Walter Rudy was many things. He was a juggler, a triathlete, an inline skater, a skier, a snowshoer, a cyclist and runner. He was a husband and father. He was a fighter.
But most of all, Walter Rudy was a friend.
Rudy, a native of Marcellus, died of cancer last week at the age of 52 surrounded by friends and family. His friends, those who did everything they could to take care of him in his last few months, aren’t quite ready to let him go yet. Therefore, they are holding a benefit from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. this Saturday Dec. 23 at Sertino’s Caf (c), 105 First St., Liverpool. The benefit will allow Rudy’s friends to reminisce about him and will also raise money for a park bench at Onondaga Lake Park to memorialize him.
“He was always at the park,” said cousin Chris Parent. “As long as I can remember, if you wanted Walt, you went to the park to find him.”
That’s why a bench with a plaque with Rudy’s name seems such a fitting tribute. Tickets for the benefit are on sale now at Sertino’s. They cost $12 in advance or $14 at the door. The benefit will feature food, a 50/50 raffle, raffles with prizes from local merchants, a visit from Santa Claus and live music from Rudy’s brother Andy. For more information, contact Parent at 480-4315.
Organizers of the benefit expect a good turnout. Walt Rudy was well-liked and well known in the community, and many people are interested in honoring his memory. His wake at Maurer’s in the village drew over 500 mourners. Parent said his personality made everyone want to be his friend.
“If you needed help, he was the first one there,” she said. “Even when he was sick, he would do anything for anybody. He couldn’t accept help. He said, ‘I don’t get help, I give it.'”
Rudy was the second of five children. He leaves behind, in addition to his two brothers and two sisters, wife Jeanne, son Scottie, 20, and daughter Katie, 17.
“He was a very good father,” said friend Marge Callas. “He was always there for his kids.”
Rudy was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in October of 2005. By the time he was diagnosed, the cancer was already advanced, metastasizing into his legs and brain. He began chemotherapy right away, and his friends were right there by his side.
“He always told us we got him through that first bad winter,” said friend Lynn Walsh.
Despite the dire nature of his circumstances, Rudy put on a brave face, determined to fight the disease. He didn’t even let on to his family how sick he was.
“He didn’t even tell his brothers and sisters he was sick until the last few months,” Parent said. “He didn’t want to worry them.”
Though he was still undergoing traditional treatments, Rudy sought out alternative healing methods, as well.
“He swore by Natur-Tyme [a natural wellness store],” Callas said. “I think it kept him strong for a long time.”
And the workers at Natur-Tyme weren’t immune to his charms.
“Pam from Natur-Tyme came to his funeral,” friend Francine Perri recalled. “She was sobbing the whole time. That’s how he touched people.”
Rudy’s condition continued to deteriorate. He died on Dec. 10. His friends gathered to remember their friend at Sertino’s last Friday morning.
“He helped people form friendships that they might never have found,” Callas said.
Perri agreed. “Once you met him, he was your friend forever,” she said.
Callas and Perri met Rudy in a coffee shop. Callas said he simply plopped down at their table and joined in on their conversation. From that moment on, the two sought him out.
“He was very friendly, very easy to talk to,” Callas said. “He was just at ease with everyone.”
Rudy’s illness didn’t affect his desire to live. He taught Parent how to ride a motorcycle this spring, and in June, despite the fact that cancer was ravaging his body, Rudy competed in a triathlon.
“He just refused to give up,” Walsh said.
That determination will prove to be his legacy, Callas said. “I think what he taught us was that even with a diagnosis like that, never give up,” she said. “Live your life to the last moment.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.