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Rudy left a lasting impression

Friends, family gathered at the tavern Novak co-owned in Sharpsburg to celebrate his life

Friends, family gathered at the tavern Novak co-owned in Sharpsburg to celebrate his life

January 28, 2007|by MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Rudolph Michael "Rudy" Novak, who died Jan. 15 at the age of 44. His obituary appeared in the Jan. 17 editions of The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail.




SHARPSBURG - The sign on the door Jan. 18 said Captain Bender's Tavern in Sharpsburg would be closed until 6 p.m. But the place clearly was packed by midafternoon that gray, wintry day.

Many of the patrons were dressed in black, having just come from a memorial service for co-owner Rudolph M. "Rudy" Novak, who died three days earlier at the age of 44.

But the mood was upbeat - just as Rudy would have wanted it, most said.

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"Rudy put a footprint on this town ... a touch of class," said Meredith Poffenberger, a friend and a patron for the two years Rudy and his partner, Mark Svrcek, had owned the tavern.

The tavern's namesake, Captain Bender, was the great-great-uncle of Meredith's husband, Brian Poffenberger, whose family had owned the establishment for many years.

"We met Rudy three years ago at the Sharpsburg Memorial Day parade," Meredith said as she mingled among her friends and neighbors at the gathering.

The mother of a toddler, Meredith said she and her husband often came for dinner and brought their child with them without hesitation.

"It was very family oriented," she said.

In addition to the tavern's turnaround, Rudy and Mark opened the Antietam Cafe & Wine Bar next door six months ago.

"The place will now be called - and the sign will read - 'Rudy's Antietam Cafe & Wine Bar,'" Mark said in an e-mail. "His spirit will live on forever - I will miss him and so will everyone else who knew him."

For more than seven years, Mark and Rudy were partners and best friends.

"We started to go into Captain Bender's as patrons four years ago, and at the time, the thought of buying it was not in sight," Mark said.

A little more than two years ago the purchase was made and the pair started the remodeling process. One thing led to another, then the Antietam Cafe & Wine Bar opened next door.

"My mother-in-law introduced me to Rudy at the opening," Vanessa Moore said. "I've enjoyed coming here - he turned the place around."

She said the food was great, too, another big draw for her and many of the other patrons of both the tavern and the cafe/wine bar.

"Rudy was so full of tons of energy," said Michele Gaidelis, who met Rudy and Mark when she stayed at their bed and breakfast in Keedysville.

In the business of promoting cost-efficient use of beverages in taverns such as Captain Bender's, Michele said one memory she will treasure was Rudy's plan to serve a very expensive Louis XIII cognac - in Sharpsburg.

"He would put a small brass plaque on the wall with the patron's name on it if they bought one shot of the 75-year-old cognac for $95," she said. "It was brilliant."

Carolyn Peeples of Sharpsburg said she enjoyed Rudy's sense of humor, both as a loyal patron at Captain Bender's and as a former employee at Antietam Overlook Farm Bed and Breakfast near Keedysville - also owned by Rudy and Mark.

Carolyn said the food was so good, she kept coming back.

"Rudy and Mark were like family," she said.

Educated at Bowling Green University, Rudy was a native of Cleveland. But since his move east, Rudy had made Washington County his home in every sense of the word, Meredith said.

"Rudy used to have a lot of wine tastings to benefit the Sharpsburg Area Emergency Medical Services," she said, noting he was committed to bettering that organization.

Previous owners Dottie and Rance Knight counted themselves as friends as well as customers.

"Rudy was such a happy person," Dottie said as she mingled. "We came in often, even helping him for a few months."

Throughout the afternoon, friends and customers came in, hugged each other, waved and sometimes cried a little. But the atmosphere became more festive as more stories were told and warm memories were shared.

Meredith described Mark and Rudy as a dynamic duo.

"Mark was the businessman and Rudy was the dreamer," she said.

Mark said Rudy was not only a dreamer. He knew how to work with people and get them to work with each other.

"It was our project together," Mark said. "We were both driven to make it something the community would enjoy and that goal will be fulfilled."

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