John J. Szakmary
November 26, 1954 – July 25, 2020
How does one measure a life well-lived? It is not climbing, rung-by-rung, the steps up the educational ladder: student to teacher to principal to central office administer. It is not holding the record of being fourth on Ohio State’s list of Highest Save Percentage for a Lacrosse Goalie. It is not being recognized as the 2015 Man of the Year by US Lacrosse. Nor is it any of the many other achievements in John’s life. No – I think a life is measured by how one lives each day; each moment.
As a husband, no woman could be luckier to have met a shaggy blonde-haired lifeguard at Copiague’s Tanner Park that day in the summer of 76. Oh, he may have told me that day I was so old I must have barnacles (I was 24), but that day grew into almost 40 years of marriage. Each day of those years, I knew I had someone who would always be by my side – to love, to share, to protect, and – most of all – admire. The single red rose he gave me every Friday since our engagement (and Bird of Paradise when available) was an outward symbol of his love. His corny monkey cards addressed to TBBITW (The Best Baby in the World) was another. But it was a glance from those expressive green eyes, or a touch of his strong hand that let me know he’d always be there for me. I was blessed to have one more squeeze of his hand before he passed. These treasured moments leave a hole in my heart.
No one could have been happier to become a father than John, especially of a son (a son predicted by some lacrosse folklore). As we awaited Jared’s arrival, I’d catch him walking around our apartment holding the snowsuit Jared would wear to come home - as if he were practicing how to hold his newborn. That gentle caress grew into airplane, “Up on Daddy’s head!” Later, a tent would be set up in the living room for Boy’s Night. (Mom would be banished to the upstairs bedroom.) Then came the Just Boys day trips to do things mom would never approve: crazy amusement park rides, jet skiing in the shipping lanes off Captiva, shooting rifles at Boy Scout camp. Finally, they’d take scuba trips together as I’d wave to the dive boat from the beach.
John’s role as a father was meshed with his service as a community member: Boy Scout leader, Little League coach, soccer coach – anything for his beloved son. Even with all those sports, John never expected or forced Jared to become a replica of himself. No ego involved. John loved Jared enough to allow him to follow his own path – not of an athlete or educator, but the creative soul of a musician and photographer. As we sat in the audience watching Jared in the starring role of his senior year high school musical, John turned to me and said, “I’ve never been prouder of Jared.”
Family was important to John. His mother, Agnes, was loved to the end of her days, even as John’s dementia symptoms were taking root. When he got together with my sister Marylynne, his Sea Biscuit, antics, mischief, and laughter were always soon to follow. His Corey and Kelsey were close to his heart and were a willing audience to all his corny antics and sayings. John was so proud of Rachel and all of her lacrosse achievements. He was Debbie’s Captain and Mary’s PJ. It is comforting to know John will be with my mom and dad for his eternal rest as, after losing his own dad as an infant, my dad became John’s second father.
John found refuge in the ocean. The salt air, warm sun and sand allowed him to relax and renew. It was where he could swim, run, and play. Whether in the home waters off Long Island where he lifeguarded for seventeen years, or on the beaches of South Carolina, Captiva, St. Martin, Grand Cayman, Hawaii or Aruba, it is there our family built happy memories.
John remained a true Buckeye long after leaving the halls of The Ohio State University. As he always said, “I bleed scarlet and gray.” How fitting that John passed wearing an OSU shirt. It was at Ohio State that he forged friendships with his lacrosse teammates. Those same teammates would meet in later years with cranky knees and bad backs to play – one more time – the sport they loved: Lake Placid. Vail. Florida. Canada. Afterwards, the cold beer would flow along with the Glory Days stories. The OSU LAX bond was strong. That OSU lacrosse family and Varsity O arranged to get John in one more alumni game and see one more football game. As a final tribute, the current OSU lacrosse coach, Nick Meyers, updated their media guide/record book to list John as MVP in 1976.
Recently, his defenseman, Chris Anderson, who drove hours to take John one more time to the Shoe for a drenching football game described John as feisty, courageous, opinionated, and lionhearted: “The guy never quit. Never.” And John never did quit - in life as well as on the field. Put a challenge in front of him and he’d put his head down and plow right through. His determination in the face of adversity was his strength. After years of increasing symptoms, John was finally diagnosed at age 54. His doctor told him “What is good for the heart is good for the brain.” So… he ran 5 hilly miles a day. Every day. Through summer heat and winter snow. Until he could no longer remember which driveway was ours.
While strong in both body and spirit, John was a gentle soul, always willing to give a helping hand. Whether it be with a troubled student or a complete stranger, John expressed a strong feeling of empathy. Although he was no longer able to speak, his teams of nurses could see that in him. Fondly, they called him Coach.
He found comfort in his religion, attending Mass until he could no longer remember where he parked his car or how to drive home.
So… a life well-lived - in all its moments. But those moments ended too soon. However, his impact will live on.
I love you forever my beach boy Buckeye.
Friday, July 31, 2020
Friday, July 31, 2020
Graveside Service and Interment
Friday, July 31, 2020
John J. Szakmary
July 31, 2020
Linda, I am so sorry . I worked with John at Rhinebeck High School but hadn't seen him in years when I ran into him at Motor Vehicles in Kingston. It must have been at least 15 years ago or possibly longer??? Your tribute to John was beautiful. My condolences to you and Jared.
July 29, 2020
What a wonderful message Linda. Szak would be very moved as was I. Hang in there.
The Vail lax boys