Hungarian Club president Michael Csizek said the late Andrew J. Rakay was always the “life of the party” and “center of attention.”
“The guy was amazing,” Csizek said. “He didn’t realize he was 80 when he died. He thought he was 16, you know, the guy had so much energy. He had a story for everything. He knew everybody in town. If you lined his friends up from any group of person there is, any ethnic group, any person, Andy was friends with them.”
This past winter while Rakay was a patient in Toledo Hospital, he had a visitor — Mike Bell. One day later, Bell was sworn in as Toledo’s mayor. Bell once served under Captain Rakay when both were with the Toledo Fire Department.
After the 80-year-old Rakay passed away on January 14, at his funeral service were Councilmen Mike Craig and George Sarantos, former mayor Donna Owens, and “just about every politician in town,” said one friend.
The evening before his funeral service, the fire department conducted last alarm services at the funeral home.
Mayor Bell was one of the speakers at the service. Also in attendance was former State Representative Peter Ujvagi, who presented a toast in honor of his longtime friend with a shot of palinka — a Hungarian tradition.
“I never witnessed a funeral like this,” said International Boxing Club Director Harry E. Cummins III. “They led the parade with the fire trucks. As they drove by the fire station, there were so many firemen out there saluting it. Once at the funeral, with the military they gave him a 21-gun salute. I was just proud to be his friend. It was just so many people.”
Rakay was known best by Birmingham residents as the long time president of the Hungarian Club. It was often said that Rakay and Ujvagi were the backbone of the club and its annual Birmingham Festival.
“It was both a community and ethnic thing. He loved Birmingham and he loved Hungarian culture,” Cindy Rakay, Andy’s daughter, said.
Andy had numerous other interests. He was a member of Toledo Sister Cities International, a founding member of the Sister Cities’ Szeged (Hungary) Committee, a member of the Toledo Sportsman’s Club, a volunteer at the Toledo Firefighters Museum, a past president of the IBC, and timekeeper for USA Boxing.
“He was involved in so much stuff. He didn’t have time to sit around. The list goes on and on,” Csizek said.
Bob Wuest, who grew up near Navarre Park and today volunteers at the firefighters’ museum, said, “He was a good guy. I went to a few dinners at the Hungarian Club and when we needed a tent or something, he would get the Hungarian Club and he’d loan it to us for events over here.”
Professionally, Rakay became a Toledo firefighter on February 16, 1960, was promoted to lieutenant in 1966 and captain in 1971. He began his career with Fire Station 19 and also served stations 25, 4, and 18 retiring as captain from Station 3 in February 1982. He also served with Rescue Squads 1 and 7.
After retiring from the fire department, he worked in real estate for the former Arnold Company and then became a licensed real estate appraiser, opening the A.J. Rakay Appraisal Company. He was past president of Firefighters Local 92 and current president of the Firefighters Retirees Association. He was also active in the police and fire State Pension Boards, serving as treasurer.
Earlier in life, he graduated from Waite High School and was a veteran of the U.S. Army, serving at the Pentagon for the Atomic Energy Commission.
His parents, Andrew and Mary Rakay, arrived in Birmingham from Hungary, so Rakay spoke Hungarian. He was often asked to interpret — doing so as a Waite student and more recently for Cummins on trips to Hungary.
“He started out as an interpreter for the Hungarian Olympic boxing coach and we just hit it off and we became good friends,” Cummins said. “When I decided to start the boxing club, he was with me from day one. In fact, we held our meetings in the basement at the Hungarian Club.”
While growing up in Birmingham, sometimes having to interpret for newly arrived Hungarian immigrants did not make Rakay’s life any easier.
“He spoke fluent Hungarian, but he’d call it ‘Birmingham Hungarian’ because he said the Hungarian that he learned and he knew didn’t have all the new words in it like ‘Internet,’” Cindy Rakay said. “The Hungarian he learned was the Hungarian that his parents learned when they left Hungary in the early 1900s or whenever. He learned Hungarian before he learned English.
“He interpreted for the principal at Waite High School when he was a kid, I guess. There were a lot of students there whose parents were Hungarian and didn’t speak English. They’d call on Andy to interpret. He’s a kid, and he’s chewing out other parents, (and the principal would say), ‘You’ve got to make your voice more sturdy,’ and he got a kick out of that — interpreting what the principal told parents. He’s usually about the same age as the kids who were being disciplined. It was pretty funny.”
Cindy added with tears, “I’m just so lost without him. Actually, I just kind of counted on him too much, you know.”
The family suggests memorials be made to the Firefighters Museum.