Dr. Steve Luczek, who was a long time member of the HMAA, passed away on November 10, 2011 at his home in Solon, Ohio. Steve had fought pancreatic cancer for several months. In the summer of 2011, many friends and family members from the U.S., Canada and Hungary came to say goodbye to Steve who was cared for in his home where a hospital room was set up for him over looking "Lake Luczek" which he created in the middle of a 100+ acre woodland. His pain was controlled by himself and the 24-hour nursing staff on the household premises. I visited him in July of 2011 and we went fishing for the last of many previous times on his lake. Fishing and hunting were his passions. Our lives were intertwined since our teen years.
Steve was born in Babócsa, Hungary, son of Ferenc Luczek, a railroad employee, and Mária Putics. He had two younger brothers. During his elementary school years, Steve excelled in every subject and was considered one who would achieve great things in life. Sixty three years ago, I was dragging an old suitcase up the stairs in a dormitory in Veszprém and a man in a railroad uniform grabbed it to help me. He was Steve’s father who told me he had just moved his son in. He asked me how old I was. When I told him, he said, "You are two years older than my son. I want you to take care of him. He is very wild". I promised him I would do my best, but as it turned out, Steve took care of me since the time we met. He pushed me, he pulled me, he shared his last piece of bread with me, and most importantly, he became my best friend for life.
We spent two years in Veszprém and remember our teacher, the Piarist father, as the greatest teacher. As expected, Steve was one of the smartest in our class and the legendary Father Kincs, our Latin teacher, gave only Steve an "A". This was during the time when Catholic high schools were taken over by the communists and after two years we transferred to István I. Gimázium in Esztergom. It was one of five Catholic high schools left and run by the Franciscan order. We spent a year in Esztergom and transferred for the last year to Révai Gimázium in Győr which was considered one of the best public schools in Hungary.
In Győr, four of us from Catholic schools stayed in a room provided by a nice old lady, Piroska Valentin. We were poor and often hungry. Mrs. Valentin ordered two meals a day from a construction site where she formerly worked. Steve picked up the meals after school and the four of us shared them. I was in charge of getting bread. After befriending the baker’s daughter, I was given as much day-old bread as we needed. For breakfast, we soaked bread in tea or spread lard on toast. We were happy to know that we would soon finish high school. All four of us hated communism and at night often talked about plans to escape to the West. Steve was particularly angry to see what the communists did to innocent people. He never forgave them for taking our teachers from Veszprém to labor camps, including our French teacher, Sister Trudy. Still, we were optimistic about the future; we played lots of soccer but mostly just studied.
The high school principal (István Csukás) was a fanatic communist. He considered the four of us parasites who did not belong in his school or deserve an education. A week before graduation, he asked us to report to his office. He wanted to know where we planned to go to college. He told us what we already knew that without his signature none of us would be admitted. Steve said he wanted to go to medical school. The principal then gave us a lecture. He told us that he knew all about us—that he knew we attended mass every Sunday at the Benedictine church and that we still held the beliefs we acquired before we transferred to Révai. "Why don’t you believe us?" he screamed. Then, Steve Luczek said defiantly, "Because my grandmother said different." The principal answered, trying to quote the poet Attila József, "As long as I have my memory, you will never be a physician on the face of the world." Then he kicked us out of his office. (His quote was not accurate.)
As we arrived to the finals before graduation, we only worried about the Russian tests. In the previous three years we had studied Latin, French and German but none of us had studied any Russian. In the summer before school started, the four of us spent twelve hours a day in a room in Veszprém catching up on three years of Russian. We kept reminding each other what our Latin teacher said often, "You are young and your brain is so sharp that you can learn 100 words a day of any foreign language." (Father Lajos Kincs was right.) We all passed all of the finals and Steve and I made plans for the summer. I was going to visit him and we would go fishing. He would come to visit my family and help with the orchards and grapes. But, it was not to be.
Before we said goodbye, Steve said, "Just remember we were friends in a world where friendship was worth more than life; no matter what the future brings, we will be together again." I could not read his mind, but later I understood what he meant. At home, he joined a crew of workers who were hoeing and weeding a cornfield near the Drava River along the Yugoslavian border. After a few days, he observed that the border guards came to have lunch with the girl workers sitting under a big tree. One day he walked away from them with his hoe and dug himself under the Iron Curtain avoiding the mines. By the end of lunchtime, he had swum across the river to Yugoslavia. There he was arrested and taken to a prison camp as a suspected spy. (At that time, Tito was considered an enemy of the Soviet encampment.) Steve tried to escape three times before he succeeded in walking across the Austrian border. During this period, the secret police in Hungary interrogated his parents but they had no idea where Steve was. I went to visit the Luczek family and we cried together. So much was the grief and sense of loss, that a mass was said for his soul.
When the first news came that he was alive and well in a refugee camp, we rejoiced. My first thought was how and when we would meet again. Steve had an aunt in Canada he went to join her and worked in a factory there (in Hamilton) for one year. During that time, he applied and was accepted to the medical school at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. He saved all of his money and bought the most elegant clothing. In Leuven, there was not a single student better dressed than Steve Luczek! The year was 1954. We kept writing to each other and agreed that I would let him know if I could everget out of the People’s Republic of Hungary.
