Leejay Rudenjak

leejay rudenjak

June 19, 1955 ~ June 17, 2021

Born in: San Diego, CA
Resided in: Hamden, CT

Leejay Rudenjak, age 65, passed away on June 17, 2021 at Connecticut Hospice in Branford, Connecticut.  He was born on June 19, 1955 at the U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego, California, eldest child of the late Leo Rudenjak and Janet Rudenjak, (nee Uminger,) who currently resides in Spring Hill, Florida.

Leejay – Aka “Lee” and “Dogbone Jackson”– grew up, as he would proudly say, in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. As the firstborn of five children, in a tightly knit and loving family, Leejay was very protective of his siblings from early childhood and throughout his entire life. He went to Jackson Memorial High School and came to New Haven to attend Yale University as an art major, graduating with a B.A. in 1977.  Often sporting long hair, T-shirts, and jeans, the word “preppy ” never applied to him.  He stayed in Connecticut after graduation, working for Yale’s Office of Development and later as a writer for the Office of the Recording Secretary, where he cemented friendships that would last his lifetime.

Leejay was a charismatic writer, songwriter, musician, artist, and poet who loved to interact with people and with animals.  People, in turn, were drawn to him by his magnetic and empathetic personality, and his inimitable witty sense of humor. Casual acquaintances were inevitably deeper than that, because bonds of friendship formed quickly, genuinely, and solidly.

He volunteered for years as a member of Friends of Beaver Ponds Park doing clean-up and plantings at the park in New Haven, organized by his dear friends Bill Bidwell and Nan Bartow.  Leejay loved nature, books, movies, hiking and walking, birdwatching, designing and building things, going to the Townhouse Diner with friends for blueberry pancakes with excessive blueberries, and the Friday New York Times crossword puzzles, among many other pastimes.

Leejay’s career at Yale was cut short by a devastating, life-altering hemorrhagic stroke in October of 2017.  It left him badly disabled physically, but his mind and intelligence remained crystal clear.  He rose to the challenge, spending months of rehabilitation at Gaylord Hospital and undergoing multiple surgeries after his release. His positive attitude, humor, and determination to improve his condition were inspiring to all who knew him.

Although he could not return to work at Yale, his focus over the last couple of decades had been on his music and songwriting. He had already released three CDs of his original songs: Switchtracks, Dustbowl Soul, and Dog Heaven, produced by his friend Dick Neal. Leejay forged on to create some of his finest songs after his stroke, drawing in a core family of musician friends– Dick Neal, Istvan B’Racz, Bob Csugie, Anne Marie Menta, Mark Mirando, Jordan Jancz, Scott Lebish, Frank Critelli, Mike LaSala, Larry Deming, Vic Steffens and Leejay’s nephew, Evan Rudenjak, to name a few-–to play out his vision of these songs. The projects were unfinished at the time of Leejay’s death, but his friends have vowed to finish them.

Leejay’s physical battles were ongoing until his passing on June 17th, the worst enemy being a debilitating chronic searing pain that eventually wore him down.

Leejay was predeceased by his father Leo Rudenjak, his brother Greg Rudenjak, his sister Lynn Deroide and his nephew Nicholas Rudenjak. He was also preceded in death by his beloved cat Pookie, also known as his Loyal Retainer. He is survived by his dear mother Janet Rudenjak, his sister Sandy Fagan and her husband Michael, his brother Jeff Rudenjak and his wife Lori, his nephews Scott Rudenjak, Evan Rudenjak, and Jamie Deroide, and his nieces, Jenny Deroide and Kristie Deroide; and from as far back as his childhood, he is survived by his family of many, many, friends, his most immediate circle including Sumi Kagei, Lisa Carter, Sam and Ana Dunlop and Will and Ali, Richard Horne, Jim Hagen, Istvan B’Racz, and Lydia.

No one could have endured for so long the post-stroke pain as gracefully and with as much courage as Leejay. Rest in peace now surrounded by the love of your family and friends. And thanks for making the world a better and more interesting place.

A memorial event will be held in Leejay’s honor at a time and place to be determined.  In lieu of flowers please send donations in his name to Friends of Beaver Ponds Park, Best Video in Hamden, CT Hospice, or to any animal rescue organization of your choice.

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  1. We wil miss Leejay so much. He was so talented and a delightful person! He accomplished so much but God called him home early. RIP Leejay…. may you entertain the other angels in heaven. Sheryl

  2. “Casual acquaintances were inevitably deeper than that, because bonds of friendship formed quickly, genuinely, and solidly.”

    This could not be more true. Leejay began as a coworker of mine and quickly became a mentor and dear friend. His kindness and wit gave me great comfort and I pray that he is at peace. My deepest condolences to his family.

  3. I will always remember, cherish, and love my time together with this wonderful creative human. One of my best friends, and collaborator, our collaboration will continue, as will his inspiration and imprint on me. Glad he is no longer suffering with that wretched pain. Be free my friend.

