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Stan Oldak, a Friend (1947-2007)

stan oldakStan Oldak on 2003 Palm Springs ride–may his memory be for a blessing (photo: Nycc.org)

Stan Oldak died today. My old friend, Veronika called me with the news. She’d introduced me to Stan in the 1980s when she and I both lived in Los Angeles. I think they knew each other all the way back to high school. I was shocked to hear the news. Stan had begun getting heavily into cycling about ten years ago and we both shared some wonderful New York rides in Westchester County and environs. I remember once Stan persuaded me to join him for several days of cycling in Vermont which was especially lovely. I moved away from New York and him, and he got ever more intensely into the sport, while I had to give it up (temporarily) when my three young children were born. He was a leader of the New York Cycle Club. I remember in particular the pride he felt a few years ago when he and his son, Jason, biked together from Boston to New York for AIDS Ride America. I was proud to contribute to his cause.

When he died, Stan was seeking to participate in this summer’s Paris-Brest-Paris competition by cycling early this morning in a Houston qualifying ride. I can only imagine the excitement and anticipation he must’ve felt to be preparing for a European race. Knowing Stan, he must’ve been thinking about all that great Parisian culture, art and food he would’ve enjoyed at race’s end. He would’ve been especially charged to be doing this in his 60th year.

But At 2AM today, he was riding when he was struck by a flat bed truck in a hit and run accident and killed almost instantly. I asked why he was riding at that hour and Veronika told me that he had until 5 AM to complete the final leg of the race.

Stan and I kept in touch even after I left New York. I’d see him from time to time on his way to Alaska where he worked periodically as a pediatric dentist for the Indian Health Service. He told me how important his work was there where he would see young patients from remote villages who sometimes had never seen a dentist in their lives.

Stan’s main practice was in New York City near NYU. I remember he told me that lots of New York celebrities brought their children to the practice including Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.

But Stan wasn’t the type who lived, ate and slept dentistry. He wanted balance in life. He wanted to enjoy life. He was always seeking. Always open to new ideas and new experiences. I remember him telling me that he was volunteering in Bill Bradley’s presidential campaign, which I found interesting because he and I didn’t discuss politics much, though our views were probably similar.

He was an excellent skier who’d skied many of the finest runs in the west. He took me along to Jackson Hole once where the the altitude and exertion of skiing in it nearly did me in. But skiing Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee with their majestic views of the Grand Tetons were the experiences of a lifetime.

Stan’s greatest sport love was cycling. While these types of accidents don’t ever have a silver lining, at least all those who knew and loved Stan can rest easy that he was doing something he truly loved when he died.

I only hope that truck driver will develop pangs of conscience which will cause him to come forward and accept responsibility. It’s hard to imagine my friend dying on Texas asphalt with some killer fleeing the scene like a coward. I can understand the panic and fear anyone would feel under the circumstances. I can understand how you fear you’ve just tossed your life away if you cop to what you’ve done. But in truth, this person just tossed Stan’s life away and there must be some reckoning. And if he/she doesn’t come forward, I hope the police are able to identify the killer. Stan’s life is worth at least that much.

For the life of me I do not understand how a bike race organizer can allow cyclists to race at 2 AM. Every statistic about fatal accidents tells you that the worst time for them is from midnight to dawn. How could they race then? I admit I know nothing about cycling. It’s possible that this is standard practice and that racers accept this type of risk. But I sure wish Stan hadn’t been out there then.

Stan happily violated a lot of the norms I expected in a dentist. He was truly a creative person, even an artist. I remember when he lived in a small upper eastside New York apartment, he saw a Matisse painting he loved. For some reason I can’t recall, he was into beading. He actually personally created a design for the painting in beads and executed it. It was quite extraordinary. And he did it all himself. No kits, no templates. All from his own eye, hand, and head.

I was just thinking of inner images I have of Stan and one that stands out is that humorous twinkle he’d get in his eye and slight chuckle in his voice when he was thinking of something fun, exciting or creative. He had a wonderful, but gentle sense of humor. My heart goes out to his former wife Janis, Jason and Emily. Zichrono li’vracha–May your memory be for a blessing, my friend.

