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Father And Son Embrace Lessons, Tradition At Midvalley Jeweler

June 17, 2018 GMT

Just as his father Steve Pronko passed down tips for handling gems along with pearls of wisdom, Dave Pronko shared trade secrets and life lessons with his own son, Nick, when he inherited the family jewelry business.

They pay tribute to their predecessor with the Dickson City store’s name, Steve Pronko Diamonds. But they also honor the first-generation founder in other, more subtle respects.

There’s the work bench hidden from the sales floor that dates back decades and shows well-worn signs of countless hours of laborious detail work. They maintain a commitment to offering timeless engagement rings, because they’ve learned proposals never go out of style. And they continue the dogged ritual of figuring out the minute mechanisms of fine jewelry through trial and error.

Each successive son has sought to innovate and elevate the business, putting his father’s insights and experiences into practice behind the counter — and in their relationships with each other.

It all started with Steve Pronko, one of nine children born to a coal miner and homemaker, whose family didn’t expect him to amount to much because of physical handicaps.

“His one leg was five inches shorter than the other, and he was hard-of-hearing,” Dave Pronko said of his father. “But he was a very interesting man, very mechanical. And in spite of his handicaps, or maybe because of them, his ability came out.”

Steve Pronko began as a watchmaker around 1928, operating out of the back of his brother’s pharmacy in Peckville. Eventually, he saved enough money for his own business space, and he supplemented his income during the Great Depression by also selling more practical electronics and appliances.

After World War II ended in 1945, demand for engagement rings and wedding bands boomed, and so Steve Pronko could return his focus to fine jewelry. His business moved around the Midvalley through the years, with another location in Olyphant before finding its permanent home in Dickson City.

Dave Pronko, now 70, was one of four children who helped their father in his shop in different ways while growing up. But when his two older brothers went on to earn doctorates and pursue other careers away from home, Dave Pronko stayed close to his dad. He learned hunting and fishing as well as jewelry repair when he wasn’t doing chores, such as mopping the showroom floors.

“I was his legs,” Dave Pronko said. “I learned so much from him, (such as) electronic wiring, soldering. But he didn’t want me to be a watchmaker, and I wanted to do something else.”

Dave Pronko earned an electronics degree from University of Scranton and then worked as an engineer for four years, though he continued to help at the jewelry store part-time. By the early 1970s, however, his involvement increased until he was working full-time, side-by-side with his father.

“It was something that just happened, I can’t explain it,” Dave Pronko said. “It just evolved as he got older and he couldn’t do things. I would just drop into that slot.

“It’s very hard to work for your father. There was a wrong way to do something, and there was the Steve Pronko way to do something,” he added with a laugh. “I used to argue with him. (My dad) was a very strong man, but no matter how hard he was, he was a loving man.”

When Dave Pronko took on more of a leadership role in the business, he decided to expand the store’s focus from sterling silver, costume pieces and engagement rings to finer jewelry, including 14-karat gold.

Nick Pronko can remember his grandfather, aka“Poppy,” still dropping into the store for limited hours. But he also watched his own parents — his mom, the late Lynda Pronko, was “the face” of the sales floor — practically live there six days a week for 12 hours or more a day to provide for him and his sister, Jessica Turlip.

“It’s a lot of work, and you take it home,” Nick Pronko said. “(When I was 8 or 9), I would come in to clean windows and get the fingerprints off engagement rings and brush the case for dust.”

As he aged, Dave Pronko encouraged his son to explore other career options, just as his own father had done to him. Nick Pronko followed in his dad’s footsteps to U of S, where he earned a degree in finance, and worked out of the area in mutual fund accounting for several years. He returned to Northeast Pennsylvania in 2003 and helped with bookkeeping for his uncle’s medical practice while working nights and weekends at Steve Pronko Diamonds.

When Lynda Pronko died in December 2004 — during the height of the busy Christmas season — her son stepped up to a more active role with the company. By the following January, Nick Pronko became the third generation to work full-time at the business.

His father began educating him about benchwork — sizing rings and the intricacies of gems — but took a much more relaxed, hands-off approach to teaching the trade than his own father had.

“He was the complete opposite and not controlling,” Nick Pronko said of his dad. “He let me go to make my own mistakes, and there were some big ones.”

“But it was all recoverable,” Dave Pronko insisted. “It’s how you learn.”

In the years since, the business has moved into the modern era of social media and online shopping, as well as custom designing and casting its own materials.

“It’s amazing the work these guys are doing. I’m blown away,” said Dave Pronko, who retired in 2017. “I know I’m very proud of Nick. We’re very close.”

If his father were alive, he added, “he’d be beside himself” that his grandson continued on the business in his name.

The two surviving Pronkos said many of the lessons learned in the store through generations — having tenacity and working hard, taking your punches and never giving up, owning up to your mistakes instead of running from them — can be applied to their family lives as well.

When Nick Pronko became a father to Alexander, now 6; Olyvia, now 4; and Maddox, who turns 2 in July, he changed in his father’s eyes.

“He became very responsible, and he matured. He’s a loving father, and he made a commitment to the store and to his family,” Dave Pronko said. “He became a dad.”

Contact the writer: pwilding@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5369; @pwildingTT on Twitter

Meet the Pronkos

Family: Dave Pronko, 70, lives in Jessup and is the son of the late Steve Pronko. Nick Pronko, 39, lives in Jefferson Twp. with his wife, Alyse, and their children, Alexander, 6; Olyvia, 4; and Maddox, almost 2.

Profession: Nick Pronko is a graduate gemologist from Gemological Institute of America and an American Gem Society-certified gemologist appraiser. He is the third generation owner/operator of Steve Pronko Diamonds, Dickson City, which he took over from his father, who retired in 2017. Dave Pronko learned the trade from his own dad, the store’s namesake, the late Steve Pronko.