Robert "Bobby" Hudak had a fierce love for all things athletic. While a student at Levittown Memorial High School, he stayed busy year-round playing baseball, football and lacrosse.
But in the midst of the hubbub of athletics and adolescent life, he took a moment to quietly accompany his neighbor Monica Merritt to the prom at her school for children with Down syndrome.
It was an evening that stayed with him for life, his family said. "She was special to him," said his sister Elaine Hudak, 55, of Levittown.
Hudak died Jan. 22 of renal failure at St. Francis Hospital. He was 57.
The fateful prom date happened in May 1980 when Merritt, his neighbor since childhood, asked him to take her to the dance during her senior year at the program held at the Abbey Lane Elementary School in Levittown. The night of the prom, he appeared at the door with a corsage and his father's light blue Chevette, according to an Ed Lowe column in Newsday later that year.
After graduating from Levittown Memorial in the spring of 1980, Hudak played sports at Kean University in New Jersey for a year or two, his sister said. He left college and became a long-distance trucker. He traded that life for odd jobs, including working as a taxi driver, to be closer to home when his twin daughters were born in 1992.
He was a larger-than-life presence. "If Bob Hudak walked into the room, you knew that Bob Hudak was in the room," his daughter Carolann Hudak said.
He had strong opinions, especially about driving. "We took him to a Mets game for Father's Day one year, and he didn’t like how I was going," Carolann Hudak said. "So he made me pull over and he took over the wheel."
And he was willing to break some rules to help his kids have fun. "We lived across the street from the pool growing up and he would help us to climb the fence so we could go swimming when the the pool was closed," Carolann Hudak said. "He used to bring our trampoline to the park so all the kids could play. He liked to have fun."
"He could charm the pants off anybody," Elaine Hudak said. "Everybody liked him ... he had a fun way with words. He knew how to cheer you up."
Hudak was also the biggest fan of his daughters' athletic pursuits. Carolann Hudak said that the family discovered after his funeral that "he had newspaper articles from the 2000s that were written up about me and my sister's games. He kept them that long," she said. "He liked bragging about us. He loved us more than anything."
Eventually Hudak returned to living in his childhood home in Levittown — and Monica Merritt was still living across the street. The two had stayed in touch over the years and she still sought him out for company. "He kept that friendship going," Carolann Hudak said. "They had a special relationship."
Besides his sister, Hudak is survived by his mother Claire Hudak of Levittown, brother James Hudak of Levittown, and daughters Carolann Hudak and Elissa Hudak of Levittown. His funeral was held at Thomas F. Dalton Funeral Home in Levittown and he was buried at Pinelawn Cemetery in Farmingdale.