‘A profound impact on
the lives of many’
Gene Dziadura taught Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins a lot about baseball, but he taught him more about life.
Dziadura, who was a mentor to Jenkins and a lot of other local athletes, died on Tuesday at age 74.
Jenkins said Dziadura's passing is "devastating for family and friends because Gene's life was, I think, an inspiration to a lot of people."
He noted Dziadura was a father, teacher and coach, "so his influence on a lot of different people was very strong."
Dziadura was working as a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies when he spotted Jenkins' potential as a pitcher.
Jenkins recalled Dziadura being like a big brother when he met his future mentor at age 16.
"He kind of took me under his wing and taught me if I wanted to perform as an athlete, there's certain things you have to do, certain things you have to continue try to do from working out, being on time, being conscientious . . . so many different things," Jenkins said.
"Gene influenced me and tried to get me to understand that if you don't do (things) the first time correctly, you have to do them a second time, so why not do it correctly the first time," he added.
Jenkins is just one of the many people Dziadura treated well in his life.
"He was a special individual," Jenkins said, noting Dziadura regarded everyone as important.
"He didn't look down on anybody . . . he looked at the good side of everybody."
Dziadura, who was a regular attendee at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame's annual induction ceremony, is remembered by Tom Valcke, president and CEO of the organization.
Valcke posted on the hall of fame website Thursday that it would be a disservice to simply label Dziadura as the scout who signed Jenkins.
"While the Gene and Fergie stories are endless, Gene had a profound impact on the lives of many," Valcke said. "He took an genuine interest in everyone he met, including my brother Greg, who was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago.
"Gene was fighting the same fight and he inspired Greg to keep in touch with him until the end," he said.
Todd Haskell, principal of Chatham-Kent Secondary School, knew Dziadura as a teacher, coach and friend.
He said one of Dziadura's' greatest gifts was his ability to establish strong interpersonal relationships with his students that lasted decades.
"My conversations with him were always very warm and encouraging . . . They were the same in high school as they were when I saw him at the golf course in August," he said.
Haskell said Dziadura was a man of "great integrity" and an outstanding role model for young men who had a way of installing confidence.
His confidence boost came when Dziadura made him the starting quarterback for the Chatham Collegiate Institute junior football team, allowing him to call his own plays his first year in the position.
Haskell recalled during the championship game a time-out was called and when he arrived on the sideline, Dziadura asked him what play would he call in the situation. When the rookie quarterback named it, he said Dziadura told him to go with his gut feeling.
"As a young person, that's the way he treated you and it really fostered confidence, strength, independence and leadership," Haskell said. "He was a really great mentor."
A funeral mass will be held for Dziadura at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church on Saturday at 10 a.m. Visitation will take place Friday from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at McKinlay Funeral Home in Chatham.