JECHURA Sylvester "Shake" Sylvester "Shake" Jechura the founder and past owner of Toledo Raceway Park died at his home in Largo, Florida on Wednesday, November 24, 2009. Born on December 13, 1925, to Felix and Mary Jechura, Polish immigrants, he was one of ten children. Working on the family farm on Dean Road in Erie, Michigan he learned many skills and developed a strong work ethic that motivated and carried him through his entire life. He was married to Sylvia Karnikowski for 65 years and they had two daughters, Susan and Sharon. He and his brothers ventured from their private businesses to build Toledo Raceway Park in the 1949 for the purpose of stock car racing. In 1958 the track was converted to a thoroughbred horse race track and licensed by the Ohio State Racing Commission. Mr. Jechura became the General Manager of the track after the death of his brother, Stanley "Skip" Jechura. Under his management he transformed Raceway Park into an entertainment and racing facility that saw weekend attendance of 6,000 patrons and wagering in excess of $250,000 average per night for a racing season. His keen insight into how to treat customers and his expectations that track employees serve the patrons with the respect and courtesy, kept long time patrons returning every racing season. Mr. Jechura continued to bring new innovations to Raceway Park through the years. In 1962 night harness racing was introduced in between Spring and Winter thoroughbred racing. Just three years later, due to the popularity of harness racing he renovated the racetrack by creating a banked 5/8 mile track. This new track established new track records and allowed horsemen to showcase their horses at a competitive level with horses throughout the United States because of their sub-two minute miles. It also brought many nationally recognized drivers and horses to Raceway Park to compete for purses worth thousands of dollars. Besides his entrepreneurial ability he always remembered his humble beginnings on the farm. He worked long hours doing the maintenance, assisting in all departments as needed, and if there was a hole that needed dug you would find Shake at the bottom. He never expected any of his employees or family to do something that he himself would not do. He always made a point to know the hundreds of employees, horsemen, horse owners, and patrons. It was said he managed with a heavy hand but always had a soft heart. The door to his office was rarely closed and everyone knew him as "Shake." In 1976 he could have closed the racetrack after a tragic fire destroyed the grandstand, but with the encouragement of his family, friends and patrons he chose to rebuild a bigger and better establishment. He brought in the most modern computerized equipment for pari-mutuel wagering, installed an enclosed grandstand with state of the art glass, and created an establishment that rivaled the racetracks on the East Coast and in Florida. He also served for a time on the Ohio State Racing Commission board. In 1988 the racetrack was sold and he and his wife moved to Florida. He never forgot his friends, family, and customers. He enjoyed hearing about them even though he was in Florida. While in living along the Gulf, he spent more time enjoying his favorite pastimes of fishing and bowling. Having enjoyed walleye fishing on Lake Erie, he was very successful of bringing in a good catch from the Gulf. He often reminisced about the 50 years of car and horse racing he spent at Raceway Park with friends he spoke with. His cousin Tom Sorosiak worked with him since 1969 said that "regardless of how stressful a night of racing would be and if he displayed any frustrations towards people he would just settle back and ask me to join him for a slice of apple pie and a cup of coffee in the track kitchen. He just cared so much about helping and giving everyone around him a fair shake." He will be missed by so many that knew him as a proud man that was able to turn ideas into reality. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Susan; sisters, Mary, Wanda, and Sophie; brothers, Carl, Edward, Chester, Stanley "Skip" and Stephen "Tony". He is survived by his wife, Sylvia; daughter, Sharon; sister, Helen; grandchildren, Dion Wilson, Steven Suzor, Kelly (Wagner) Hall, Amy (Wagner) Kazmierczak, Carey (Wagner) Manders; 8 great-grandchildren and many cousins. A private ceremony will be held with his wishes to have his ashes be showered onto the Gulf of Mexico waters were he found peace and tranquility in his later years. In lieu of flowers, cards and condolences may be sent to: The Jechura Family 3517 Woodley Court Toledo, Ohio 43606.
Published in The Blade from Nov. 27 to Nov. 29, 2009.