Plum’s Frank Furko, best remembered as Pudgie Wudgie’s owner, dead at 85
Frank J. Furko’s claim to national fame was being the owner of a 20-pound tabby cat named Pudgie Wudgie — a famed feline in the 1990s.
But Furko was more than that to people who knew him in the Oakmont and Plum areas.
Furko of Plum’s East Oakmont neighborhood died Wednesday, June 19, 2019, at his family’s farmstead. He was 85.
“He was interesting in many other ways beyond having a cat dressed in a costume,” said Wynne Everett, a journalist now based in Toledo, Ohio, who worked at the Valley News Dispatch from 1995 to 2006.
Everett covered “the Pudgie Wudgie beat” then and the famous feline made the newspaper at least twice a year, she said.
Furko rescued the tabby at the Animal Rescue League in Pittsburgh and soon learned Pudgie Wudgie was more than a barn cat. Furko dressed the feline in toddler-sized costumes, and they became welcomed visitors at schools, nursing homes and at Pittsburgh Steelers tailgates between 1989 and 2001. Pudgie Wudgie died in 2001.
Furko and his cat also did the national talk show circuit and they were featured in the 2015 documentary “Frank and the Wondercat.”
Everett got to know Furko over the years and eventually learned he was more than Pudgie Wudgie’s master.
Furko was a veteran who served in Korea and saw — and later performed accordion music for — Elvis Presley.
Furko was a good musician and dancer who enjoyed polkas, Everett said.
Everett covered Pudgie Wudgie’s funeral, held at Furko’s farm, and said a crowd of people paid their respects to the cat for a week.
Furko’s farm was adjacent to Oakmont Country Club, where he was well-known and liked.
“He was a very happy guy. His whole world was his farm and his cat,” Judy Folk of New Kensington said.
She started working at the country club in 1997 and Furko was a frequent visitor.
In addition to loving the cat, he also loved the Plum and Oakmont communities, was a regular at Plum sporting events, and enjoyed the family farm, Folk said.
“He always had something to show me,” said Tom Wallace, who was general manager of the country club from 2001 to 2011.
Wallace never met Pudgie Wudgie, but felt he knew the cat just the same.
“What always drew me to Frank was that he cared. He was very giving of his time and very caring about the community and was like a walking archive,” Wallace said.
Rayna Donatelli enjoyed her friendship with Furko and he attended her basketball and softball games while she was at Plum High School. Furko encouraged her to go to Duquesne University, which she now attends.
She would hang out at the farm, listen to Pudgie Wudgie stories and take trips to Kennywood with him.
“He loved it,” Donatelli said of his affection for the West Mifflin amusement park.
He’d ride the roller coaster and they would end each outing with ice cream, she said.
Although she never met Pudgie Wudgie, Rayna received some of the cat’s ashes.
“I always told him I’d keep them in a safe place because I knew how important they were,” she said.
Furko had no known surviving immediate family.
Arrangements are by Burket-Truby Funeral Home, Oakmont, and a blessing service is planned for 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .