In December of 2021, The Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association said goodbye to an old friend—Gene Bednarchik. After serving over 30 years as a Trustee for the Relief, Gene has finally retired. His commitment and sense of duty should be an example for all to follow.
Ironically, Gene’s journey with the Relief began with a need of his own. At the time, his mom had been very sick with cancer. Things were not going well and he knew that things would not get better. Knowing he needed a plan he first traveled to the old Credit Union/Relief Association building at 2900 Temple. There, he ran into Phil Foresstal, who was then the president of the Relief Association. Two things Gene remembers learning that day was that the Relief had several things in place to assist a member if a death in their immediate family occurs, and the second, was that Phil mentioned that there was an unfilled position in Battalion 11 for a Trustee at the Association. Phil asked if Gene if he might be interested in the position. Since things were rather hectic at the time, Gene did not want to make that impetuous leap into commitment and told him that he would get back to him in a couple days. Phil thanked him for his consideration and told him to think about it hard. He mentioned that being a Trustee meant you would be serving the membership as a volunteer, and that there were three meetings a month. Gene took the conversation seriously and next sought some further advice from past Relief president Walter Samadoroff, who was a Senior Trustee at the time. Walter encouraged him to come aboard. Making his decision, Gene called Phil back and said he would take the position. So, there began his 30-years “I’ll just fill in for a couple months” stint as a Trustee.
During Gene’s service there were some great times and not so great times as a Trustee. One of the treats for him was being assigned a seat at the Board Room table sitting between Leo Najarian and Harry Stires. His job was to keep the two of them from arguing during the Board meeting. He was seldom successful because he was always laughing so hard. Still, he knew the two men were classics and dedicated to the Association, so he did his best to keep the peace. Gene remembers with fondness sharing a task with past President and Trustee Davey Williams. The two would take turns picking up and driving Leo Najarian to meetings and seminars. Once, Gene drove Leo to a seminar in Monterey Ca. The roundtrip drive was 762.3 miles and Leo talked the whole way. Gene was not sure if Leo took a breath the entire time.
In the early days, Gene felt fortunate to be the Chairperson for the Relief Committee and proud to also chair the Administrative Committee. Gene always enjoyed serving the membership and families of the Association and he did his best to help those in need. Whether it was helping out a member with a medical need or taking part in some of the festivities that the Association would do throughout the year, Gene felt the gratification of being where he was needed. He fondly remembers Disneyland Night, Hope for Firefighters, helping out in planning retirement events, and all the things in between. He also somberly remembers the hard part about being a Trustee, especially the flag presentations at funerals for our members. Some he knew, many he didn’t, but he ALWAYS put forth the effort in honoring one of our fallen members.
One of his proudest accomplishments came from getting involved with the community business owners. Case in point, the Valley Professional Network. The VP network is a group of business owners in the San Fernando Valley that has chosen the Widows, Orphans, & Disabled Firefighter’s Fund as their charity of choice to donate to. To date, the Network has contributed a significant amount to the fund, in addition to always participating in any event that we may have planned. Through the years, Gene has seen many Trustees come and go. Some staying for just a short period, while others for quite some time. These men and women have all contributed in some way to help grow the Association to where it is today. Without their hard work and dedication, we’d have no such group. This organization is a stand-alone support for our membership that many have tried to duplicate, with few succeeding. Is the Association better because of him? Gene would say no because that is who he is, however, the membership knows better, the people Gene has helped along the way know better! It is better because of people like Gene Bednarchik, and Phil Forrestal, Davey Williams, Jim Dolan, Walter Samadoroff, Leo Najarian, Harry Stires, and countless others. All volunteers, giving of their personal time for the service of others.
On behalf of the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association and its thousands of members, past and present, thank you, Gene. Thank you for a job well done and for accomplishing something bigger than yourself by volunteering. Leo Rosten, the American humorist once said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy, but to matter—to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all.” Gene, you have made a difference. Enjoy retirement, but never forget to continue the life you started so many years ago with the Association—God Speed and thank you from us all!