Loved ones remembered Bakersfield City Councilman Jeff Tkac Friday as a vibrant person whose ear-to-ear smile told the story of how he lived.
Tkac's sister Cecily Tkac Waterman remembered him as deeply committed to his wife, Heather, his sons and the community of Bakersfield. His brother Jon Tkac said he always had on hand a joke, a smile and a positive outlook.
And he loved his family.
“Most of all he loved being a father. Oh my god. He was great,” Jon Tkac said. “That was what makes this so hard to understand.”
The family was still struggling to comprehend Bakersfield Police Department reports that Tkac apparently took his own life at his southwest Bakersfield home Thursday and that it recovered a gun at the scene. The Kern County coroner's office did not release any additional information about Tkac's death Friday.
“I am shocked. For the last 24 hours I’ve been saying, 'Why, Jeff? Why?” Waterman said. “We’re all extremely sad and in a little bit of disbelief. We’re hurting.”
THE PUBLIC SERVANT
Tkac, 53, died just a few weeks after being sworn in as Bakersfield's Ward 5 councilman, a post the longtime planning commissioner and reserve police officer had coveted for years.
His siblings weren’t the only people who on Friday remembered Tkac's positive nature and commitment to community service.
The first official statements released by the Bakersfield City Manager’s office and Mayor Karen Goh about Tkac’s passing credited his nearly three decades of work for the city and larger Bakersfield community.
“Mr. Tkac began his service to the city nearly three decades ago as a reserve Bakersfield police officer and is one of the longest-serving members of the city planning commission,” the statement from City Manager Alan Tandy’s office read. "During his 29 years as a reserve officer and 20-year tenure as a commissioner, Mr. Tkac was a true champion for Bakersfield."
Mayor Karen Goh, who was unable to talk Thursday due to illness, released a statement Friday saying she was “heartbroken” to learn of his passing.
“All who knew Jeff knew of his passion for our city and the well-being of its people," her statement read. "He will truly be missed. Our prayers are with his wife, Heather, and sons Justin, Hudson and Parker. May God comfort them through this incredibly difficult time."
Jon Tkac said his family has always loved to help people. But in his brother, he said, it was indeed a passion — something he always pursued.
“I don’t know where he got it from. That was something very unique to him,” Jon Tkac said.
Services for Tkac will be held at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at St. Francis Church, he said. Those services will be public.
Waterman said her brother was there in a flash whenever you needed him.
“In the most recent past, I was married for 32 years and it ended up in a divorce situation,” she said.
She needed help with the financing and other processes to get into a new home.
“He helped me with the Realtor, got me into the house,” she said. “He was there for me at every turn.”
Tkac was the youngest of five children, his siblings said, and they remembered him as full of energy, curiosity and a little bit of mischief.
The family grew up in Old Stockdale.
“From the time he was 3 years old he loved keys,” Waterman said.
He’d take everyone’s keys — his parents' house and car keys, his siblings' keys, their boyfriends' and girlfriends' keys.
And, on occasion, he’d get into mischief with them.
Both Waterman and Tkac remembered the time their little brother locked a bunch of shoppers in the Mayfair Market in Kern City because he found the right key for the job.
Then there were Jeff Tkac’s adventures with garden hoses.
“When he was 4 years old, he turned the hose on in the backyard,” Waterman said.
He put the hose in the house, Tkac said.
He flooded the place, Waterman said.
Another time, Tkac said, Jeff put the hose into his mother’s car and flooded that, too.
He was trying to help, Jon Tkac said.
“He filled up the ‘gas tank,’” he said.
Jon Tkac said his best times with his brother were when they hunted, a lifelong passion for both men that they passed down to their own sons.
“Sitting in a duck blind with him — it was something we could do together that was away from everything,” Jon Tkac said.
Jeff Tkac went to West High School and became a semi-pro skateboarder.
“He made my parents empty their backyard swimming pool and he and his friends would just go out there and skate,” Waterman said.
He got his degree from Cal State Bakersfield and eventually took over Water-Ways Irrigation Engineers, his parents' business.
Both Waterman and Jon Tkac said their late brother’s biggest passion was his family.
Waterman remembered a family party just after his second son was born. She went up to Jeff, who was holding his newborn son, and offered to hold the boy.
“He turned and pulled that baby into his chest and neck and said, ‘No, I want to hold him,’” she said. “He was a tender dad.”
Two of the three boys were his, Waterman said, the other was his wife’s.
But he loved all three, she said.
“The sun rose and set on them,” Jon Tkac said. “I know he loved hunting with them, and fishing and skiing. His love for his family and his boys, that’s why I don’t understand any of this. Heather and his boys were his whole world.”
Waterman said she, too, is struggling to understand her brother’s death.
“He loved his wife. He loved his boys, all three of them. He was too grounded for him to do this,” Waterman said. “This just suddenly happened. I don’t know what it could have been. I miss him. I wonder. I hurt.”