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Stories about Nick

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Nick Bulka Jr.


Dad had 11 brothers and sisters.  However, strange as it might seem, he never met 4 of them.    The 4 oldest were born when my grandparents were still living in Ukraine (at that time, they were part of Austria-Hungary).  My grandfather emigrated first, with plans to send for the family as soon as he had saved enough money.

But it wasn't as easy to make money in America as he had been led to believe, and after waiting 2 years, my grandmother left her children with her brother and sailed off to the USA.  Of course, the plan was still to send for the kids as soon as they could.

By the time they had the money saved,  two of the children had died, one from typhus and one had an accident with a land mine left over from WWI.  The other two were romantically involved and did not want to leave. 

The family had little contact besides a few letters written by Dad's sister Mary.  Eventually the two sides of the family lost contact.  Communication was hard because Ukraine was now part of the USSR.  

The family re-established contact in 2003 through my genealogical research, and I traveled there to meet them.  But my dad's last Ukrainian sibling died two years before, so he never got the chance to meet him.

Donna Bulka, daughter-in-law

My first memory of Dad was when Nick and I visited him and Mom in NJ. Dad welcomed me with open arms and, when we left, he hugged me and said he hoped to see me again. I loved this man the moment I met him. He was funny with his jokes such as, "How's the back of your front porch?" I remember the stories of him growing tomatoes on the fire escape, the silly words of "zip, zip, zip." He loved his family and cherished the grandchildren. He teased Mom a lot, even into their 80's and 90's.

He was the center of the Bulka family, along with Mom. He bowled with a team until well into his 80's, and had high scores most of the time. I can still hear him saying, "Hey, come on in," smiling his special smile when we went to see him. He told Nick one time that he had a special lady (me) and to take care of me and keep me. I loved his laugh, his smile, talking to him and just enjoying his company. He was a special man and special to me. I love you, Dad.
Susan deGruyl, daughter

Dad worked long, hard hours to take care of our family and there were days, especially during the winter months, when we kids were in bed long before he got home. In spite of that, he still found ways to spend time with us and let us know we were loved. A special treat would be when dad would drive us to school in his F&A truck so we wouldn't have to walk through deep snow or torrential rain. Thursdays were paydays and he would often bring home crabs. We would spread newspaper on the kitchen table and gather around to have a crab feast and talk. Nick and I sometimes spent the evening playing pinochle with mom and dad, again around the kitchen table.

He volunteered his time and energy at Holy Family Academy, doing maintenance and repairs, and even chaperoned at some of our Friday night dances.In my teenage years if I missed curfew he would come searching for me, which at the time annoyed and embarrassed me greatly, but in later years I appreciated as he was keeping me safe and showing an abundance of love. Dad had a great impact not only on his own children, but also so many who grew up in the neighborhood. He was a protector, a father figure and a role model, and was greatly loved and respected as shown by the large number who attended his Memorial service. He is deeply missed.
Laurie Bulka, daughter-in-law

When I first met Nick, I was flummoxed by questions he asked me, for example, "Hows the back of your front porch?" Or if I asked where Tom went he would answer, "He ran around the corner with his feet in his pocket". If I was preparing dinner and asked him if he liked something, he would say, "I eat anything that swims, walks or flies." He told crazy stories about how his father killed chickens in the house then painted the walls red, found money that some poor lady threw out her window in a fire and said, "Finder's keepers" - so I guess he got his sense of humor honestly. The impact his sense of humor has had on my own husband and kids cannot be overstated. (And of course on Mary, but what can you expect after living with the man for 75 years? - She'll be sitting quietly listening to us talk and every once in awhile offer an unexpected zinger.) Nick was one of the most observant people I know - he watched Mary like a hawk, constantly trying to anticipate her needs (which wasn't always welcome, mind you) and did the same for me and Tom. He also loved nature, and he was constantly pointing out birds in the backyard, even at the end when he was not saying much at all, he wanted me to see the redbird on the branch by the fence.