Funeral Arrangements

10 AM, Wednesday
Plaza Jewish Community Chapel
630 Amsterdam Avenue (at 91st)
New York
212 769-4400

Around 1 PM, Wednesday

Bnai Israel Memorial Park
Whitty Road
Tom’s River, NJ
732 349-1244 (synagogue)

There will be a gathering at Stan’s Battery Park apartment from 5-9 PM where Stan’s children will receive visitors and sit Shiva.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Walter Ballin May 6, 2007, 10:43 PM

    Richard,

    I am so sorry to hear about your friend Stan! It is terrible that there are people out there who do these things. I hope that the police catch the perpetrator if he doesn’t turn himself in.

    Walter

  • Jeff Terosky May 7, 2007, 6:37 AM

    All of us suffered a great loss this weekend. For news and remembrances of Stan from some of our members, please view the message board of the New York Cycle Club… http://www.nycc.org/mb/thread.aspx?b=1&t=9082&tp=1&c=(4)#top
    My prayers and deepest condolences,
    -Jeff Terosky
    President, New York Cycle Club

  • Peter Luce May 7, 2007, 11:25 AM

    Hi. I’ve never met Stan, but as a fellow cyclist, I am grateful to you for posting your thoughts and memories of him. I am preparing for the Paris-Brest-Paris event as well. When I heard about the accident I immediately felt the need to know more about him, and your words comforted me in no small way. The dangers of cycling are something we all deal with on a daily basis, be it commuting to work, going on a Saturday morning club ride, or participating in a timed long-distance brevet like the one in Texas (a 28-hour, 400km event). Riding at night is one of the risks of that type of event that we all assume when we ride, and appropriate safety precautions (lights, reflective gear) are worn by all.

    I wasn’t on the ride this weekend, but I rode most of this spring with the Houston group, and I know the riders and organizers down there are just devastated. The ultra-marathon cycling community is a pretty close-knit group, and you’ll never meet a friendlier, more generous and kind bunch than the Houston Randonneurs. My thoughts are with you and Stan’s family, who are dealing with so much more than the sadness I feel at the loss of a kindred spirit I never met.

    Thank you.

  • Jim Bronson May 7, 2007, 12:06 PM

    I also rode the event this weekend, but a different distance and a different route. I had a chance to sit down with a group of randonneurs at dinner on Friday night and Stan was among that group. He talked about how he liked to get on a plane and go to other states to ride brevets. Really great guy, was my impression. I was shocked at the end of the ride to hear about what had happened. I visited that stretch of road early this morning to try to get an idea what had happened, but there wasn’t much to see. My heart goes out to his family and friends…I shed a tear when I read this blog entry. Stan lived a remarkable life. Rest in peace, Stan.

  • Ed Jones May 7, 2007, 12:32 PM

    HI, I rode with Stan on Saturday. We started the ride at 5 am on the 5th day of the 5th month. We shared lunch with Stan in a little Texas town named Cistern on the side of the highway. One of the family had come out to make us sandwiches from the home made bread his wife had baked for the occasion. It was a sunny, warm, windy spring day in Texas. the wind was blowing from the south at over 20 mph. It was the sort of day made for Stan and the other Randonneurs.

    The randonneurs are a small group in Houston. There were only about 40 or so people participating that day. In Cistern there were only six of us. I asked Stan were he was from. He said “New York” and I thought “wow you are really hard core to come all the way to Texas for a qualifier!” At the time I though how good he looked on his bike, and like the rest of us, he was enjoying that day and riding strong into the wind.

    Stan had signed up for the 400K ride, and I needed to ride the 600K. So we parted in Cistern. Stan went north with the others and I went south by myself, but I hoped to see them along the return leg on US 90 into columbus. l didn’t see them that night. Later I found out about the accident. I regret that I wasn’t with him on that stretch.

    This makes us all very sad in Houston. This is the first accident of this type that we’ve had. We’ll never be able to ride through that area, particularly at night, without thinking of Stan.

