AUBURN — William A. “Billy” Kufs, 81, of 44 Kearney Ave., Auburn, died Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, in Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, after complications from a long battle with Type 2 Diabetes. His best friend and son, Jason was holding him and singing his favorite songs “We’ll Meet Again” and “Let the Rest of the World Go By” softly to him when he passed.
In addition to Jason, Billy is survived by his daughter-in-law whom he loved like his own daughter, Joanna Kufs (Brehaut); three grandchildren that he stayed alive for, his namesake William (Billy), Carolyn (Carly), and Oliver (Ollie) Kufs; along with his sister, Naida Kufs-Hernandez and her son, Stephen H. Hernandez, of Erie, Pa., and many other nieces and nephews.
He was predeceased by his wife, Nancy Kufs (Tortorello) who died of cancer many years ago, and his parents, Herman W. and Charlene Kufs.
Billy collected people and stories and until his later years when he lost his mobility and vision he was holding court somewhere in Auburn. After graduating from Central High School in 1956, he went on to Auburn Community College for two years followed by Ithaca College where he studied economics. Following college he bought a newsstand on South Street called Kufs News and then in 1966 purchased a bar on the corner of State Street and Cottage Street which he called the Shortstop Tavern. It was there at the Shortstop that he would have more than 30 years of fun customers and his semi-professional basketball teams and sponsored city softball teams too. He was inducted into the Auburn Softball Hall of Fame in 2017. The Shortstop Tavern hosted generations of Auburnians to gather to talk sports, life, and laugh at the collection of characters assembled from Ronnie to Hawkeye. He made everyone feel like they had a best friend in him and a place to call theirs. He also would have rooms for the homeless upstairs that many other colorful personalities resided at for various periods of time.
It was also at the newsstand and bar that he would run his successful sports bookmaking career for more than 40 years. Bookmaking allowed him to use his two greatest attributes - people skills and his mathematical mind, along with his love for sports. He invented many of the “gimmick bets” and propositions used all over the sports gambling world today that were brought to Las Vegas in the early 1980s. He also served as an advisor for Pete Rose’s defense team. He sat with Ty Cobb, Connie Mack, and Rogers Hornsby playing cards in Cooperstown in the 1940s and Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and the legendary kings of Vegas poker and gambling Doyle Brunson and Chip Reese 50 years later.
Billy was a man of many passions. One passion was politics. He was a charter member of the New York State Conservative Party and in 2017 was awarded the “Ernie Blumer Founders Award” by the Cayuga County Conservative Party in grateful appreciation for a lifetime of achievement for the cause. He wrote a regular political column in the Auburn Citizen, hosted his own talk radio show on WMBO, published a successful book, and hosted a local television show on politics. He was the co-founder and director of “Amendment X,” an Upstate New York conservative think-tank. He also founded “Kenyans United for Sensibility,” another conservative think-tank. He single-handedly registered more than 400 voters in the early 1990s and was a wealth of knowledge on all things American politics.
Billy also had a passion for sports and particularly baseball, the movie Field of Dreams, and the Boston Red Sox. He loved to talk literally every single day with Jason about sports. From his childhood love of listening to baseball on the radio to going to Syracuse Nats basketball games in the 1950s to his sponsored trips to Fenway Park in Boston in the 1970s to 1990s, sports was the fabric of his story. This love of sports and baseball parlayed into fantasy sports, where Billy was on the cutting edge, running fantasy baseball and football leagues as early as 1981. He was still drafting (and winning) rotisserie-style baseball leagues up to the last years of his life by himself with no notes or help.
As a child he appeared on the national show trivia show “Quiz Kids” which he traveled to Chicago, Ill. to compete, and then Mike Tirico’s WTVH televised sports trivia show “Sports Nuts” as an adult in the early 1990s, with Jason on his team. He was a two-time national sports trivia champion and was very proud of that accomplishment. He gathered expert trivia dream teams at the Holiday Inn in Auburn in the late 1980s and early 1990s including his brother-in-law, John Tortorello, and loved trivia of all topics and the competition. Many a day or night he was answering questions from phone calls from people on a variety of subjects. Billy Kufs was “Google” before Google to friends.
His last ventures out of the house other than doctor appointments were to hear his favorite music, Dixieland jazz, by the Soda Ash Six, who played his wedding in 1972, and Lock 52, who played his 75th birthday party. Along with being best man at Jason and Joanna’s wedding those were his best days. He also loved the music from 100 years ago and the standards of course. Once he totally lost his vision in 2007 in addition to music he became an avid listener to mystery books on tape and loved to chat about books and authors with anyone who would listen. His mind was sharp literally to the day he died.
His favorite passion, however, was Jason, who was by his side every single day, along with Jason’s wife, Joanna and their three children. Billy was so proud of their lives and their accomplishments and would gush to anyone who would listen about the five of them. Nothing gave him joy like playing games, telling stories, or hearing those five voices in his life. A close second, however, would be the times with old friends, too many to mention, from the YMCA, school, or at the Shortstop Tavern.
Calling hours are from 2 to 5 p.m. next Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, at the Pettigrass Funeral Home, 196 Genesee St., Auburn. A memorial service with reflections from Billy’s life will immediately follow at the conclusion of the calling hours.
Due to Billy’s great desire to keep learning new things, the family would like any donations to be made in his memory to Talking Book & Braille Library, Cultural Education Center, 222 Madison Ave., Albany, NY 12230.
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