He enjoyed stories of the past, and nostalgia of old movies, He was as strong, kind, and more real than any of those cowboy heroes Nick was probably most known for two things – his generosity in helping others and his “antics”.
I have long heard stories of his youthful antics. Mary loves to tell stories about how many times his nose was broken, -in each story how bad the break was seemed to be strongly correlated to the amount of alcohol he had consumed. It was his greatest joy to make others laugh and forget their troubles. He often volunteered to help neighbors and he kept busy building, mowing, cutting hedges, doing odd jobs. In the last year or so, Nick was not as able to get around and contribute the way he was used to. During the winter, he would still go out to bring in fire wood, propped on the seat of his walker, and if there was no fire, he would chop small pieces on the hearth to start the fires. He was very resourceful in figuring out how to continue to bring Mary her wine when it was difficult to manage the four stairs to the kitchen while holding a glass. And of course, he would try to foist money on us at any opportunity. The kids enjoyed it as he would slip them cash whenever they were home on a visit. The world is a lonelier without Nick, his wry observations of the environment around him, and his sense of humor, and his generosity. It is up to us, his children by blood or love, to maintain the Bulka family legacy of his fun loving, quirky humor, observations, and ideas.
Nick Bulka Jr.

Dad was a unique individual to be sure.  I can honestly say that I don't know of a single person who has met him and didn't like him.  He had a magnetic personality.  He felt it was his mission in life to entertain people, and he did.  We'd hear him tell the same old jokes over and over, and he was always the one laughing loudest.  Whenever there was a family gathering, you could be sure that before it was over, Dad would perform his signature act, "rolling his belly".  People never got tired of it and requests were frequent.  I'm happy to hear that the younger generation in the family have continued this tradition.  He was a singer, dancer, comedian, and even a song writer, although he only created one song, "Me, my Pal, and my Six Gun", which he sang at every opportunity.

He was full of stories that would make us laugh, like the time he went for a church-sponsored fishing trip, only to find out that nobody had arranged for a boat.  Or how his dog Bozo jumped out his apartment window on his wedding day and actually came to the church and ran up the aisle.

A rite of passage for boys in the Bulka household was being asked to go with him in his truck as a helper.  It gave us an opportunity to see the part of Dad's life outside the family.  He was a different guy at work, although his desire to entertain carried over there as well.  And it was genuinely enjoyable to be introduced to his customers, because he couldn't help showing how proud of us he was.

He was involved in all of his kids' activities, and he volunteered as a chaperone for dances, sports, and camping trips.  And whereever we went, he'd bring his movie camera along.  I hated it back then, but now I'm so thankful that I have a video history of our family.  

I could fill a book writing about him, but I'll stop now before the tears cloud my vision.  I loved that old guy, and I'm proud to carry his name.

Dan Bulka, son

I remember dad coming home from work and we would be watching MTV. Back when MTV actually showed videos, and he would say "every time I come home you are watching that Stupid Empty Minds show". I also remember him taking Bristles, the family dog,  out behind Saint Henry's Church and throwing the brick for him to chase. Bristles' teeth were actually flat and not pointy due to this.

As Susan said, dad would come looking for us if we were out past our curfew. ( we were the earliest out of all our friends) and dad would drive around in his white Plymouth Valiant looking for us. Of course dad thought he looked like Kirk Douglas, so my friend Mike Ciconetti named him Spartacus, and that name stuck for sure. Anyway, he also named the Valiant "The Chariot" . so when dad was driving around looking for us everyone would say "there goes Spartacus in his chariot"!

 I remember when Tony Camalerie ( Uncle Tony's friend) sold the bowling alley across the street from McDonalds, and he asked daddy if he wanted his unused Coca Cola fountain syrup. Dad was never shy about getting something for free( even if he didn't need it, if it's free, its for me!) , so Dad must have had some 20 gallon jugs of coke syrup, and of course we didn't have seltzer to make a real Coke, so we used good old tap water, and Dad would say he couldn't tell the difference. So for the entire summer we drank Cola water! and we drank all 20 gallons!


Remember the Fire sneakers ! A warehouse by F & A burned down and there were piles of sneakers for the taking. But you had to match your own sizes since they were scattered all over the place. I remember going to gym class with one size 8 and the other a 7 1/2 and they had an aroma like you wore them to a campfire. We had fire sneakers for what seemed like 5 years! the Worst was everyone in town knew where you got them and made fun of us for having "fire sneakers" ! and there was no denying it!

Sam, Ellie, and Kristen Bulka, grandchildren

Some of our best and earliest memories involve grandpa - telling us to “look at the chickens” (which often were actually dogs), sending us home with an abundance of food from he and grandma’s cabinets, clicking on our heads to “pick out the bugs”, juicy fruit gum and cream soda, and just making us laugh with his crazy sense of humor. He and grandma were there for every special occasion, no matter how small (even if we got up on stage and didn’t dance at our recitals!), always showing up with our favorite Judicke’s donuts in hand. He always had stories to tell, most notably about how grandma was “the prettiest girl in the world”. His adoration for grandma was always evident, as he would pay her compliments while she brushed him off.

