By Tim Grobaty, Long Beach Press Telegram
They were stars from the old days at St. Anthony, the 1940s and 1950s: Jack Senske, one of the key players of the 1949 Saints football team that won the CIF championship, with B.I. Mais and Johnny Olszewski, and his youngest brother Bob, who excelled in baseball, golf and sailing.
Jack died on Aug. 11 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s. He was 86. Bob died suddenly on Wednesday from a heart attack suffered after knee surgery. He was 80.
Mais recalls the early 1940s when he and Jack Senske would roam the wild and open west side of Long Beach around the alphabetized streets east of Santa Fe. There were large fields of strawberries and vegetables, a turkey farm, and pastures of cows and horses. Above it all were barrage balloons tethered nearby the oil fields to protect the Texaco refinery from aerial attack by the Japanese.
The Senskes lived on Baltic Avenue, the Maises two blocks away on Delta Avenue. “Jack was the oldest, and his three younger brothers all wanted to be like him, so we all hung out together,” said Mais. “We spent a lot of time at Silverado Park playing sports.”
Bob was six years younger than Jack. “A pretty good ballplayer,” said Mais. “He ended up with the Dodgers organization as a shortstop, but he never made it to the majors.”
Dick was the second oldest of the Senske boys. He still lives in Orange County, and a third brother, Jim, the youngest, died in 2015.
Mais met Jack when they were both in first grade at St. Anthony Elementary School. “One day my dad told me to tell my teacher I had a dentist appointment at noon,” said Mais. “So he picked me up at school and he took me to a ball game at Blair Field. It was a spring training game between the Chicago Cubs and, I think, the Washington Senators. And, as it turned out, Jack’s dad did exactly the same thing, so there we were at Blair Field with exactly the same excuses for being out of school, so we became fast friends forever.”
Bob was the more extroverted of the brothers.
“He was very jovial, full of life. That guy lived a life,” said John Morris, manager and co-owner of the Boathouse on the Bay, in the same building as Bob’s insurance office.
“He came in just about every day. He’s one of those guys who is really going to be missed.”
“Bob drank three glasses of white wine every day, and he was proud of it,” said his son, Bob Jr.
He loved sailing, though, more than anything. Bob owned a series of boats and, said his son, “We were in Catalina almost every weekend. For sure some of his ashes will be sprinkled over Geiger Cove in Catalina, where he was as longtime member of the Blue Water Cruising Club.
“He was famous for being the Candy Man during the club’s annual Labor Day bash, in which he would dress up in a gaudy polyester suit and toss saltwater taffy to kids from his Avon inflatable.”
“My uncle Jack was super-moral, super-ethical,” said Bob. “I always thought that if Jack was the equity behind the Senske name, then my dad was the standard-bearer. Jack was so trusted by everyone, and my dad was the promoter of the brand. Together, they made all of us proud to be Senskes. We’re like the Kennedys of Long Beach,”
Bob and his wife of 59 years, Carol, had three children, Dottie Willingham, Pam Sullivan and Robert Jr.
After high school, when most of the 1949 Saints’ skill-position players went to UC Berkeley to play for the Golden Bears, Jack went to Loyola Marymount University where he played on the basketball team (holding University of San Francisco’s Bill Russell to 10 points in one game).
“Basketball was his true love,” said Diane Senske Robertson, the eldest of his eight children. He got famous for the St. Anthony football team, but basketball was his big sport.”
He enlisted in the Air Force and rode out the Korean War in Oklahoma before marrying Neva. “You know the history,” she said. “We started having kids and he went into the mortgage business. All the kids went to St. Joseph. Now we have 26 grandchildren.”
Their first great-grandchild was born a few days after Jack’s death.
“We just lived and grew up,” said Neva, who raised her family on Deleon Street in Long Beach’s La Marina neighborhood. “It has been a wonderful life.”
Since 2000, she has lived in Leisure World, where she took care of Jack until he went into hospice at the VA Hospital three months ago.
Because of the size of the family, getting them all together for a service for Jack has been problematic, but there is now one scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 27 at St. Hedwig’s Catholic Church, 11482 Los Alamitos Blvd. A reception will follow at El Dorado Golf Course, 2400 Studebaker Road, in Long Beach.