Saturday, February 8, 2014

Efrem Dlugacz

When I first went to Junior High School which was then 7th, 8th, and 9th grade, I was told that it would be different from elementary school in that instead of being in one class all day, we would move from class to class with different classmates each hour.  Well, this proved to be mostly true.  We did move from class to class at the sound of a bell, but, in my school anyway, the same kids moved from one class to another.  I was in section 2, 7-2, it was called. And all of us in 7-2 moved from English with Mrs. Gitlitz to Math with Mrs. Merry to Science with Mr. Napolitano etc.  Occasionally someone from one class would have a different math or science, but mostly it was the same crew from 7-2 wherever I went.

One of my classmates was Efrem Dlugacz.  Ours was a section with serious students in it.  I was clearly an exception. I remember on day one in Math a fellow asked the teacher if we would be studying something or other because other matters would be too "trivial."  Had a good sense from context what trivial meant, but the question alone made me wonder about the pedigree of my classmates and how the hell I would survive with this cohort.  Efrem was like the majority in section 2--Sharp, asked intelligent questions, and wanted to do his best at every assignment.

Efrem and I were together for many classes beyond 7th grade throughout Junior High. In Social Studies in 9th grade each student "got" two countries in Africa to research and report on.  I pulled Mozambique and the Malagasy Republic.  Efrem got Rwanda and Burundi.  I remember this because he was upset at the draw since at that time, very little was known about Rwanda and Burundi and he feared that his report would not be as robust as it needed to be.  For some reason I don't remember being with Efrem much in high school. Probably because I got booted out of the smart kid section, but I did notice today that he was active in the school paper and in various clubs. No surprise to see that.

A few years back I discovered Efrem on facebook and we exchanged some notes. He had, again to no surprise, become a very successful executive with Johnson and Johnson.  He had graduated from Cornell for both his Bachelors and Masters and looked, from the smiling photos posted, at peace with himself. I never saw him at any of the reunions, but that could be said for nearly half our class. Maybe he came to our 20th which was enormous, and I didn't see him.

So yesterday there is a video posting on Facebook with Efrem being interviewed.  He sounds intelligent as always and is speaking about his two sons, two daughters, and grandkids.  There are some social and philosophical comments in the 17 minute piece, and it is--in and of itself--if not upbeat, not downbeat either.  However, a careful reading of comments beneath the video indicated that he is gone.

I read today that he died of cancer at 64 on Wednesday.  Sad news.  Except for the few facebook exchanges, I did not see or talk to Efrem in nearly fifty years. But his passing is saddening and is lingering in my head.  Sure, some of the sadness is because he is a contemporary and you wonder how long you have if contemporaries are dying.  But I think it is more than that. I can see the guy working feverishly on math problems, reviewing his notes on the day of an exam, asking relevant questions in class, laughing, and ...very much alive. It is tough to imagine him not being with us. I can't recall it, but I bet the presentation on Rwanda and Burundi was brilliant.


  1. Thank you Alan for your statement. I knew Efrem briefly in my life but even so, his memory is very clear and dear to me. He "friended" me on fb and though we did not keep up acquaintance otherwise, it meant a lot to me to know that he was always kind and thoughtful even as I knew him in his early college life. Since our connection was brief, your post opened a place for me to reaffirm again to those who loved Efrem that indeed his life was meaningful and touched many people far beyond what could be imagined. Thank you for your post. Ellie

  2. You're welcome, Ellie. I can see him in my mind's eye so clearly and I had not seen him in nearly half a century.

  3. Zeke. Hope your'e the kind of person who can push those sad, lingering thoughts out of your head. Like they said on old Dairy Queen t-shirts - turn that frown upside down. so simple. I can't, so either consciously or not find I distance myself more and more from everyone. Even family. I imagine to avoid increasing pain and sadness. I am not proud of this and would not endorse it as a successful mindset. I enjoy your posts because though not always positive, they are reaffirming of caring and thinking. Gene

  4. Hello Alan,
    My name is Ari Dlugacz and I am the son of Efrem Dlugacz. Last year you referenced him in one of your posts on a blog that you shared. I recently discovered this as I was doing a google search about my father. I found your story to be both nostalgic and touching, and I was wondering if we might be able to connect at some point. My family and I love the personal anecdotes and stories where my father was able to positively impact lives. My wife and I even started a non-profit foundation in his name that helps grieving children cope with loss. The foundation is appropriately named Efrem Foundation. I realize that this is a bit of a stab in the dark here, but I figured I should reach out to a total stranger who knew my father Efrem when he was younger. Thank you.

    Ari Dlugacz