Work on a Chevy II carries out a legacy

Joe (left) and Corey Warfel with Max Foltz, who helped finish work on the 1963 Chevy that was their son's dream.
Joe (left) and Corey Warfel with Max Foltz, who helped finish work on the 1963 Chevy that was their son's dream. (SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff)

Parents honor teen as tribute to late son's efforts in restoring a classic car.

Posted: July 11, 2012

Max Foltz never knew Jerry Warfel, but had Jerry's life not come to an early and tragic end, they would have been classmates last fall in the automotive program at Chester County's Center for Arts and Technology's Brandywine Campus.

Instead, Jerry Warfel died along with three companions in a late-night car accident July 3, 2011, at age 14, before he could begin school at CAT-Brandywine.

And Foltz, at the request of Warfel's parents, ended up helping restore a 1963 Chevy II Nova that their son had begun working on when he was 11, with the goal of driving it to his senior prom.

In memory of Warfel, Foltz received a $1,000 scholarship from the Warfel family last month, to help him continue his education in automotive technology.

In a recent interview, Joe Warfel and Corey Poulsen Warfel talked about their son, and about trying to hold their lives together by finding ways to carry on his legacy.

Jerry's love of cars started early, his father said: "When he was a child, he was fascinated by anything with wheels. . . . He was interested in anything mechanical."

In 2008, father and son decided to restore a rundown Chevy II Nova bought from a neighbor. It had been sitting in a cornfield for several years and needed a lot of work.

"The day we got it home, he was so excited, I thought he was going to wash the paint off" as he began cleaning it up, Joe Warfel said. "Every day it was 'What are we going to do with the car today?' "

After the restoration started to yield results, Warfel and his father took it to several car shows; he won a "Best Work in Progress" prize at one. "He would spend a day and a half waxing and washing it" for the shows, his father said. "We'd get up there and he would sit there, proud as could be, answering questions."

In the spring of 2011, Warfel, who was attending Coatesville Area High School, gained admission to CAT-Brandywine, where he planned to focus on auto mechanics. He would have been in 10th grade that fall. "You would have thought he was going to Yale," his mother said. "He was so excited. It was a big deal for him."

Instead, his life ended when a 16-year-old companion crashed a car in which Warfel was a passenger into a tree on Route 82 near its intersection with Route 322 in Chester County. None of the car's occupants was wearing a seat belt.

"We wonder, some days, how we are still breathing," his mother said.

Struggling to find a way to bring meaning to the tragedy, the Warfels first came up with the idea of collecting used instruments, fixing them up and donating them to the Coatesville Area School District. Jerry's second love in life, after cars, was the guitar, his parents said, so the project honored his memory.

Then they decided to ask students at CAT-Brandywine to continue the restoration project Jerry had begun. The family brought the Chevy II to the automotive shop there and supplied the parts the students used.

Max Foltz worked on the rear quarterpanels. "I felt honored that it was in his memory - something he wanted done," Foltz said. "It was a great experience."

For the Warfels, the project brought a measure of healing.

The students, Joe Warfel said, "were very compassionate and understanding. . . . It was a tough time, but they always had kind words and were very respectful."

Corey Warfel said: "Every time I walked in there, I said to myself: 'Jerry would be in his glory right now. He'd be jumping out of bed to go to school.' "

And, her husband added, "every time we looked at these young kids, we'd see him."

Jerry Warfel's Chevy II now sits in the driveway of his father's house in East Fallowfield. Joe Warfel, who once worked as an auto mechanic, is finishing the restoration.

"I'm trying to fulfill his wishes. What else could a father want - he was my best friend," he said.

Said Corey Warfel: "It's priceless to me. It's a tangible thing that we have that was Jerry's. It was his dream; we're just seeing it through."

After the car is fully restored, Joe Warfel said, he plans to take it to car shows, in memory of his son. In future years, the Warfels want to sponsor a local "Cars and Guitars Fest," to showcase the talents of young people who excel in the two things his son loved.

At the car shows, "I want to use it to educate the younger kids - to say, 'Hey, you may have a car that's capable of doing things, but you have to . . . be careful and responsible for your own safety," Joe Warfel said.

"We have to make it clear: There is no reset button when things happen while you are driving; these kids have to understand that."


Contact Dan Hardy at 601-313-8134 or dhardy@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @DanInq.

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