March 18, 2009 by Michele Chong
“A Tribute to Chuck Bodak” was held Monday night in honor of one of boxing’s biggest icons. Many flew in from around the U.S. to be present at the celebration of Bodak’s life which was held at the Marconi Automotive Museum and Foundation for Kids in Tustin, California. Bodak once lived in a converted boxcar adjacent to this museum.
Vasil “Chuck” Bodak died on February 6 from long-term effects first suffered from a 2007 stroke. The 92-year-old had worked with over 60 champions in the ring and was known world-wide as one of boxing’s best cutmen. He was also a boxer himself, a trainer, author, artist and even an actor in his later years. Chuck was many things to many people, but at Monday night’s celebration he was remembered as a mentor and friend to countless individuals whose lives he impacted along the way.
The event was hosted by Dick and Priscilla “Bo” Marconi and Ray and Vickki Marconi. It is fitting that the Marconi brothers, who first met Bodak when they were just humble teens in Gary, Indiana, grew up to be successful entrepreneurs and Chuck’s benefactors when the cutman became ill. The party was held at Dick’s museum where the Orange County-based businessman has amassed a $30 million collection of the world’s finest autos that he donated to his non-profit museum and organization.
And which automobile is placed right in the center of this state-of-the art building?
A Fiat 850 Spider that is covered in découpaged photos by Bodak himself. Spending four years “decorating” this car, this work of art is on permanent display for fans to enjoy. From the grill to the tail lights, the cutman painstakingly glued specially chosen photos of favorite fighters and vintage magazine over the painted car. Everywhere you looked, some boxer’s mug was smiling or glaring back at you from the hood to the hubcaps!
Known for his wacky ways, the Marconi brothers chuckled as they told the crowd how Chuck first came to fashion those eclectic headbands that he pasted around his skull. “While working with Jorge Paez, Chuck noticed “Maromero” would cut his hair in different designs. So Chuck put black tape around his bald head to copy Paez. Pretty soon he was doing it all the time and then added photos too!” The rest is history.
Bodak certainly was a contradiction. While traveling around the world with famous champions, he would be given a suite in the finest hotels but still chose to sleep on the floor. He would bring smiles to thousands, but wore false teeth of his own for years (which he misplaced many times). The senior citizen would sometimes wear the same clothes for days on end even though he could definitely afford a nicer wardrobe. And he would carefully wrap a boxer’s hands with extra care and detail, but often neglected his own personal care and hygiene.
And he was the ultimate packrat–saving so much boxing memorabilia that his old boxcar is literally covered from floor to ceiling with Bodak’s treasured mementos of boxing’s past. In fact, it would be an understatement to call him a packrat. He never threw anything away!
Fighters and guests in attendance had a field day touring Bodak’s boxcar, now a de facto museum. Excited boxers could be heard saying, “Here I am!” when they spotted an old photo of themselves that Bodak has pasted onto one of his collages as they laughed at their ’70s hairstyles and clothing in the pictures.
Completely covered with scraps from ticket stubs, bout cards, books and magazines, there are cornerman’s jackets, posters, statues, awards and more that take up every inch and every crevice in the boxcar–each nook and cranny in the oblong space is filled with boxing souvenirs. Well, make that 99% boxing memorabilia. Baseball, religion and the film industry managed to earn some space in his overflowing boxcar too. Game uniforms, painted crosses and photos with movie stars are also included among his collection. You could spend a whole day in there and uncover unique treasures–everywhere you looked something new would catch your eye.
A religious man, crosses adorn a lot of the boxcar’s shelves, and the cutman made many crucifixes that he liked to give as gifts. The attendees had fun comparing and showing off their “Bodak Bling,” the jewelry the cutman hand-crafted and presented to chosen recipients. From gaudy bracelets, huge watches, oversized rings and heavy pendants laden with crosses or photos of Bodak himself, the guests now wore these jewels made by the cutman with an extra dose of sentimental pride.
Everyone had their own personal stories of their adventures with the colorful cutman. Bodak didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink but he sure swore a lot! Frequently spewing F-bombs and jaw-dropping comments, Bodak never edited his speech. His signature move was “The Uno” which he learned from Jorge Paez; Bodak would often pose with that middle-finger salute.
Salty and crude, insulting and rude. That could describe Bodak as well.
But as everyone who knew him can attest to, beneath this crusty, hard-as-nails exterior was a heart of gold.
“Chuck would earn $15,000 for a fight,” Dick Marconi told the audience. “But he’d come home with just $200, or sometimes nothing. He’d give away the money. He would give it to the maids, to kids, to strangers. That was Chuck.”
And he loved kids, often working for free. “He sometimes never made a penny,” explained Ray Marconi. “Chuck just loved to work. Sometimes people took advantage of Chuck, sometimes he got screwed in deals. But he just loved boxing!”
