When a person gives of themselves so willingly to their family and community, their loss leaves a gaping hole not only in the lives of those they loved, but also in the town they called home.
Such was the impact of Meyer "Mike" Ketofsky, 84, of Kendall Park, who died on Aug. 16 at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Hamilton. Ketofsky lived in South Brunswick for over four decades, leaving an indelible mark as a well-known community volunteer and giving friend to those lucky enough to come in contact with him.
"Every once in awhile you find someone that lives in a community who just makes it better by being there. Mike was one of those people," said Mayor Frank Gambatese. "Mike was not only kind and generous, but thoughtful, always wanting to help someone else. He meant a lot to this community and helped make us who we are."
Ketofsky's gentle and caring nature was in contrast to a very difficult upbringing that could've turned the strongest of people cynical and jaded. He was born in Bayonne, but was raised in Ellenville, N.Y. after a tragedy early in his life.
Ketofsky's mother was hit by a bus when he was a child and developed epilepsy. As a result, and as a sign of the times he grew up in, his mother was placed in a mental hospital even though she was not mentally ill. Ketofsky was eventually kicked out by his father for wanting to stay in school instead of working in the family business.
"His father was absent and not a very useful dad," said Ketofsky's daughter Franne Demetrician. "My dad had a really crappy upbringing that could've made him into a mean, angry, and bitter man instead of a wonderful and beaming giver."
Ketofsky eventually ended up in Brooklyn, N.Y. where he attended Thomas Jefferson High School. It was there at the age of 15 that Ketofsky would meet the love of his life, Shirley. After getting married at the age of 18, Ketofsky joined the Army and shipped off to Japan with his new wife in tow, where his daughter was born soon thereafter.
Eventually becoming a 2nd Lieutenant, Ketofsky transitioned to the Army Reserve after a seven-year career in the armed forces.
"He wanted to make the Army his career, but my mother wanted to be near her family," Demetrician said. "It was a hard life for her, moving around. My mom said I had enough of this, so he left the Army. But my dad loved the Army, he was a patriot through and through."
Ketofsky began working in the lumber business with various companies, before launching a home goods and hardware business called M-K Enterprises. It was there that Ketofsky was affectionately given the nicknames "Meyer the Buyer" and "Meyer the Supplier." But his first priority remained his family.
"His other occupation was taking care of my mother, his children and his community," Demetrician said. "He devoted most of his time giving to other people."
After living in apartments in Bound Brook and Somerset, in 1968 Ketofsky accumulated enough money to move his family to Kendall Park. Throughout this time, Ketofsky strived to instill a strong work ethic and personal values into his children.
"When I was about 7-years-old, I was with my father at a store when he purchased something for about $6," said son Hal Ketofsky. "We walked out to the car as he counted the change and he realized the cashier gave him 6-cents too much. He had to go back into the store to give the money back. I remember thinking why are we doing this it's only 6-cents. I didn't know at the time that he was teaching me a lesson."
Ketofsky was also a man who gave back to his community not to puff up his chest and brag to others, but because he simply believed it was right.
Ketofsky was a fixture in South Brunswick as Chaplain of VFW Post 9111, a member of the American Legion Post 401, a member of the Aging in Place Partnership and an ever-present guiding force for the South Brunswick Senior Center.
"This was not a wealthy man, this was a man who had financial struggles his whole life," Demetrician said. "If you looked through his checkbook you see a litany of charities listed. He gave what he had to anyone who asked for money. If he couldn't give out of pocket then he gave his time and energy. That was his pleasure. He didn't talk about it. He exemplified it. All he's ever done his whole life is take care of other people."
About 15 years ago, Ketofsky transitioned to spending most of his time caring for his wife after she became stricken with Alzheimer's disease. After his wife's death seven years ago, Ketofsky became synonymous with the senior center, as it was a place he could find an escape from the most profound loss of his life.
"He just loved being the president of every club and being there to support the work at the senior center," Demetrician said. "It gave him solace because the loss of my mom was the most devastating thing that ever happened to him. If it wasn't for the senior center and his community work, we would've lost him much sooner. It gave him a purpose and a place to go with the opportunity to serve and give, which is all he ever wanted to do. It gave us peace to know he had this in his life."
Ketofsky also found a cause he loved working for the VFW.
"Mike was so involved and brought everyone together," said Stan Nosal, of Post 9111. "He was always concerned about others and making sure everyone was taken care of. Anyone who got sick, he was always there for them. He was a great comrade and we will all miss him very much."
Both of his children fondly remembered Ketofsky's nurturing guidance throughout their lives. For Demetrician it was her father's go-to quote, "have I ever led you wrong," that stands out.
"No he never did lead me wrong. Even when there came a point in my life that I realized my parents weren't perfect, I thought he was," Demetrician said. "I adored him. He was my prince, my knight in shining armor."
For Hal, it was his father's steadying words every time trouble arose that stick with him today.
"Whenever we talked, no matter what was going on, he would shift the conversation to what was going on with me," Hal said. "If anything was not perfect, he wouldn't even let me finish before he would ask what can I do to help you?"
A perfect example of Ketofsky's impact on South Brunswick was his funeral on Sunday. So many people came to pay their respect that the funeral home ran out of space, unable to simply fit more people inside.
"Thank you to everyone for the outpouring of love we've received. The whole community showed up for him," Demetrician said. "It's so overwhelming to my family and me. We want to thank everyone, in particular the senior center, for loving my dad the way they did and seeing him for who he was."
While Ketofsky's loss will be felt by many in South Brunswick after his decades of service, his true impact can be found in the lasting memories and lessons that will live on in his family for generations to come.
"He not only showed me how to be a man, but most importantly how to be a man when things get rough, when you get mistreated, when life hits you in the face," Hal said. "He showed me how to pick yourself up and keep going. To treat others with respect. I'm doing my best. I'm not him, but I'm trying to be more like him. He was a great humanitarian, a giver, and he taught us all the value of family."
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