Acquaintances of a 66-year-old Kent man found dead in a North Water Street storage unit describe him as a study in contradictions.
Richard J. Rezek was a man who had no home or apartment to his name, but had enough money to purchase expensive pieces of art. A man who attended many community events, but whose name was not particularly well-known around town. A man who donated to, and received aid from, local charities.
John Kuhar, the owner of the storage unit at 300 N. Water St. that Rezek rented, found Rezek's body on the afternoon of Dec. 28 and notified the Kent Police Department. Kent police Lt. James Prusha said investigators from the department and the Portage County Coroner's Office "did not see any signs of foul play" at the scene, but could not determine the exact cause or time of Rezek's death.
A spokesman for the Portage County Coroner's Office said the Summit County Medical Examiner's Office has performed Rezek's autopsy, but has not yet finalized the autopsy report. He said he did not know when a cause of death would be announced.
Officers saw a mattress in the storage unit, where Rezek kept numerous piles of newspapers, and concluded that he could have been living in the space, with no heat or utilities except a single light bulb.
Kuhar, who serves on Kent City Council, said it would not surprise him if Rezek occasionally fell asleep in the storage unit after reading or sorting his newspapers, though the terms of the unit's lease specified that no one could live inside. He said Rezek, a retired janitor who worked at Kent State University from 1978 to 2008, did not have a permanent address, preferring to sleep wherever he could in town or on the university campus.
Although he lived an unconventional lifestyle, Rezek was not anti-social. He was known for remembering small biographical details about the people he met and enjoyed talking about current events after reading the three newspapers he purchased every day.
"Anybody that would know him would speak highly of him -- how nice he was and how smart he was," Kuhar said. "He was like a human almanac."
Kent resident Margaret Garmon, who attended classes at KSU with Rezek in the late 1960s and saw him around town from time to time, said he was a thoughtful man who "never had an unkind word for anyone." She said he built his life around Kent and the university.
"He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the university, especially the Music and Speech Center," she said, noting that he would remember birthdays and career histories of the faculty and staff members who worked in the building.
Frederick John Kluth, who operates the antique store and art gallery adjacent to the storage unit, said Rezek exhibited signs of compulsive hoarding and would not let others into his space.
"He was well known, but very secretive," Kluth said. "He valued his privacy very highly."
In spite of his intense desire for privacy, Rezek developed a group of friends who cared about him. Kluth said multiple people stopped by his gallery the week of Rezek's death to seek information about his whereabouts.
Christie Anderson, a manager at Kent Social Services where Rezek stopped for a hot meal once or twice a week, said it was not surprising that he was missed by others in the community. She said he would bring newspapers to read and discuss economic and political issues with others when he visited the agency.
"He was just a delightful person," she said. "I'm really going to miss him."
Far from being unaware of the risks that came with living on the streets, Rezek had talked with Anderson about his need to eventually find a home.
"I felt as he was aging, he was starting to think a little about having a permanent residence," Anderson said. "He was leaning in that direction, but he wasn't taking any active steps to pursue that."
Kluth said Rezek described himself as an insomniac and worried more about drivers not noticing him at night than his homelessness, mentioning times when cars barely missed hitting him as he made his rounds through downtown Kent.
Kuhar said he also tried to steer Rezek toward housing, which Rezek likely could afford, but the former janitor preferred living wherever he could in the community.
Examples of Rezek's generosity also seem to indicate he had disposable income after he retired. Anderson said he donated to Kent Social Services even as he accepted hot meals from the agency, while KSU records indicate he donated enough money to the university's "Planting Partnership" program to have a dawn redwood tree dedicated in his honor near the Music and Speech Center on the northeast edge of campus.
Kluth said Rezek frequented community events, including artistic performances put on by university students, and patronized the FJ Kluth Gallery, where he occasionally purchased pieces.
One piece Rezek bought from Kluth, a painting of female contestants on the popular reality show "Survivor," cost $750.
Rezek paid $75 per month for the painting until he owned it. After paying for the work in full, he chose to leave at the gallery, where it still sits.
The art dealer said he was not surprised Rezek would find value in a painting even though he had no home to hang it in.
"He preferred to care for his things more than he cared for himself," Kluth said. "He didn't see it as a problem."
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