  4. Leejay was an institution in the Office of Development, but also one of the most welcoming, kind, funny, and creative people I’ve known. He is missed.

  5. He always impressed me…
    So talented and witty!
    Such a great brother and Uncle to my boys.
    We will miss him dearly💜

  6. Leejay would be able to write a more pithy and eloquent note than I can right now. He was a warm-hearted presence, always ready to share a kind word or a clever observance. I am lucky to have known him. My condolences to his family and dear friends.

  7. Dear Sumi and all who were a part of Lee’s life
    I may not have seen Lee often, but he always had a special place in my heart. One of the things I remember was doing the Polka at Lisa’s wedding! RIP Lee!

  8. I did not have the honor of knowing this strong man. I have heard his singing. He was blessed in so many fabulous ways.

  9. Leejay was a wonderful colleague, always ready with supportive words for his co-workers; he was also a talented writer who brought the impact of scholarship gifts to Yale alive for so many donors. Most of all he was a gentle soul whose presence was always calming and affirming. I was honored to have worked with him for many years. It is fitting that his immense musical talent will live on. He will be missed.

  10. Leejay was the devoted friend of my partner, Bill Bidwell. They both loved the creative use of words and writing. When Leejay joined Bill to work to improve and restore Beaver Ponds Park, he became my friend too. He brought our Friends of Beaver Ponds Park group his eye for garden design, his music, his song-writing, and his photography. He also brought us his sweet, loving, and hard-working friend, Sumi. Leejay’s spirit and his music and songs will always be with us. He was courageous to the end. We miss him immensely.

  11. Leejay was one of a kind. I’m grateful to have known him – he always made me happy and I would never leave a conversation without smiling. Rest in peace, dear friend.

  12. I’ll miss our impromptu conversations about life, the universe, and everything in-between. Fare thee well, and see you on the other side.

  13. Sorry to hear that Leejay has crossed over. He was an inspiration to me during all our time together at the Yale Office of Development, first when he was in research and then in the Recording Secretary’s Office with the amazing Bill Bidwell. I’m certain they are now enjoying some wonderful conversations.

    Loved Leejay’s wit and stimulating observations on the human condition.

  14. Leejay’s sense of humor made my day both in and out of the workplace, and his music and voice will always be at hand as a reminder of this extraordinary man.

  15. Sincere condolences to Leejay’s family and his many dear friends who saw him thru these last few difficult years. I will remember Leejay’s awesome smile that lit up his entire face. The world has lost a truly gentle, kind and creative soul and he will be sadly missed. His music lives on and there is consolation in knowing that he is now pain-free and resting in peace…

  16. Terry Holcombe
    I was saddened to learn of LeeJay’s passing and his trials leading up to it. He ranked among my most favored colleagues during our time together, which comprised at least two major campaigns. A star at work, Leejay had a special view of life that lifted the spirits of all around him. I have many memorabilia from Yale, but perhaps the most moving is the special signed copy of Dog Heaven which he sent me. I’ve listened to it several times since I received this sad news. It displays so well his attitude, values and talents.

  17. A special person, a special soul has passed on. That he left us his music is another measure of his deep generosity. Shine on, Leejay.

  18. I have such fond memories of Leejay from the Yale Development Office and also Friends of Beaver Ponds Park. Sitting in Nan and Bill’s backyard listening to one of Leejay’s songs about the park and our wonderful volunteers brought us both joy and peace at the same time.

  19. While living in Jackson I truly feel that Lee and I were the best of friends. I spent a lot of time at the Brewers Bridge Road home; just a short bike ride from my house on Hope Road. What few people know is that I was actually one of Lee’s early singing partners. Luckily for all, I did not pursue that life, lol. Lee was unique. Lee will be missed but more importantly, Lee will be remembered. The angels are going to love your music. Till we meet again.

  20. I always enjoyed seeing Leejay while working at Beaver Pond Park. He was gentle, kind, and funny, and had a love of nature. He brought our group together with his guitar and songs at our annual parties in Nan and Bill’s backyard or living room. We will miss you, Leejay!

  21. I knew Lee from Jackson and we kept in touch through the years. We shared art, poetry and music … he brought so much joy and creativity to my life. I continued living in New Jersey and he remained in Connecticut but we managed to have an ongoing long distance friendship. I had no idea that this horrible stroke was so devastating. Lee was always optimistic and happy when we communicated and it is so sad for me to think of him in so much pain. He spoke of Sumi with so much love through the years and I have so much respect for how she helped him and cared for him after his stroke. I am sending many hugs to her and Lee’s family, who has experienced so much devastation through the years. I truly believe Lee is a positive spiritual force radiating from the heavens and sending love to earth. I am forever thankful for his friendship and love….Suzanne (Hrynick) Wolf

  22. Thinking of you Sumi. Fond memories of Lee and your friendship and hospitality during those happy years at Yale, 80-83. Hope to see you again one day soon.
    Graham & Lise, NZ

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