Paul D. Degener

Paul D. Degener

GUILDERLAND — Paul D. Degener was a man of quiet grit who had a lifelong passion for muscle cars and a silly, sarcastic sense of humor, said his son, Brian Degener.

Mr. Degener “passed away surrounded by his loving family” on Saturday, March 3, 2018, his family wrote in a tribute. He was 70.

Born in Troy on Sept. 20, 1947 to the late Allen and Pauline (née Wotkiwicz) Degener, Mr. Degener grew up in Albany, off Whitehall Road, and attended Albany schools including Albany High School.

He “faithfully and honorably served his country in the United States Army in Vietnam,” his family wrote. After returning to the United States, he married Kathleen (née DeLeon) Degener on Feb. 28, 1970.

The couple lived in Guilderland and had three sons. Mr. Degener worked for several years as a mason and bricklayer.

On March 15, 1979, Mr. Degener became a paraplegic as the result of a car accident, but he never let that stop him from anything he wanted to do, said his son, who was a baby at the time of his father’s accident.

“Whatever it was, he’d figure out how to do it,” Brian Degener said.

Mr. Degener loved his muscle cars, his son said, “to the point where he would just get on the ground and shimmy himself around and change his oil and work on the car, even though he didn’t have legs. He built ramps so he could wheel himself up and lean over the engine and work on his carburetor and change his spark plugs.”

Mr. Degener drove, all his life, including “to car shows, cruises, all the events.” He was the founder and was known as “The Mayor” of the Dead End Cruizers Club, said his son. “Everybody knew him,” Brian Degener said, explaining that a cruise is an informal gathering, “like ‘We’re going over to Wendy’s tonight with 30 of us just to hang out.’”

When Brian Degener was young, his father’s car was a T-bucket, “essentially the hot-rod version of a Model T.” It was like a giant go-kart, said Brian Degener: “You’re sitting in the little cockpit, you’ve just got a giant engine in front of you, and big exhaust plates, and the rear tires are bigger than the car.” He recalled, “As a little kid, I loved that. I was with my dad in his car.”

More recently, Mr. Degener’s “baby” was a Chevy Super Sport Nova, his son said.

His father taught him to be handy and hands-on and “not afraid to work on things,” Brian Degener said, adding that he has a photo in which he is just 4 or 5, sitting in the trunk of his dad’s Mustang, helping out his dad, with his dad handing him a tool.

 

When Brian Degener was young, his father’s car was a T-bucket, “essentially the hot-rod version of a Model T.” It was like a giant go-kart, said Brian Degener: “You’re sitting in the little cockpit, you’ve just got a giant engine in front of you, and big exhaust Degener was young, his father’s car was a T-bucket, “essentially the hot-rod version of a Model T.” It was like a giant go-kart, said Brian DegenerWhen Brian plates, and the rear tires are bigger than the car.” He recalled, “As a little kid, I loved that. I was with my dad in his car.”

 

The other thing Mr. Degener taught was quiet resilience, which he modeled throughout his life, his son said: “The idea that, if my dad can get in the garage and build these hot rods and do whatever he wants, I’ve got two working legs, what’s my excuse?”

His father’s matter-of-fact attitude always made his sons feel “very empowered and able to overcome,” Brian Degener said.

Weather permitting, the family plans to park Mr. Degener’s car at the front door of the funeral home during visiting hours and the memorial service and turn the event into a celebration of his life.

Friends and family are welcome, Brian Degener said, and are encouraged to bring their muscle cars.

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Paul D. Degener is survived by his wife of 48 years, Kathleen Degener, and by his sons, Paul Degener Jr.; Daniel Degener and his wife, Heather; and Brian Degener.

Also surviving are his grandsons, Brandon and Keane; his siblings, Louise Dusenbery and her husband, Wayne; and Henry “Butch” Degener and his wife, Gale; and several nieces, nephews, and cousins, and many friends.  

Paul loved his canine companions, Theodore and Sheree, both of whom died before him.

The family wrote that they are grateful to “the loving staff” of the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albany for “many years of compassionate care,” and to the drivers who transported Paul to his appointments in his last few years.

Visiting hours will be from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 11 at the New Comer Cremations & Funerals at 343 New Karner Rd. in Colonie, with a memorial service to follow at 4 p.m.

— Elizabeth Floyd Mair

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