  • Marlyn Martinez May 7, 2007, 1:16 PM

    My name is Marlyn Martinez (Spunky) and I am also a randonneur from the Houston club. I was very much in shock when we heard the news about Stan. Unfortunately I was scheduled to do the 600 but an accident on my bike back on April 1st where I fractured my pelvis phohibited from being able to complete my series in order to qulify for Paris-Brest-Paris. This was also my dream. My heart goes out to his family. We will always remember Stan.

  • Chris Hansen Tatham,CDA/DHAII May 8, 2007, 11:24 AM

    I am a certified dental assistant in Juneau, Alaska and I’ve worked for SEARHC for about 18 years. I’m so saddened by this news regarding Dr. Oldak. I had the priviledge of assisting him on 9/11 for the 1st time in Juneau. I’ll never forget that week! Also, we worked together in Hoonah and Yakutat. We had to fly to both of these villages with all our equipment for a week to treat the children in the area. I always looked forward to Dr. Oldaks’ visits and will miss him. He was very proud of his own kids and would bring us up to date on their activities and accomplishments. He was a wonderful person and awesome childrens’ dentist!
    Blessings to his family,
    Chris Hansen Tatham

  • Barbara Beach May 8, 2007, 12:21 PM

    Stan came to SE Alaska to provide dentistry to children in several communities. As coordinator of his trips I was looking forward to seeing him this week and next. Our staff and all the friends he made during his many trips here are devastated. He was a man of many interests; we enjoyed sharing with him an interest in music and progress with his cello lessons. He loved photographing the natural scenery; when we all had the opportunity, we took him fishing and hiking. He attacked life with enthusiasm. Stan will be sorely missed. Our condolences to his family and other friends.

  • Rick May 8, 2007, 3:25 PM

    Dear Richard,
    I often read your informative posts, and this would be my first time commenting, i just wanted to offer my sincerest condolences, may Stan be in a better place.
    Sincerely,
    Rick

  • Elliott Moskowitz May 11, 2007, 6:15 PM

    Stan was one of the kindest and dedicated dental colleagues. His work in Alaska is well known. Stan traveled a long way periodically to render dental care to native Alaskan children who had never seen a dentist and were in dire need of oral health care. He did this quietly and never needed or wanted recognition for his noble efforts beyond his own understanding of just how important his work and contributions were to Society. Stan will be missed by all. He was indeed, the true measure of a human being.
    Elliott Moskowitz

  • Richard Silverstein May 11, 2007, 8:37 PM

    Thanks for that lovely comment, Elliott. Did you read that the Juneau paper will do a profile of Stan? I’m talking to the reporter about him on Mon. Look for it around Wed. or so. I assume you’re in AK. But if not, check back here & I’ll link to the article.

    Stan visited me here in Seattle several times coming back or going to AK & spoke often about the work he did. Just hearing that he had treated a teenager w. serious dental disease who’d never seen a dentist before in his life was both horrifying & wonderful at the same time. But it would only have been horrifying if there’d been no Stan there to treat the child. The fact that he understood the importance of coming to AK. to do this was what was wonderful.

  • Susan Carlson May 17, 2007, 7:08 PM

    Stan Oldak made a remarkable contribution to improving pediatric dental care in Southeast Alaska. He was greatly appreciated by staff and patients. He will be missed and remembered. Condolences to his family. -Susan Carlson MD, Medical Director, Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium

  • Steve Whittles January 16, 2008, 5:41 AM

    I served with Dr. Oldak in the US Army. (Camp Stanley, Korea – -and no, they did not name Camp Stanley for him!) I was going through old pictures just the other day and found one of him in full field gear (tough guy!). I searched the internet for Stan and a couple of others who’s photos triggered warm memories, intending to contact them and offer the photos. I am profoundly sorry to have learned of his tragic passing. My 32 year old recollection of Stan was that he was a kind and gentle man. His family and friends must miss him terribly. As I said, I have at least one picture of Stan that I’d be happy to share as soon as I get it digitized.

  • Irwin Moss April 27, 2008, 7:48 AM

    I was a childhood friend of Stan and attended Queens College with him where he was the the president of our house plan. He was a genuinely decent and caring person, and I was stunned to learn of his death. My condolences to his family and friends as I know he was the kind of person who is sorely missed.