1938 – 2020
Danielson – Richard William “Rick” Orzulak, a proud Marine, ardent fan of the Packers and Yankees, passionate Elvis devotee, sports trivia innovator, genius of the one-liner, local softball legend, longtime coach, and beloved husband, father, grandfather, and friend who marched to the beat of nobody’s drum but his own died at home on Monday, May 25, 2020 – Memorial Day – his favorite holiday. He was 81 years old.
The cause was cancer. There’s a good chance that Mickey Mantle, Vince Lombardi, and Elvis Presley haven’t gotten a second’s rest since he joined them.
Born in New York, NY, he was the son of Edna Orszulak and a father he never knew. Speaking nothing but Polish and French until he was nine years old, he was raised by his doting grandmother, Polish immigrant Antonio Orszulak, and her husband, Albert. A pitcher with a terrific fastball, he attracted the attention of Major League scouts as a student at Putnam Technical School before enlisting in the United States Marine Corps in 1957, where he was a member of the 8th Engineer Battalion.
After six years of distinguished service to his country, he was honorably discharged. Not long after, on a warm summer night in Putnam, he saw Beverly Mayhew, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was dating a friend of his. If she should ever break up with the friend, he asked, would she mind if he called? Please do, she said, and he did. They were never apart after that. They would have celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary in August. He loved her even more on their last day together than he did on their first, as did – does – she.
The ace of numerous local softball championship teams in the 1960s and 70s, he threw out the very first pitch at the new softball field – now named for his longtime friend, Foxy Fortin – at Owen Bell Park in Dayville, CT. He was also a revered Little League coach – and eventually, Little League President – to a generation of young men in Danielson, many of whom remember him as one of the best coaches they ever had.
Long before Google and the Internet, he was also the go-to person in the area for sports trivia. Almost every night, the phone would ring, with somebody asking about a pitcher from the 1940s or a quarterback from the 1950s, and he would provide the answer. His secret was that he had a photographic memory for sports, and he had collected and read every issue of Sport Magazine ever published. When asked a question, he would remember an article he had read years before, go to his stack of magazines, and find it. Across more than three decades, there was only one question that ever stumped him.
Along the way, he also earned a reputation as quite a singer, who was regularly asked to perform Elvis songs at parties and the weddings of friends. A lifelong believer that athletes were better back in his day, he revered the Green Bay Packers teams of the 1960s and was known to have a Vince Lombardi story for every occasion. He also had a nickname for every friend, many going back decades, and regularly peppered his conversations with memorable one-liners – known by his friends as “Rick-isms” – that left more than a few people laughing.
For 25 years until his retirement in 2002, he worked as a sheet metal mechanic at Kaman Aerospace in Moosup, CT. As he got older, his service in the Marine Corps became even more important to him. He became active in the local Paul C. Houghton detachment of the Marine Corps League, and in the mid-1990s, he led a project that was near to his heart. Searching across all 50 states (pre-Internet), he collected five World War II-era combat uniforms, right down to the bayonets. On February 19, 1995, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the flag raising on Iwo Jima, he and four fellow members of the Marine Corps League recreated the event and were later asked to re-stage it at a state-wide event. It led a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps to write that he walked away, “with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eyes,” which made him immensely proud.
In retirement, he walked five miles every day at the running track at Owen Bell Park, often with Beverly alongside him. Nothing brought him greater joy than spending time with his grandchildren, of whom he would talk about with anybody who would listen. They have fond memories of his kindness, his endless jokes, and of him stopping in mid-conversation whenever he heard an Elvis song, aligning both hands with fingers pointed skyward in the style of back-up singers of the late 50s and 60s, and belting out the King.
And now, as tears subside, his friends and family find it all so amusing to think he did all that, and there is very little question that he could say, “I did it my way.”
Rick Orzulak is survived by his loving wife, Beverly, of Danielson; his son, Paul, and his wife, Beneva Schulte, of Chevy Chase, MD; his daughter, Karen Konow, and her husband, Jim Konow, of Lebanon, CT; his brother, William McPadden, of Great Falls, Virginia; and his granddaughters Ellie Orzulak, Anna Orzulak, and Emma Rose Orzulak, all of Chevy Chase, MD; and Alison Konow, Kelsey Konow, and Julia Konow, of Lebanon, CT.
Due to the current crisis, his family will hold a small private service at the Gilman Funeral Home and Crematory in Putnam, CT, per his request. At a later date, there will be a celebration of Rick’s life with family and friends. In lieu of flower or donations, the family asks that, as Rick did, you tell your spouse you love them every day, hug your child or grandchild, and be thankful for all the small things in life – which, in the end, are everything. For memorial guestbook, please visit www.GilmanandValade.com.