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Whitfield Funeral Home
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Hamilton Mill

Joseph George Szombathy

Obituary Date: Wednesday, August 14, 2019


Joseph G. Szombathy, 87, peacefully passed away on Wednesday, August 14, to join his loving wife, Shirley, following a brief illness. “Joe Z”, “Coach”, “Pop Pop” was a true family man whose children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family, and friends admired, respected, enjoyed and loved. He was a Syracuse Orangeman through and through. And he enjoyed a good cigar…

Joe was born on September 3, 1931 to his adoring parents, Josef and Magdalene (Bencsetz), in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. Joe had a wonderful childhood in the idyllic small town of Alpha, New Jersey. He graduated from Phillipsburg High School in 1949, where he lettered in football for 3 years and track for 4 years. He was named First Team All-State in football in 1948. He also served as Class President his junior and senior years. Shirley Decker, his childhood sweetheart and future wife, lived one block away.

Joe attended Syracuse University starting in the fall of 1949 and graduated in the spring of 1953. Legendary Head Football Coach, Ben Schwartzwalder, won the recruiting battle for Joe (and his best friend/high school teammate, NFL Hall of Famer, Jim Ringo). He arrived at SU as a 17 year old freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He played tight end on the football team, lettered for 3 years, led the Orangeman in receiving all three years, and Co-Captained SU’s first-ever bowl team in 1952 when Syracuse went to the Orange Bowl and played Alabama. One of Joe’s favorite stories from that game is that he caught a first quarter touchdown pass to make the score Alabama 7- Syracuse 6.  “We missed the extra point…final score was Alabama 61-Szombathy 6” he often joked.

Following graduation and while pursuing a Masters Degree, he taught and coached at Central Bucks High School in Doylestown, Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia.

In 1957 he returned to SU to coach under Schwartzwalder where he helped guide the Orangemen to the 1959 National Championship and, overall, coached in six bowl games. The players he recruited and coached, along with his fellow coaches, were his pride and joy (next to his family!). He so loved hearing from his former players…and there were many that reached out on a regular basis in the almost 50 years Joe was at SU.

After 17 years of coaching with “Ben”, Athletic Director and dear friend/mentor, Les Dye, encouraged him to move into Athletic Administration. In 1974 he was named an assistant to Dye and Executive Director of the Varsity Club and the newly formed Orange Pack. The original Orange Pack was SU’s first official athletic fundraising organization and focused on raising funds to help with football recruiting. Joe helped the Orange Pack grow…substantially…whereby all sports within the intercollegiate program benefitted. It is now known as the Orange Club and many sports teams have their own fundraising elements. As Joe and Shirley would tell you, they were lucky to travel and support such an incredible set of coaches, players, parents, administrators who loved the Orange.

After 42 years as a Coach and Associate Athletic Director, plus 4 years as a Student/Athlete, it was time for Joe, and Shirley, to retire. Which they did and moved to Stuart, Florida. They lived in the Miles Grant Golf and Country Club area and were members of St. Andrews Catholic Church.

Szombathy is an SU 1989 Varsity Club of SU “Letterwinner of Distinction”, a recipient of the Vic Hanson Medal of Excellence, and a 1996 inductee into the Hall of Fame of the National Football Foundation’s Lehigh Valley Chapter. He also served in the Army Reserves from 1955-1958.

Joe is survived by his three children: Suzy Szombathy of Stuart, Florida, Karen Polinsky (Bob) of Gainesville, Georgia, and Joe Szombathy (Jeannie) of Atlanta, Georgia. He also leaves 6 granddaughters: Katy Hoffman (Ross), Kelly Polinsky, Robyn Shaw (Alex), Mina Widmer, Sophia Silk (Ben), and Leslie Spamer, as well as 4 great-grandchildren, Garrett and Harrison Hoffman, and Vivian and Lola Juliette Silk.

They all will miss his lovely cigars, melodic singing voice, life mantra of “Lucky, lucky, lucky” and the unforgettable four “H’s… HEALTH…HUGS…HAPPINESS…and HOPE”.

On Saturday, September 7, 2019, a memorial service will be held at 11:00 AM at:

St. Michael Church
1440 Pearce Circle NE
Gainesville, GA 30501

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in memory of Joseph Szombathy to either the Orange Club ‘Cuse Athletics Opportunity Fund or the Joseph G. Szombathy Endowed Football Scholarship at Syracuse University. Donations may be sent to Syracuse University, 640 Skytop Road 2nd Floor, Syracuse NY 13244 or by calling the Orange Club (315-443-1419).

Memorial Park Funeral Home, 2030 Memorial Park Road, Gainesville, GA  30504 is in charge of arrangements. (770) 287-8227

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Funeral Date
09/07/2019 at 11:00AM
Funeral Home
Memorial Park Funeral Home and Cemetery and Crematory
2030 Memorial Park Road, Gainesville, GA 30504