By Anna Daniels
Last year at the San Diego Free Press third birthday celebration at Border X Brewery in Barrio Logan, an extensive collection of the first iteration of SDFP, circa 1968, was on display. Bud Sonka had kept these paper copies in an oversize folio box these past decades and brought them out to the surprise and delight of all of us. The term “archivist” could now also be added to Bud’s lifelong accomplishments as an agitator and intellectual. And mahjong player.
Bud passed away last week. We have not had time to pull together the celebration of his life that he deserves because we were out organizing and agitating in response to Donald Trump’s appearance in San Diego. We think Bud would have approved of how we spent our time.
Bud popped up on the SDFP radar about three years ago. He wrote in an email “I find it feels pleasingly inevitable that so many of the good people from my past have gathered together under the Free Press masthead which is where I started in this town when I came back from the barricades in Paris in ’68” .
Our lives intersected with Bud’s in many different ways and in many different places since 1968. Editor Doug Porter met him back in the days of the alternative press in the late 60s; SDFP contributor Jay Powell knew him well from their days together in Julian in the 70s; editor Rich Kacmar met Bud when he was working in the Central Library (Geisel) at UCSD and as a union steward in the 1980s. Our acquaintances with him quickly expanded to include his wife Carol Widdop Sonka, sister Sugi Slater and an interesting assortment of mahjong playing friends and activists.
Those Julian years in the 70s need to be fleshed out for posterity. Bud introduced us to the poetry of John Wester during National Poetry month in 2014. John was part of the group of young visionaries, writers, intellectuals and politicos who moved to Julian during that time period.
Bud had a knack, perhaps a life calling, to stir things up. Jay Powell left an extensive comment on the article with John’s poetry that ends with
Those is just some of the things we done, playin’ back-to-the-land in the home of the minute-man shooting up the Old Kentuck homestead and nearly ending Bud’s family cause they don’t like no claim jumpin’ commie headed, long haired hippies up here onest-upon a time.
Susan Orlofsky, a friend from the union organizing days at UCSD, remembers a particular mahjong match in the spring of 1987, when her son Zack was six months old. Mahjong tournaments were held four times a year, roughly corresponding to the seasons. They were generally held in San Diego, but they all camped out for this one in the Anza Borrego desert. There was the usual potluck, music and lively conversation but in a memorable setting that included sleet during the night.
In the intervening years, friends lost touch with each other. Bud made an effort in the past years to reconnect with the people whom he remembered so fondly. A pretty severe stroke around 2011 was a life changer. Bud noted his pleasure in finally being able to go on his first camping trip in five years. He found the time and energy to support San Diego’s Fringe Festival and his longtime friend Todd Blakesley, Fringe Festival coordinator.
Bud wrote that he has come to realize how deep his roots are in what was once called East San Diego. Carol “grew up in Fox Canyon; Auburn was dirt and there were horses corralled not far from her house.” I suspect that he wrote the lines in his sister Sugi’s obituary “She grew up in the College Area, a few blocks from the San Diego State campus, amid cattle grazing in fields and streams bordered by wild blackberry brambles”.
Bud was a native son who is indisputably a part of the people’s history of this place. And he wrote parts of that history.
Our deepest condolences to Carol and his family. A celebration of Bud’s life has not been scheduled at this time. We invite readers to share their remembrances.
By Jay Powell
We tell ourselves there’s
where we will all meet again
‘cause it’s a comfort
(my goodness, think about the alternative…poof!)
news today that
old friend Bud Sonka
collapsed, in a coma
they’re calling family
he beat the reaper once I know about
sheer will and lots a love
but this time the ticker just stopped tickin’
oh my, another Julian gold mind
just imagined his smile (looking out my window)
and said good bye
(you) got to be here
care about a few
and love some
with your brilliant
big guy looking out from top of a grainy photo
with some of us and two others who have
left us here
(we tell ourselves there’s
where we will all meet again)
say hi to them
we’ll see you
up the road