In loving memory of Michael Emil Sladek
August 23, 1943-April 27, 2003
Many waters I have sailed
Throughout the voyage of life
Over waters tranquil
Free of pain and strife
Sometimes tossed in raging storms
Though never left alone
There was a light that beckoned me
Towards the shores of home
Always in the distance
This beacon I could see
Giving me direction as
I sailed upon life’s sea
My journey is completed now
The tide is drifting in
My vessel moves on gentle waves
Mike was many different things to many different people. To me, he was father, mentor and friend. To my mother, he was husband, best friend and soul mate. To many of you he was “Captain Mike”, business associate, grandfather, teacher and of course, friend.
When I first learned of Mike’s disease and heard the urologists comments regarding the diagnosis, I felt a sense of terror and grief. Yet, through the last two agonizing years of Mike’s life, he spent a great deal of time reassuring us that he would “kick this thing”. He had an incredible sense of hope and while he knew deep down inside that the disease was winning, he continued to fight. Mike was like that. Whether it was starting a business, earning his Captains license, or simply going to Starbucks for a cup of coffee, he was always driven towards a goal. His focus and determination was relentless. Sometimes, I would quietly watch him and it was as if I could see that he was continually analyzing a situation, trying to figure out how a goal could be attained. This is how it was with the cancer, but that determination couldn’t help him win the battle against it.
I am delighted that there were loved ones by his side as he drew his last breath. But watching Mike relinquish his hope for survival leaves me with a heart wrenching sentiment that will stay with me indefinitely. This is the pain of knowing that Mike was forced to surrender his battle in complete opposition to his unwavering character.
Mike had a wonderful passion for life. He proudly told of his heritage and his grandmothers’ migration from Czechoslovakia. How his father served in the war without returning home until Mike was two years old. And later, as a young man, Mike told us about how he took a break from his engineering courses at University of Illinois to work with his father in a steel mill for a year. It was then that he decided that he wanted more out of life and he returned to school to obtain a Business Administration Degree and eventually an MBA from Roosevelt University, all while working odd jobs and supporting a family.
Mike was propelled by his appreciation of the “finer things” in life and he enjoyed sharing those things with those he cherished. He loved to travel the world and he wouldn’t hesitate to invite you along or offer a vacation with him on his yacht. Once he attained his Captains license, he wanted to voyage the seas during retirement. That was only one of many dreams that Mike was unable to realize. An excerpt from a status report that he wrote in February says it best: “My number one priority is to spend quality time and do things with my wife. To be able to do things with my grandkids and to play with those puppydogs. I want to have a job. I want to go on two week vacations. I want to buy a car with a three year loan. I want to see my granddaughter graduate college in five years. When I have this my quality of life will be great.” I am sure that many of you share our anger, frustration and sadness at the disruption of his plans.
Mike made a tremendous difference in our lives. He offered practical wisdom in business and life as well as compassion in love and friendship. He was a great friend to turn to, always offering encouragement and advice, if you wanted it. He kept you on your toes, whether it was keeping up with his intellectual side or simply deciphering a far fetched story. Because he believed in me, he taught me to trust, and to believe in myself. He taught me to be strong and capable.
Already, I miss Mike, as I know many of you do. And as time goes on, we will continue to miss him in ways that we don’t even realize now. I am sure that it will catch us off guard at times, like when we suddenly encounter an item, a letter, a scent or a person that unexpectedly reminds us of him. And while these remembrances are painful now, I am confident that they will eventually bring us joy.