Carl Robert Bjork, 95, passed peacefully with his family at his side, at St. Joseph’s Hospital on October 15, 2022.
Born in Fayetteville, New York, Carl was delivered at home by his father during a winter thaw on December 22, 1926. Carl’s entry into this life introduced him to the value of resilience. His baptism was officiated by positive thinking evangelist Norman Vincent Peale, who was the pastor at the University Methodist Church in Syracuse from 1927-1932. Carl was the fourth of five children of Carl Uno and Laura Sellwood Bjork.
A strategist through to the end of his life, Carl, who always thought ahead, made the most of whatever hand he was dealt. As a child he was introduced to strategic winning through the form of games played with his parents and friends. When there was an opening at the Whist table, he amazed the adults with his novice prowess. True to his wit and winningness, he hustled pool tables for additional income, starting as a teen. He continued his penchant to parlay astute observation to execute winning plays at college Bridge tables. Carl’s winning streak continued into his late 80s, regularly placing first, both locally and regionally, while playing Duplicate Bridge with his partner, Jane Fuller.
Carl was known for taking initiative. As a child in the Depression era when resources were nil, he delivered newspapers, and sold pelts from the muskrat he trapped in the creek behind the family home. When the football program at his alma mater, Manlius High School, was canceled due to WWII gas rationing, Carl organized a town team. With hallmark discipline, he served as both coach and quarterback after school, scrimmaging against Manlius Military Academy intramural teams.
Carl was offered a football scholarship to Syracuse University, which he declined, because he was unaware that it included room and board.
Unstoppable, after a bout with Scarlet Fever in 1943, Carl returned to lead his school’s basketball team as Center. Despite being the league’s shortest center at 5’9”, he was named as Center to the Eastern Division, Onondaga County All-Star Team. Distinguished as an All-Star team high scorer, he played in borrowed sneakers due to the monetary scarcity of the day, one of many examples of Carl’s signature grit and determination.
Carl proudly served in the U.S. Navy from 1944–1946 in Japan, where he observed the signing of the Treaty of Tokyo. Carl was enviably relieved of mess hall duty when he impressed the ship’s basketball coach with his skills on the court. He led his team in ship-to-ship competition, earning the team a furlough to Mt. Fujiyama.
Carl returned home to earn his B.S degree from Cortland State Teachers College, thanks to the GI Bill. His first job after graduation was at Jamesville Elementary School, where he taught physical education. He then taught at Moses-DeWitt Elementary School, where he met his wife, the late Rita Quadrini, the mother of his four children.
Carl took the helm as head football coach at Jamesville-DeWitt High School in 1957 and retired from an illustrious coaching career at the end of the 1981 season. Distinguished with a 150-51-5 record, it was once said that he won more games that he didn’t deserve to win than any other coach. Carl’s teams dominated sports through skill and tactical maneuvers; he was reputed to introduce a surprise, a new formation, or twist to an existing play, always something that his opponents couldn’t foresee. His strategy, passion, ability to remember every play he ever coached, leadership style that commanded respect on and off the field, and facile rapport with fellow coaches and his players—all more than compensated for facing-off with teams culled from schools with two to three times more students. He was honored to have coached his last game in the newly opened Carrier Dome, taking the Section III Class B championship. Carl was inducted into the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame in 1999, the first high school coach to be selected.
In testament to the high esteem in which he was held, Carl was treated to weekly deliveries of gourmet meals and favorite foods during the pandemic, expressions from players still grateful for lessons Carl conveyed decades earlier. Carl enjoyed the volume of cards and letters of appreciation from former players, from his students who didn’t play football, and from spectators, received in response to the April 2020 Post-Standard story where he was featured.
Carl was predeceased by his son Robert; former spouse Rita Quadrini Bjork; sisters Helen, Barbara and Jeanne; and, by his parents. Carl is survived by his children; Janeen Bjork of Fayetteville NY, Sharon Bjork of Long Beach CA, and Jim Bjork of Lake Worth FL; his two grandchildren Matthew and Logan Bjork; sister Karleen Heinemann of Winchester VA; sisters-in-law, Gloria Quadrini and Jean Quadrini; and, by many nieces and nephews.
Carl’s children would like to thank Carol, Dave and Laura at the Syracuse Veteran’s Medical Center Whole Health program, and Tom Swick, D.C. of Cazenovia whose weekly treatments over the last three years kept Carl ambulatory and upright until the end. And to the staff of St. Joseph’s Hospital for their compassionate care, Finally, to the tremendous staff and the residents who treated Carl so well in his three years at Maple Downs in Fayetteville.
A memorial service honoring Carl’s life will be held at the Manlius United Methodist Church this Thursday, October 20th. The Bjorks, who lived in Buelville on Cazenovia Road for close to 50 years, celebrated many milestones at the church. Carl sang in the church’s junior choir as a pre-teen. Calling hours will begin at 9:30 a.m. A seated service thereafter at 11 a.m.
On a date to be announced, a celebration of Jamesville-Dewitt schools’ beloved Coach Bjork will be held during a homecoming weekend.