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Obituary Stories

Iowan retiree had close link to Steelers

Joe Napsha
| Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, 6:12 p.m.
James Hayek
James Hayek

Although he grew up in Iowa during the Great Depression and did not live in Pennsylvania until the late 1980s, James Hayek became an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan, in part because of his connection with Steelers defensive coordinator Rod Rust.

Rust and Hayek went all the way back to their high school days in Davenport, where they ran track, said Hayek's daughter, Joelyn Aukerman of Unity Township. Hayek saw Rust's name in a program at the Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College, so he renewed acquaintances. Rust invited him into the Steelers locker room, where he met several of the players and Steelers President Dan Rooney, Aukerman said.

“He was such a Steeler fan,” she added.

Hayek knew a little bit about football, having been an All-American at Davenport High School in the 1940s.

James F. Hayek, 89, of Latrobe, an accomplished football player, track star, skater and boxer, died Jan. 9, 2018, in the Bethlen Home, Ligonier. He was born May 6, 1928, in Davenport, Iowa, son of the late Frank and Elsie Koranda Hayek.

Mr. Hayek was a record-setting high hurdler in high school track, a Golden Gloves boxer in the Navy and a Silver Skates skater, Aukerman said.

He joined the Navy during the Korean War and enrolled at St. Ambrose University in Davenport after he was discharged. Before he could graduate, an uncle convinced him to become a bricklayer, Aukerman said.

“He lifted those 12-inch blocks all day long,” she said.

He raised his family in Iowa and after his retirement, he and his late wife, Shirley, moved to Latrobe, a place he liked when they came to visit Aukerman.

“They loved it here so much,” Aukerman said.

He became a seasonal maintenance worker for several years for what was then the Latrobe-Unity Parks and Recreation program.

“Everybody loved him out there,” Aukerman said.

He is survived by three children, Joelyn and her husband, Dr. William Aukerman, of Greensburg; Joan Curtis and husband, Jeff, of Westminster, Mass.; and Jim E. Hayek and wife, Eunice, of Davenport, Iowa; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Interment with full military honors will be Tuesday in the Rock Island Arsenal National Cemetery, Rock Island, Ill. The J. Paul McCracken Funeral Home Chapel Inc., Ligonier, is handling the arrangements.

Memorial contributions may made be made to Latrobe Parks and Recreation.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or

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