By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
So many lasting images of Julius “Caesar” Hajdu, who died Monday, October 12, aged 99.
So many images – some virtual, stored in the banks of memory; others digital or faded newspaper clippings, both saved in archives for easy retrieval on days when reminiscence tugs at the heartstrings. Good to have lasting images for the comfort they can provide.
A few things I want to share:
As an ‘Odd Couple’ of the hoops hardwood, we were steady dates for many basketball games over the years.
We were faithful fans of the high school version of the “Big Dance”, the Tribune Tournament, also Notre Dame’s Tip-Off Tournament, the Catholic Classic and playoff games. For several Trib tournaments, reserved seats awaited us in Dillon Hall, four rows above courtside, courtesy of the Notre Dame principal Ralph DeFazio.
The tournament, and Mr. Hajdu (for his roles in many sports), are part of the fabric of Welland sports culture and always should be. He was scorekeeper and timekeeper at the first tournament in 1955. For several years he was part of a committee and helped choose outstanding players of games.
To the best of his recollection, he missed only one or two tournaments of 65.
At his wake on Monday, a basketball was among the collection of sports memorabilia that adorned the top of his casket. He wore the tournament’s 50th anniversary commemorative sweater, still in pristine condition. Elsewhere in the room was an award presented to him during the tourney’s 30th anniversary, recognizing his service and commitment. COVID-19 precautions limited attendance at the viewing, otherwise I dare say it would have been akin to a full-house gym on a tournament championship night. He deserved a full house.
I can’t ignore writing about Mr. Hajdu and the Welland High Reunion in August, 2019.
How proud he was when his name tag was put on, showing the date, 1940, the year he graduated.
He graduated long before most of the attendees were born! No matter. So well known was he because of his sports and community involvement, hugs and handshakes greeted him throughout the night.
He brought along some WHVS keepsakes, including two report cards.
One was from 1939. He was in Form T (Technical) – 3-B. His marks were impressive as were comments by teachers. He played basketball and football for Welland High teams, including teams that won junior championships. I recall him saying, low-key without bragging, he was voted Athlete of the Year in 1938.
This past summer was a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows.
First there was the Hajdu’s 73rd wedding anniversary. A sentimental and romantic guy, it was at his insistence and it had to be held in a park-like setting along the Welland River off River Road, not far from where he and Pearl were married.
But not long after, he had a fall at home and required hip replacement surgery at Welland hospital followed by several weeks of recuperation and rehabilitation at Hotel Dieu Shaver. The day he returned home, a gathering of family, friends and neighbours awaited and welcomed him back – practicing social distancing at all times – with signs, cheers and so much love.
Mr. Hajdu passed at home early in the morning, Thanksgiving Day. Despite the sadness, so appropriate a day to give thanks for a full life well lived.
A week later, Caesar Hajdu was hailed in local media, in conversations among friends, at his wake, at his funeral Mass at St. Kevin Church and at a reception afterward.
So fitting that lasting images from all will keep those memories close.
Now just one thing remains to be said: Thanks, Mr. Hajdu, for taking me to the dance.
Captions, clockwise from top left: Tribune Tournament 2018 seated with daughter Cheryl (Joe Barkovich photo); WHVS report card showing he graduated first in a class of 8 (Barkovich photo); in our “reserved seats”, Tribune Tournament 2014 (Ralph DeFazio photo); At the WHVS reunion 2019 ( Barkovich photo)
Lasting Image is a recurring feature on the blog. Some recent others in the series include:
Fred Turner, Forever A First-Class Guy, March 29, 2020; Gerry Berkhout, He Shone His Light On Others, January 4, 2019; Deacon Demers, Devoted to His Faith, August 31, 2018; Augusto Macoritto, Gifted Lensman, August 21, 2018; Ivan Zecchini, His Countenance Glowed from Wide-Eyed Appreciation, July 18, 2018; Keith Hornibrook, Opening Doors to Addictions Recovery In Dignity, July 11, 2018; Mother Alba Puglia, Tireless Trailblazer, June 18, 2018; Michael Santone, A Barber of King Street, January 23, 2018.