SURPRISE, AZ - George Bruck, in all of his 80 years, has never had much. And he’s never asked for much.
“We worked for everything. Nothing was ever given to us,” he said. “Coming from the South Side of Chicago (what I have now) is something.”
But even this Korean War veteran and Surprise resident needed a hand when his life was turned upside down on Super Bowl Sunday. After his usual Sunday trips to church and bingo, Bruck picked up some KFC and stopped at his neighborhood gas station to grab a $2 lottery scratch card before watching the game on a TV friends gave him a few months ago.
He left the keys in his 1996 Ford Taurus, something he’s done for years. An eyewitness later told police that a man jumped out of the back of a pickup truck and stole his car as Bruck went to get his ticket.
Bruck said he’s upset with himself for leaving the keys in, but never imagined someone would swipe a car he’d driven for 18 years.
“I was like, who steals a ’96 Ford Taurus,” said his daughter, Paige.
His wallet, house keys, backpack and debit cards were in the vehicle. A friend he just played bingo with drove George to his daughter’s grocery store in east Phoenix to pick up his other apartment key.
He called that night to cancel his debit cards and the next day to inform his auto insurance carrier and set up a rental car. That day, Feb. 3, he learned the thieves made a $126 debit card purchase at a local Home Depot.
“The bank went to work for me and this past Friday I called and checked and there was a credit in there for $126.81,” Bruck said. “I was happy with that; $126 is a lot of money to me.”
He now has a rental car for 30 days and is in the process of getting his locks changed.
While George said he drives only 50 to 70 miles most weeks, a replacement car — unless the Taurus is surprisingly found intact — is needed. He makes weekly trips to the VA Hospital in Phoenix for treatment on his swollen legs and infected toe. He will have an angiogram Feb. 26.
Knowing he would need a car soon, his daughter and nephew, David Marin from Gilroy, Calif., got to work on fundraising. They set up alerts on Facebook and Twitter and have made a donation page on indiegogo.com.
But at first, his daughter said, they weren’t sure how to tell him about it — or if he wanted the help.
“He’s from the generation that you help yourself,” Paige Bruck said. “We didn’t actually tell him about it for a couple days.”
George served on the USS Leyte during Korea and joined the Chicago police force upon his return.
Bruck moved to the Valley from Chicago in 1971, shortly after his parents died. He first lived in Scottsdale, then moved to Sun City after transferring to the Peoria branch of the Antigua sportswear company.
He retired eight years ago when he could no longer stay on his feet all day at work.
“I’ve been here 80 years and this has never happened to me. To think that my daughter and David would come up with this — I’m just taking things as they come, not thinking that in 30 days I have to return a rental car — I just sort of broke down,” George Bruck said. “I couldn’t believe that they got together on this for me. He said ‘I remember, Uncle George, all the things you did for us years ago.’ It was wonderful. I told them I just want a car, I don’t care what year it is.”
Bruck’s Surprise apartment is sparsely furnished. He has two recliners, a bed, a fridge, a desk and a washer/dryer. That’s pretty much it, save family photos and a afghan made by a friend that states “Navy Veteran.”
His only other possessions, seemingly, are plaster figures he hand-painted of Mickey Mouse and W.C. Fields, and close to 200 stuffed toy penguins, most coming from Goodwill.
His affinity for the Antarctic animal began when Paige bought him one shortly after his retirement. And penguins provided his most emotional moments after his car was stolen.
Saturday he received a replacement pengiun backpack in the mail, courtesy of the CEO of its maker, Fiesta Toys, which David Marin and Paige Bruck contacted. Sunday the friend who drove him around after the theft gave Bruck a mobile-stuffed penguin based on the main character from “Happy Feet 2.”
“Between David and Paige getting that package for me and the woman who got the (Happy Feet mascot), I choked up,” Bruck said. “I couldn’t believe it. David called the president of the company. Anything’s possible.”
His daughter and nephew will continue to raise funds for a replacement car the rest of February. Las Fuentes Mexican Grill & Bar in Surprise is assisting the effort by giving the family $25 gift cards. Anybody who donates $95 or more will receive a gift card, Marin said.
Those who wish to donate may visit http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-uncle-george-an-80-year-old-korean-war-vet-replace-stolen-car. As of Tuesday afternoon, the family had received $475 in donations.
“It’s terrible. They happened to take the car from one of the nicest guys in Surprise, Arizona,” Marin said. “He would help anyone, anywhere at any time without giving it a second thought.”