She left wayward kids’ home, became poet

Grandson publishes book about late grandmother

Adam Dabonka fondly recalls his surprise visits as a young man to his grandmother’s place in Weehawken on the way home from the skate park in Hoboken. Skateboard tucked under his arm, he would ring her doorbell, anticipating a perennial smile and well-told joke from his “not your normal” grandmother, Virginia Dabonka.
He remembers marveling at her positive approach to life. Like many grandchildren, Adam was privy to the stories of his grandmother’s youth and life that spanned eight decades. From what he heard, Virginia’s life was one appalling experience after another.
Despite her hardships, Virginia found an outlet by writing poetry for community members. One day around the year 2000, Virginia shared with Adam a handwritten account of her life, and the two spoke about maybe publishing it.
She passed away this past October.
Now, the life of the late Virginia Dabonka is officially chronicled through the self-published book, “Survival – The Autobiography and Poetry Collection of Mrs. Virginia Dabonka.”

The life of Virginia Dabonka

Each page of the book carries the heavy weight of childhood abuse, neglect, and the loss of children. But a page turner, it is.
Virginia grew up in Hoboken in the midst of the Depression. The neglected daughter of an alcoholic mother and a working father, she roamed the city’s streets day and night, up until the wee hours of the morning. Eventually, she ended up in a home for wayward children in Bayonne.
After her mother died, she moved in with her aunt and uncle, where she was subjected to physical and sexual abuse, she has said. The state eventually stepped in to prosecute. Virginia was 10 years old.
Virginia later had four children. Two of her sons went to war in Vietnam. One was killed, and the other came back mentally unstable, attempted suicide, and later succumbed to a fatal heart attack.

A creative outlet

While her sons were in Vietnam, Virginia began writing patriotic poetry as a creative outlet for her frustrations and to capture the small joys in life.
Later, she began writing poetry about current events and happenings in the community, many of which were published in The Hudson Reporter newspapers.
Through her poetry, Virginia, who had lived in Hoboken, West New York, and Union City before settling in Weehawken, made many friends, which included local mayors.
She also has been recognized as a Vietnam Gold Star Mother, awarded to those who lost a son in combat, and for her participation in the Weehawken Memorial Day Parade for the past 15 years.

The road to publication

One of Adam’s biggest regrets, he said, is that he was unable to finish the book before the death of his grandmother, but he’s happy that the 10-year project has finally come to fruition.
Adam was sidetracked by college and “life in general,” but always found himself coming back to the book and working on it in snippets.
He fondly recalls birthday cards sent to him by his grandmother while in college, always with the words, “Hope you haven’t forgotten about the book.”
Eventually, it got to the point where Adam knew he had to let friends, family, and those familiar with Virginia read the harrowing details of her life and see her triumphant rise above her past ordeals, with her poetry as an underlying theme.
Adam went through a self-publishing website and printed a limited edition of 100 copies of the 80-page book. To make the publication a little more special, he printed up bookmarks numbered one through 100 to be placed inside each one.
Adam is not looking to profit off of the book. Instead, he said, he has donated almost 50 copies, including one to Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner and one to Union City Mayor Brian Stack and to whomever else was interested, accepting only a small donation.
Anyone who wishes to obtain one of the remaining 50 copies, please e-mail Suggested donation for the book is $9.95.
Deanna Cullen can be reached at

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