Joe Molnar – A Hungarian Thunderbird

(1925-2016)

The following is from a tribute given by Bruce Kiloh, BPE’73, at Joe Molnar’s funeral service.

Joe MolnarIn 1957 a young man, his wife and his nine-year-old son left family and homeland behind as they boarded a ship bound for Canada. Thousands of lives had been lost as a result of the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union, and Joe and Elizabeth Molnar were not prepared to accept the Russian domination. Some of his countrymen had found immediate acceptance and stability at UBC, where they were able to continue their studies and complete their degrees. Joe would also end up at UBC, but his route was more circuitous and he settled into a very different role at the university.

Joe and Elizabeth stayed in Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, and Nakusp, BC, eventually settling in Nelson, BC, where Joe worked in construction to provide for the family. It was there that he had the fortune of playing soccer with another immigrant named Joe Johnson, who immediately recognized Joe Molnar as a past member of the world renowned Hungarian National Team, playing alongside the great Ferenc Puskàs.

Johnson played professionally in Scotland with the Rangers and was later offered the head coaching position of the men’s soccer team at UBC. He did not forget his friend and fellow competitor in Nelson, phoning Joe to ask if he wanted a job in UBC’s maintenance department. Of course, Johnson had spoken to Bus Phillips, head of athletics, and Bob Osborne, head of the School of Physical Education, to seek their approval and also their assistance in creating a job that would allow Joe to work some of his hours in the department of athletics assisting the soccer coach.

Joe Molnar began his long association with UBC in this dual capacity in 1968. It lasted until 1988 when Joe and his family retired to Kelowna to assist their grandson Joey and his wife Alanna in raising their young family. Joe and Elizabeth have always been extremely proud to have four great-grandchildren.

On June 15, 2013, UBC’s men’s soccer coach Mike Mosher arranged his team’s game schedule to coincide with a gathering of past players who wanted to recognize Joe’s achievements and the difference he had made to so many players. The attendees all understood the commitment Joe brought to every practice and game. Short speeches were made, including a message from Moshe Sasson, BPE’72, MPE’82, a player on the 1971 team who now lives in Haifa, Israel. Sasson described playing for both Joe Molnar and Joe Johnson and recalled how he had used many of their technical coaching skills to better his own career as coach at the University of Technion, Israel, as well inform his work with the national team when he returned to Israel after completing his BPE at UBC.

Just before the scheduled T-Bird game, Moshe asked Joe to “address” the players before they took the field. It was a great honour for him to say a few words of encouragement, and for the ex-players it was a reminder of the inspirational speeches they had heard before, complete with the elocution that has changed little since he arrived from Hungary in 1957. “What say you?”

None of us will ever forget the Hungarian Thunderbird.

Joe MolnarMany former players responded to Joe’s passing — some of their comments appear below:

 “Joe was absolutely passionate about the game of soccer, but even more so for the players around him. He worked hard to make us all better:‘As you in a practice, as you in a game’ has been a part of me ever since we first met.”
~ Maurice White, BCom’78

 “Joe Molnar played a special role in my life.  For me and I am sure for many of us, he was much more than a coach. He was a mentor and tremendous source of soccer knowledge and encouragement.”
~ Joe Iacobellis, BPE’74, MPE’77

“I am saddened by the news of Joe’s passing.  He was passionate about the game of soccer and an incredible coach.  He loved his players and they loved him.  When I watch a soccer game these days, I can still hear Joe’s voicings: ‘don’t vait a ball, step over a ball, necessary have a body balance,’ to name a few.”
~ Vince Golabek, BA’72 

 “I loved his soccer knowledge, his enthusiasm and energy. What I remember the most was that his accent was worse than mine.”
~ Bert Smulders, BSc’72, DDM’76

“He inspired me then and he inspires me now as I coach young keepers with Richmond.  Rest in peace Joe.”
~ John Kibblewhite, BA’79, BSW’82, DipEd’07, MEd’00

“I was sorry to hear of Joe’s passing. Joe Molnar was a significant impact on me and many others during our time at UBC.  He was passionate about the game and I have fond memories of Joe roaming up and down the sidelines trying to get the most out of his players.”
~ Daryl Samson, BEd’76

“I have to laugh every time I hear his name.  He was so funny.  Coming from an ESL background myself, some of the various ways Joe conjoined words took me right back home so many times.  Like: ‘necessary you have ball.’  Joe was a great inspiration to me as I turned to coaching early on. Actually, Joe and I coached the first Women’s ‘Thunder mommas’ team when I was 20.”
~ Marc Rizzardo, BPE’77, MPE’81, BSc’87

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