Following one of grandma’s heart surgeries, we brought her home to find that grandpa was sitting outside of their apartment building (freshly showered, hair done, nice outfit on) awaiting her arrival with some young neighborhood men. Though frail himself, he made sure to help her up every single step, reminding her to “slow down and remember she’s not a kid anymore”. He would always remind us to “never stop trying”, and cared for her until the very last moments of his life. He truly is a man to look up to <3 we are so thankful to have had so many wonderful years with him

Tom Bulka, son

He loved people. Whether it was a stranger or a friend he did what he could to make that person’s day a little brighter. He sought to make everyone happy. He was quick with a joke though they might be corny or dirty, or both. In the later stages of his life I'd take him to numerous doctor appointments. He hated them and would grumble and complain. Yet once he arrived at the appointment he would go out of his way to make the medical staff, patients and doctors laugh despite being poke and prodded


When he first meet someone we'd bring around he would often ask them silly things like how's the back of your front porch? Or if we asked where someone was he would say they ran around the corner with there feet in their pocket. At a stop light he would on occasion say to the driver next to him "hey, your front wheel is going backward". He made up silly songs that he would sing like "You’re breaking my nose and I’m bleeding", "Me and my pal and my six gun" or "Sittin by the fire keepin warm".

During the depression he served a term in the CCC's in Idaho. He loved his time out there. He was trained to be a draftsmen and had some skill at drawing. They wanted to send him to Texas A&M to become an engineer but his father would not sign for him. To his dying day he rooted for the Aggies whatever the sport. He often wondered how his life would have turned out had he'd gone but invariably would say, "But then I'd have never met your mother".

He had a great love for mom. It was an amazingly constant devotion, growing stronger every year, even after 75 years of marriage. He doted over her. Up until a week before he passed he was still doing the little things like putting her pajamas under the pillow so they would be warm when she got to bed. They were very much equal partners in life. They trusted each other explicitly and the last few decades of their life they were inseparable


He loved sports especially bowling, though I think some of that had to do with having drinks with the guys after a long week of work. He liked to gamble and bet on games. He looked forward to trips to Atlantic City. A special day for dad would be going to the casino with mom, a nice meal and a walk on the boardwalk afterwards.


Toward the end of his life he liked to reminisce, especially about his devious side when he was young. One story involved a guy named Marty who was a frequent target of dad's escapades. Dad and a couple of his friends convinced Marty to go out in the bay on a row boat with them. Marty couldn't swim. They pulled up to a buoy and took turns getting on it. When it was Marty's turn, they rowed the boat away leaving him there. Marty's mother was the only person I know who didn't like dad, she hit him over the head with a bone, said he was a bad influence.


If dad had a choice he would have been a cowboy. I think he watched every western ever made. He especially loved Audi Murphy and Gary Cooper. In many ways he was a Gary Cooper character. He was unassuming, humble, fair, a straight talker with a sense of justice, friendly, and even tempered though he could be tough and was a force to reckoned with if crossed. He did things for people out of the goodness of his heart and because he felt it was the right thing to do. He would do without things for himself to ensure that we would have the things that we needed. He was the prototypical American hero.

June Bulka Rozniak, niece

 I only remember two times when I was with my Uncle Mickey. The first goes way back to 180 Broadway in Bayonne when he and Aunt Mary came to visit. If I'm not mistaken he was introducing his girl to my parents-his brother Andrew and my mother. Or maybe it was announcing their engagement...Aunt Mary, help me here. The second time was at my father's funeral in Rumson. As he walked into the room he said "that has to be a Bulka=look at that nose". Well, I have one too.

I was always aware that I had cousins from my father's side. For most of my life I believed I was the oldest Bulka "kid" on this side of the Atlantic. At 82 I think I still hold that title. Some years back I found Nick, Jr. on Facebook so here I am today thanks to him. This wonderful memorial is not only a tribute to my uncle but also to my grandparents and this awesome family that I am so thankful to be part of.

