirit he gives back to those who support him.

As the commander of the DePrimo American Legion Post, Gitkos is the driving force behind the Memorial Day parade held in honor of Lieutenant Jeffrey DePrimo, killed in Afghanistan in service to his country. Gitkos is DePrimo’s uncle.

He also sponsors “Vettes for Vets,” an annual event which raises funds for area veterans and provides Corvette afficionados the opportunity to show off their vehicles. As a Corvette owner himself, Gitkos, who is also a licensed airplane pilot and plane owner, especially enjoys the time with other owners.

“It’s really just a chance for neighbors to come together and to enjoy each catching up,” he said.

Rosemary Gitkos, Ron’s wife, is especially proud of the outreach provided by the service station and by her family.

“We are especially proud of the annual scholarship we provide to a senior at Wyoming Area,” she said.

Rosemary also recalls many young people who were employed part-time there throughout high school, many who went on to become doctors and lawyers, many serving the community.

Gitkos’ daughter, Keriann, recalls the assistance to the community the station provided during the flooding of 2011. Many needed water, food or the use of the bathroom. Many also needed a word of hope and encouragement - the Gitkos family provided all of that.

Pat Sammon and granddaughter, Lilly, who live nearby and are regular visitors at the station, value that sense of family. Lilly is especially fond of employee Camille O’Keefe, calling the kiosk from which she pumps gas “Camille’s little house” and looks forward to her daily visits.

“Ron is one of the true unsung heroes in our midst,” Pat Sammon said. “His service station probably is the center point of our town but only because of Ron and his generous community spirit. He hosts school groups’ fundraising car washes, has an annual car show for the veterans, aptly named ‘Vettes for Vets.’

“Ron organizes the annual Memorial Day parade and also finds time to teach religious education at Immaculate Conception Church. And he keeps the legacy and bravery of his nephew, Lt. Jeffrey DePrimo, who was killed in action in Afganistan.

Sammon continued, “But his finest hour was during the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee, back in September of ’11. Ron and his wife, Rosie, kept the station open around the clock for weeks and provided free food and water, clean bathrooms and telephone service for flood victims and those helping out.

“His station became the fueling station and command post for the National Guard, Red Cross and Salvation Army. Ron was at his station almost continuously, certainly for the first few days. When his parish, Immaculate Conception Church, began preparing cooked dinners for flood victims and helpers, good old Ron and Rosie made house calls to deliver food to those who couldn’t make it to the church.”

The Gitkos family treasures past memories while looking to the future. Keriann and her fiancé, Kaz Vermac, both work at the service center and don’t see that changing.

As yet another customer arrives to “fill up,” Keriann smiled and said, “That’s Denise. She’s making the cookies for my bridal shower.”

That is the sense of community and family that keeps customers coming back smiling.