Friends and fans of all ages came out to pay tribute to the legendary cutman. Henry Garcia and his family came all the way from Victorville to attend the function. Garcia was just appointed Head Boxing Coach for the Apple Valley PAL program and his 10-year-old son, Ryan, already has over 50 bouts on his record. Henry was inspired by Bodak and wanted his kids to be able to pay tribute to the legendary cutman. At the event, young Ryan also got to meet former WBC champs like Bobby Chacon and Paul Banke, who in turn were happy to meet the hopeful future Olympian. Banke gave Ryan some advice and told him about his own days as a 12-year-old amateur as he playfully put up his dukes with the youngster.
Plenty of family members were also in attendance, including Chuck’s sister, Mary, and nephew Bob Bodak from Indiana, who recounted hilarious anecdotes of times spent with “Uncle Chuck” when he was a kid.
And of course, all of Chuck’s boxing family came out in full support too–a testament to the legacy that he built through his career.
The World Boxing Council’s (WBC) Jill Diamond flew in from New York just to be at the tribute. The WBCares Chairperson read a personal letter from WBC President José Sulaimán as she presented a posthumous award to Bodak.
Dean Lohuis and a large group of boxing officials and inspectors from the California State Athletic Commission were also in attendance. And a throng of Board of Directors from the World Boxing Hall of Fame were present as well, including current President Mando Muñiz, Treasurer Josie Arrey-Mejia, Judge Gwen Adair, Secretary Yolanda Muñiz, Dr. Joe Noriega, Alex Cornejo, Steve Harpst, and Hassan Chitsaz. The Golden State Boxers’ Association was represented by Vice President Bill Dempsey Young.
Special invited guests included fighters Albert Davila, Mando Muñiz, Paul Banke, Bobby Chacon, Danny “Little Red” Lopez, John Montes, Paul Gonzales, Rodolfo “Gato” Gonzalez, Allen Syers, Katarina De La Cruz, Promoter Ken Thompson from Thompson Boxing Promotions, cutman Mack Kurihara and emcee Danny Valdivia.
While seen in the corners of many elite fighters, including Muhammad Ali, Oscar De La Hoya, Tommy Hearns, Julio Cesar Chavez and Evander Holyfield, Bodak also spent decades working in amateur boxing. He worked with the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) in Chicago for years before moving to California. For the kids he coached in both Indiana and Illinois, Bodak will never be forgotten.
“I now live in Reno,” said David Zawacki, who came in from Nevada to attend the tribute. “I knew Chuck for 43 years, since 1964 when I boxed for him as a kid in the old Chicago CYO. I last visited with him over the past year after he had his stroke.” During Monday’s party, Zawacki reconnected with fighter Mando Muñiz–the two had fought together in the ’60s during their military careers.
Bodak made his presence known in both the pro and amateur worlds of the sweet science.
Joe Zanders, President of USA Boxing Southern California, was out of town during the tribute and regrets not being able to attend the service. A day after the event, he made sure to tell me, “Chuck was a good man and he will be dearly missed.”
Per his final wishes, Bodak had a direct burial at the Riverside National Cemetery but the Marconis still wanted to honor their friend in one final tribute. Dick’s flawless auto museum provided a first-class send off for the cutman. The brothers have been involved in boxing for decades and host an annual “Fight Night” extravaganza which raises a million dollars for at-risk youth. Dick, a former race car driver, lives up to his father’s motto, “Learn, earn and return!” and was happy to be able to open up his museum for this tribute to Bodak.
Milling around rare cars, including Oscar De La Hoya’s truck, Mario Andretti’s Indy winner, classic Ferraris, custom Lamborghinis, muscle cars, a fire engine and more, the attendees shared laughs with other guests as they reminisced and remembered Bodak during the evening’s salute.
While party-goers admired rows and rows of gleaming, priceless automobiles, they also made their way to Bodak’s gritty old boxcar, marveling at the trail of history the cutman left behind. The boxcar is just another fitting contradiction that defined Chuck Bodak. The beautiful spotless museum houses myriad of million-dollar sports cars. But the dusty, messy, cluttered, scrap-booked filled boxcar Bodak created somehow blends in just fine, adding even more value to the museum’s already intriguing and priceless collection.
A character. An icon. One-of-a-kind. Unique. A mentor. A friend. All descriptions that were repeated throughout the night while friends and family spoke of the cutman. As guests noshed on appetizers and desserts, a film was shown of the eccentric and generous cutman in all his glory. The end frame showed Chuck waving goodbye to the camera– a perfect ending to the long life he led.
Chuck Bodak may have permanently left the fight game but boxing will never forget his contributions to the sport.