“When you wake up, get up. When you get up, do something!”
On August 16th 2023, Rudolf Eduard Skarecky passed away in his sleep in his 93rd year, at home in St. Catharines. Rudy had lived a long, full life since the day he was born on May 6th 1931 in Harbin, China. His father Vavřín (Laurence) Škarecký, after being a WWI prisoner-of-war in Siberia and joining the Czechoslovak Legion in Russia to help gain independence for his Czech homeland, met Rudy’s mother Irina (Esther) Afitsinskaya in Chita, Siberia. For fifteen years they lived in China (Harbin and then Tientsin/Tianjin), where their sons Arnold (1925) and Rudolf were born. The family’s return journey to Czechoslovakia in 1940 was interrupted by an unfortunate unplanned stay in Berlin until they finally reached Prague in 1943.
Finding himself in a Czech high school after speaking Russian and German all his life, Rudy immediately set about learning Czech – he had some welcome help with this from his classmate the beautiful Jiřina (Gina) Šliková. They also did math homework together – perhaps not so surprising since he later became an engineer and she an accountant – and after graduation they married in Prague in November 1953. The communist government refused to let Rudy attend university in Prague for political reasons, so he had to start his Mechanical Engineering studies at the University of Bratislava (Slovakia). He later transferred to Charles University in Prague where he received his doctorate.
Rudy and Gina had two daughters, Jana (1957) and Simona (1961). When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, Rudy and Gina decided it was time to leave. They escaped by going for a ‘long weekend’ to Vienna, and on October 20th 1968 they landed in Toronto to begin their new life in Canada. That long weekend has been 55 years long so far....
Rudy became Associate Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Waterloo. He and Gina became part of the Waterloo community – at the university, at First United Church, in the city’s vibrant cultural life. They attended Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony concerts for decades, played tennis at the Waterloo Tennis Club, and skied at Chicopee. They enjoyed Christmas Day gatherings with several other Czech-Canadian families in St. Jacobs, made many friends, and hosted some very fun New Year’s Eve parties.
In 1976 Rudy became a senior project engineer in the Corporate Research & Development Department of Hawker Siddeley Canada Ltd. at the Orenda plant in Malton where he continued to work until his retirement in 1999, the last seven years as an independent consultant. After many years commuting from Waterloo, Rudy and Gina moved to Runningbrook Drive in Mississauga/Cooksville in 1985. They were active for many years at First United Church, Mississauga. When granddaughters Renata and Juliana were born, Děda and Bábi became enthusiastic grandparents, teaching their granddaughters to ski, play tennis, bake cookies, colour Easter eggs, and sing Czech carols. Rudy mentored and supervised an intricate science project on hydraulics, and dressed up to portray the founder/patriarch of a fictional country for a middle-school history presentation. He designed and helped a Grade 3 class at the Halton Waldorf School build a sturdy gazebo in the school yard which is still enjoyed by students more than twenty years later. Rudy loved building things and making things, and he could fix anything! He also enjoyed photography throughout his life – as newlyweds in Prague, their bathroom doubling as a dark room, he and Gina developed their own photographs. More recently Rudy served as the president of the Mississauga Camera Club and taught digital photography at the Mississauga Seniors’ Centre.
Rudy and Gina liked to travel. After coming to Canada, every summer they would take their daughters on a camping trip to different parts of Canada to get to know their new home. This included canoeing in northern Ontario (taking along noisy pots and pans to scare the bears), hiking in Cape Breton, driving across the Prairies to the west coast (pouring rain at 2 a.m. in Tofino... a fisherman’s spontaneous invitation to sleep on his boat...not enough room, but “never mind”, the fisherman says, “Sit down – have a beer!”) Once their daughters were grown, Rudy and Gina made trips to Prague and other parts of Europe, often visiting friends, and enjoyed cruises to Alaska and through the Panama Canal. When family or European friends came to visit, they might be taken camping to Algonquin Park, or to a cherished family time-share at Cape Cod.
Rudy had a keen mind and an amazing memory, spoke four languages, knew something about everything – history, science, carpentry, Latin.... He had a good singing voice and enjoyed listening to classical music. He told great stories and terrific jokes. He delighted in asking you when your birthday was and figuring out on the spot what day of the week you were born. Later in life he compiled a Skarecky family history with photographs and narration. Together with his daughter Simona, with whom he lived in St. Catharines for the last six years of his life, he translated into English his father’s book Unforgettable Years – Memoir of WWI, the Czechoslovak Legion, and Life in China (it can be read online, in English or in Czech, at skarecky.ontario.net).
Rudy was kind, generous, thoughtful, and fun. He was a man of integrity. He will be remembered with love by his family – daughters Simona Skarecky of St. Catharines and Jana Skarecky (Paul Polly) of Binbrook, granddaughters Juliana Skarecky Colwell of Ottawa and Renata Colwell (Peter Shepherdson) of Akureyri, Iceland, and great-grandson Arthur Shepherdson-Colwell. Rudy is predeceased by his beloved wife Gina (Jiřina) née Šliková, his older brother Arnold, and his parents Irina (Esther) Afitsinskaya and Vavřín (Laurence) Škarecký. He will live on in the hearts of all those whose lives he touched.