It is always a sad event when somebody dies young, especially when they’re one of our own. Jiri “George” Banacek, a man whose warm smile and delicious eggs greeted the students of South Campus at breakfast for over a decade, sadly succumbed to a battle with liver cancer at the age of 56 over the summer.
Cheryl Dion, the supervisor of the South Campus Hawk’s Nest and a close friend of Banacek for twelve years, spoke about him with the kind of affection in her voice usually reserved for a loved one who has been a facet of everyday life. She spoke of how he emigrated to the U.S. from the Czech Republic for better opportunity, but never forgot his homeland. She told of how George would often talk and tell stories of what it was like there, and even play Czech music.
“He always said how he would go back there one day,” said Dion. “I like to think that he did.”
But the thing Dion emphasized most was Banacek’s love for the students. The camaraderie he enjoyed with them was something special, and he would often say it was the best part of his job. He would often affectionately talk of seeing his regulars each day, even if that one simple interaction was a breakfast order. He loved and was loved by everyone that knew him.
“His absence leaves a big void here among the students and his coworkers,” says Dion.
All those that knew Banacek also knew the care and devotion he put in to serving his students. His warmth and kindness helped make it a little easier for everyone to get to that 8 a.m. class, and to simply exist in those ungodly hours of an early morning. He loved us all, and his passing leaves an empty space that will not easily, if ever, be filled.
Though Banacek has passed, and breakfast will never be quite the same again, he will never truly be gone. The memory of him, and what a damn good bacon, egg and cheese he could make, will stay with all his regulars forever.
There will be a benefit held in Banacek’s honor at the Polish American Veterans Club on Saturday, Sept. 27 from 8 p.m. to midnight. The PAV is located at 201 Coburn St. in Lowell.