Denise Bulka, daughter in law

  I first met Nick when Danny brought me to the Donovan yearly picnic, he was making me laugh with his belly rolling, I loved him right from the start. My very favorite memory of Dad was him and Mom were staying with us for the weekend. Dad was carrying Ellie on his back up the stairs and fell and hit his nose ( of coarse). He was bleeding and all we had were Little Mermaid band aids . We had a total of 3 band aids on his face and we all laughed and laughed because Ellie was so impressed with her Grandpa wearing Little Mermaid.

He was the best Grandpa in the world and I’m truly grateful for knowing him and having him in my children’s lives. I was always touched so deeply by his undeniable Love and caring he showed Mom. He was one of a kind

Dorothy Szewko Kacsmar, niece

 ALL of my memories of Uncle Nick make me smile. My earliest memories include him and Aunt Mary. Uncle Nick was always there for my mom (Seabiscuit as he called her), and myself, I miss him terribly. I know that whenever i want to say, "Hello" to him I can find him on the front of my back porch.

Steven Bulka, son

Words to live by "Nick Bulka":

       Mumback, yattacarda, zip zip zip

Leah Bulka, granddaughter

Some of my favorite memories of Grandpa come from seemingly banal activities: lounging in the yard talking about birds; watching soccer, basketball, or football; and driving him to the liquor store to buy scratch offs. It was in those moments that he would share quintessential "Grandpa" jokes and stories, some of which I hadn't heard before (if you can believe it). I loved watching family videos and looking through old photo albums with Grandpa.

He made friends everywhere he went, even after he and Grandma moved to Maryland. When we went out to eat, he loved to greet young couples and tell them how long he and his "bride" had been married. Grandpa's best friend quickly became our dog, Henry, who took care of him until his final days. Grandpa, Grandma, and I would sit in the yard and watch Henry harass squirrels, rabbits, and birds. I feel blessed to have lived with him for almost two years. He was an extraordinary person who taught me something new every day!

Dorothy Donovan, niece

One of the stories I remember about Uncle Nick was about him and my mother. Evidently the both of them would eat anything Grandpa would cook but no one else would. Also I remember what a sweet, funny man he was. He and my Mom, Elsie, got along so well and loved each other. We all miss him. Happy Birthday in Heaven Uncle Nick. I know Mom and Dad and all our relatives are celebrating with you! Love, Dorothy

Nick and Allison Bulka, grandchildren

Grandpa Nick reminds us that life is full of simple riches - so many that recycled jokes become gems and are kept as close to the heart. The first couple jokes I can recall from Grandpa: "You dropped something — your footsteps!" and "How's the back of your front porch?" poke fun at those who take themselves or their belongings too seriously. Grandpa had a unique appreciation for nonsense and living in the moment and it kept him young and a child at heart for many years.

He was generous with his time and his money - he once gave me a hundred bucks from what I assume was some of his lottery winnings. I know he played the lottery not for himself, but for his kids and grandchildren. Maybe my favorite memory is that he and Grandma Mary were able to make it to my wedding and that they danced the anniversary dance longer than any other couple the DJ had ever seen.

Tony Conti, family friend

: I remember Mr. Bulka very well, he was a great guy to know. Always friendly to me and other folks in the neighborhood. He was prepared with a joke to lighten up your day! And he had plenty of them – short ones but good for a laugh. Maybe that is why I started to tell jokes early on and continued for many years. Anyway, Mr. Bulka had a terrific smile to go along with his good attitude. When I was around him I don’t ever remember him saying negative things. You could say that he had a light heart person.

I remember one day I was fretting about getting a job and I guess I was discussing that with my dad. Probably my first job, well Mr. Bulka must have heard overheard part of the conversation and he said to me – “Don’t worry all of the guys at the top have big noses”. So don’t fret about it they all look like that and you shouldn’t let that bother you, just do it. He simply wanted to help and encourage me.

I remember he enjoyed bowling and back then it was a popular sport. You could say it was a social event, a small one but You got together weekly with friends over a few libations and small talk. I understand he enjoyed it all his life even into his 80’s or 90’s but truthfully I am not certain when or if he ever stopped. I remember he drove a truck for F&A liquor distributors. I saw his truck a few times park by Anne’s Confectionery or just around the corner where he lived. Maybe he stopped home for lunch – I never asked him but I always said hello and he always gave me that huge smile. He did tell me on a few occasions that the seats on the truck were uncomfortable and gave him a pain in his arse (never using the word ass). I am very lucky to have know such a good person growing up – I’ll never forget him or your family. We were all blessed!

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