Mystery Man Who Changed My Life Dies

Have you ever had the experience of hearing about someone who died, someone you never met, yet someone who had a significant impact on your life? Though you never knew this person, you feel a combination of loss and gratitude.

I had that experience a couple of days ago while scanning the New York Times obituary. I learned that Steve Kordek died, and I felt strangely moved.

Who was Steve Kordek? Let me give you the full title of the obituary column: “Steve Kordek, a Pinball Innovator, Dies at 100.”

The Space Mission pinball game was one that Kordek worked on while with Williams.

Now, I haven’t played a game of pinball in years. But when I was in college, I spent several hundred hours around the pinball machine in my dorm. Frankly, I wasn’t that good at the game, so the majority of my time was spent watching and cheering on my roommates and other pinball wizards. I have Steve Kordek to thank for those good times of male bonding.

Kordek’s story has some fascinating elements. He did not invent the pinball machine. Rather, at one point he made some crucial innovations that turned the obscure game of pinball into a widely-enjoyed pastime.

The story of how Kordek got into this business is a delightful one. Here’s how the obituary reads:

On a visit to his hometown in 1937, he was walking down a street without an umbrella when a torrential rain forced him to step into the lobby of a building he was passing. It was the Genco company. A receptionist asked if he was looking for a job.

“I had never seen a pin game before in my life,” Mr. Kordek told The Chicago Tribune in 2009. For 45 cents an hour, he was soon doing soldering on the company’s production line. He studied at the Coyne Electric School at night and began working his way up through the Genco engineering department.

He ended up working on pinball machines for six decades, at Genco, Bally, and Williams.

Today, I am wondering at how strange life can be, when an accidental step into a lobby changes, not just one life, but a whole industry and millions of lives. And I’m thankful for the creativity of a man who made a small difference in my life.


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