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Epilogue | Joseph Kerekes

'Easy-going guy' kept his past a mystery

TAMPA — He has no known survivors. He had few close friends. He loved a chihuahua named Buddy, to whom he fed scraps from the dinner table.

He served in the Air Force in Vietnam. He had a progressive form of diabetes that cost him his legs and, eventually, his life.

These are a few of the known facts about Joseph Kerekes, who died on Friday at a Tampa nursing home. He was 58.

His life story contains several missing chapters, a result of Mr. Kerekes' paucity of close friends and his reluctance to talk about his past.

He grew up in a part of Toledo, Ohio, known as "Honkeytown" for its lack of ethnic diversity, but nothing else is known about the first half of his life.

In 1989, as a student at Stautzenberger College, he met Carolyn Rodriguez, who was 10 years his senior. He was "an easy-going guy," who stood 6 feet 4 and wanted to be a medical assistant.

Neither got the associate's degree they sought, but Mr. Kerekes and Rodriguez soon were sharing a rented home in Toledo, not as lovers but as friends.

Mr. Kerekes was unable to work due to diabetes, blood disease and heart trouble. He received a disability check from the government.

In the late 1990s, Rodriguez moved to a mobile home park in Heflin, Ala., a lazy town on the Tallapoosa River.

"I told him once he came down he would never go back," said Rodriguez, 68. Within a year, Mr. Kerekes visited, and stayed.

Mr. Kerekes had his boundaries. His parents had already died when Rodriguez and Mr. Kerekes met. "You couldn't get him to talk about them," she said.

He had siblings, but no one knows where they are.

"They all disowned him."

She never asked why.

Ditto on his experiences in Vietnam. For Rodriguez, it was a matter of respect. A man had a right to talk about what he wanted to, or not to talk.

He liked to go to Wal-Mart, whether he was shopping or not.

He liked computers and swore he would teach her how to use one. He downloaded old-time country music, ballads like Sink the Bismarck and North to Alaska.

He enjoyed auto racing on television but never attended a live race. He drank lots of Pepsi, even though he shouldn't have.

As his condition worsened, doctors had to amputate his toes. Then a leg. Then the other leg.

"When he started getting sick, he started being a bear," Rodriguez said. Rodriguez had her own health problems, so she turned over Mr. Kerekes' care to her daughter and son-in-law. Mr. Kerekes moved with the couple two years ago to Tampa.

Veterans Funeral Care in Clearwater is making arrangements for Mr. Kerekes. On Friday, staffers will take Mr. Kerekes' remains to Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell for a "direct burial" for veterans with no family members; there is no minister or service.

Veterans Funeral Care will deliver Mr. Kerekes' flag-draped casket to the grave. They will save the flag, just in case any family members should someday turn up.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2431.

.Biography

Joseph J. Kerekes

Born: Oct. 28, 1949.

Died: July 11, 2008.

Survivors: None known.

Service: None.

'Easy-going guy' kept his past a mystery 07/14/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 15, 2008 9:52pm]
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