Gary Rojeski coached Ford football from 1973-1981, guiding the Falcons to a pair of Oakland A division championships and five seasons in which the team won seven or more games. He coached at Utica from 1983-87.(Submitted photo)


'Everybody's friend' Gary Rojeski was Ford's first football coach

`Great father, husband and family man' mourned

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Brian Unruh texted Gary Rojeski a few days ago with a message that said they should get together soon to reminisce about Ford’s 1977 season-opening football victory over Stevenson.

“Yes we’ll do that,” Rojeski texted back.

Fate changed the plan.

Unruh, 57, who played for Rojeski at Ford and coached with him at Utica, will deliver a eulogy at Rojeski’s funeral on Tuesday.

“He was everybody’s friend,” Unruh said Friday, speaking for dozens who were stunned by the death Thursday of Rojeski, 69, who was stricken by an aggressive form of melanoma.

“He kept saying, ‘Oh, don’t worry. I’m OK. I’ll let you know how the treatment is going,’” Unruh added.

Visitation will be from 1 to 9 p.m. Monday and from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday at the William Sullivan & Son Funeral Home in Utica.

“It’s tough,” Jim Barker, a former Ford teaching colleague and long-time friend of Rojeski, said. “We just played golf a month ago.

“Gary was a great father, husband and family man. He helped me a lot.”

Help was something many received from Rojeski, who coached Ford in its first full season of football in 1973 and held the post through the 1981 campaign.

Bud Filipek, a former Falcon, said Rojeski and his staff found ways to get him football cleats and other necessities.

“Those coaches got me shoes and they got me into different things like camps,” Filipek said. “They did it without taking my dignity.

“They got us out of trouble. They gave us a moral compass. They taught you not to whine, and they taught you to embrace adversity and conquer it."

Tom Medici considered giving up football after he was forced to leave practice on a hot day because of asthma and hyperventilation.

“I was out for three or four days, and Gary either called or stopped by to see me every day,” Medici, now a 49-year-old Oxford resident, said.

“I was a little nervous after what had happened, but he guided me into coming back and playing football.”

A few years later, when Medici was a senior and Rojeski had taken over as coach at Utica, the two met after the Falcons defeated the Chieftains.

“He gave me a hug in the handshake line and told me he knew I could do it,” Medici said. “He was a great motivator and a great person.”

Rojeski coached Ford football from 1973-1981, guiding the Falcons to a pair of Oakland A division championships and five seasons in which the team won seven or more games.

He coached at alma mater Utica from 1983-87. Taking over a program that had gone 2-16 the previous two seasons combined, Rojeski got the Chieftains over .500 with a 5-4 record in 1986.

“He made everyone around him better,” Unruh, a former U.S. Marine, said. “He had the leadership skills to be a very effective military officer.

“Fortunately for us, he chose to become a teacher and a coach.”

Former players remembered the Shelby Township resident as a tough coach who had a twinkle in his eye and loved to laugh.

“As a football player, I thought he was very intimidating but also a mentor,” 51-year-old John Berg, who will soon retire as Chief of Police in Sterling Heights, said.

“He was one of the toughest people I ever met. He had a great sense of humor even in tough times. I was fortunate and blessed to become friends with him.”

“He had the greatest laugh,” Unruh said. “He wore his emotions on his sleeve. He also was an old-school-type coach.

“He taught us that details matter and he taught us that if you weren’t doing well, generally you needed to work harder. I think kids could benefit from more Rojeski these days.”

James King, who started working at Utica in 1960 and had several different jobs with Utica Community Schools, watched Rojeski grow from student to adult.

"He was the kind of guy you'd like to have your kids work under," King said.

King's five children graduated from Ford.

"Gary treated them all with grace," King added.

Gary A. Rojeski was born Jan. 3, 1948.

Survivors include his wife, Penny, and sons Chad (Katie), Kyle (Kate) and Adam (Deja).

“Gary had three (biological) sons, but he actually has hundreds of sons,” Berg said. “He positively impacted the lives of hundreds of young men.”

The funeral service for Rojeski begins at noon at the funeral home. Burial will be at Utica Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Gary Rojeski Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Last Updated: 5/26/2017 9:07:29 PM EST