In the first week of classes in the fall of 1954, I along with five others, were expelled from Eötvös Lóránd University and, thus, became a laborer. From the spring of 1955 to the summer of 1956, I worked in a factory in Győr. Sensing that changes were coming, I moved back to Budapest. Steve only had my address in Győr. As soon as the Revolution broke out in 1956, Steve and a friend drove all the way to Hungary and looked for me in Győr. They stayed until November 4 and left me a note: "When you get out, let me know. I will wait for you in Leuven." As soon as the fighting was over in Budapest, I headed to Győr to pick up some of my belongings. It was then that I learned that Steve had been looking for me. On November 11, at 4:17 p.m., I crossed the border to Austria. From a refugee camp there, I sent a telegram to Steve. He sent back a telegram that so impressed the camp director that he released me and put me in the hands of a Belgian noble-woman who represented the Red Cross. Within two weeks, a train full of refugees arrived in Belgium. Steve Luczek was waiting at the railroad station.
On December 6, 1956, Father István Muzslay welcomed those of us who had arrived from Hungary to Leuven. He introduced Steve Luczek who was to be our guide to all arrangements in our new life. Father Muzslay said these memorable words to us, "The Belgian government will pay your tuition; I will take care of the rest of your needs - housing, food, clothing, books. If you ever fail in your studies, you are out of this university and you are out of this city. We do not tolerate any loafers here!"
Steve was a tireless worker; not only did he study for long hours, he helped many of us with registration, class selection and introduction to faculty. Steve was a leader of the Hungarian Student’s Association and his reputation was recognized by the large number of international students who elected him president of their organization.
Among the several hundred students from the U.S., there were a brother and sister in the medical school--Casimir and Philomena (Phyllis) Ianuzzi from Pittsburgh. Phyllis was a perfect match for Steve; she was smart, beautiful and always elegantly dressed. Soon they were inseparable. In 1961, we finished our studies and emigrated to the U.S. Steve graduated magna cum laude. He did his internship in Canton, Ohio and his residency at the Toronto General Hospital. He always wanted to be an OB/GYN. Phyllis became a Geriatric Psychiatrist and after they married in 1964, both practiced in their specialities in Cleveland, Ohio. Steve was a tireless worker at Bedford and other hospitals delivering babies. His reputation spread among patients throughout Northeastern Ohio and two generations of families sought him out. In Steve’s eulogy, his collegues noted that Dr. Luczeck delivered between three and four hundred babies a year at Bedford and when he retired, patients stopped coming. Within a year, the maternity ward was closed. At Steve’s funeral service, ten speakers from friends to physicians to families whose children he delivered said good bye and praised his professionalism, kindness and never ceasing smile.
I was fortunate to spend many summers with Steve at Lake Chautauqua. He was a regular at the Institute and interested in a variety of subjects from philosophy to science and religion. His curiosity remained with him to the very end. Although he knew more than many of his contemporaries, Dr. Luczek never bragged about the knowledge he had accumulated over the years. He was a yearly participant at the HMAA in Sarasota, Florida to which he hauled one of his boats.
Steve was happiest when he was on a boat. He had several fishing buddies and kept a boat at Lake Chautauqua, Lake Erie and on his lake in Solon, Ohio. After a day of fishing, Steve and his surgeon friends would fillet all of the catch and Steve would prepare the best for all of us to eat. Hunting was his other hobby. In the woods around his lake, deer roamed year round, but hunting in upstate New York and southern Ohio were his preference. The venison and fish were packaged, dated and frozen. When visitors came to the Luczek home, they could take as much as they wanted. Steve also grew his own grapes in a hillside next to his home and made more wine than his cellar could hold. He gave most of it away. In an orchard, there were two dozen sweet plum trees, the fruit of which was fermented and distilled for pálinka. Only his heart was bigger than his generosity.
Dr. Luczek had a favorite saying, "I must avenge communism by becoming a millionaire in the U.S." Through shrewd investments he succeeded to do just that. Originally, he did not trust Wall Street and never invested in anything he could not walk on. Later, he used investors to handle his money.
The last time we went fishing, we talked about end of life issues. He knew the end of life was not far off for him. I quoted the poet Gyula Illyés, "You take with you what you left behind." I reminded him that he could not take his lake, his properties and material possessions. What could take with him were all the memories of family, friends, patients and the thousands of babies he delivered. What he contributed to others would go with him.
In the spring, Steve’s ashes will be spread over his lake from the boat he most liked and when the fish swim around they will not know that it was he who created it so that their life goes on. As we say good bye to Dr. Luczek, we should remember that he was a good friend, a good American-Hungarian and most of all a great physician. Farewell my friend until we meet again.
Obituary - Philomena Luczek, MD
Béla J. Bognár, Ph.D.
Wright State University
President, Hungarian Scholarship Fund (USA)
Note: A scholarship will be established in the name of Stephen F. Luczek, M.D. at the Semmelweis Medical School in Budapest beginning Fall Semester, 2012.