Peter Kalba, player, director, auctioneer, and the master of mirth at backgammon tournaments since the early 1980s is dead. Kalba took his own life at his apartment in Valparaiso, Indiana on September 1, 2012. He was 64.
How could something like this happen to such a jovial individual? Perhaps answers lie in a review of his life.
Peter Roman Kalba was born July 8, 1948 in Germany to Myroslaw and Irena Kalba. Mom, Dad, and sister Vera immigrated to the United States in 1949, landing in Philadelphia. Sponsored by a Lutheran Church group, the family relocated to Iowa and later Omaha, Nebraska before ending up in Denver where Peter attended both high school and college. He graduated from the University of Colorado in Denver with a BA in Political Science.
A banking job brought him to Chicago in the mid-1970s. Aside from his love of rock music and movies, two of Peter's favorite hobbies were volleyball and backgammon. He played in a few Chicagoland National Backgammon League events before becoming a Pub Club regular in 1980.
Peter and I first became friends around 1980. I don’t know how I met him. Perhaps it was at Gammon’s of Chicago where I was a tournament director 1980–1983. Or maybe it was at a Midwestern regional tournament.
I do remember that we solidified our friendship forever on the drive home from an April 1983 tournament in Saginaw, Michigan. Peter and I had been lamenting about how after only three years, Gammon’s had changed to a gambler’s den from the social club it had started out to be in 1980.
We decided that the time was right to begin a new club focused on attracting those players who ranked the “people” aspects of backgammon ahead of the technical and money aspects. On that Sunday night car ride home, the Chicago Bar Point Club was born.
Peter had a supportive role in the BPC’s growth. As attendance increased, we expanded to two nights of play: I directed the Tuesday night tournament, and Peter ran Thursdays—and later the bimonthly BPC weekend events that he directed up until August of this year.
In 1984 I felt the desire to direct a regional tournament: The Midwest Backgammon Championships. It is very stressful to organize a major backgammon event. Peter was always supportive of the tourney's innovative ideas and outlandish social side events such as beaver baseball, pig-pong and his favorite, liar’s dice. In that respect, Peter was like me. We both wanted backgammon tournaments to be a lot of laughs.
And to Peter Kalba, making people laugh was the most important part of his social life. There was nobody who could entertain a crowd like Peter. He conducted his first Calcutta auction the second year of the MBC. It was a rousing success that led him to become the nation's most popular Calcutta auctioneer. He would later work tournaments in foreign countries including the Isle of Man, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Greece.
I was nothing like Peter. Sure, I could produce the tournament and create the silly games and themes. But it was Peter (and the other MBC staffers) who made my ideas come alive. That's probably why we became such good friends: I was the Yin and he was the Yang.
Peter didn't drink. We used to ask him if he wanted a cocktail at the bar. His answer was always the same: "This is as funny as I get."
And funny he was. Peter was a master of stereotypical dialects and could always pick the right one to enhance his quips. I remember asking him at dinner, "Which is a more flavorful cut of meat: filet or New York strip?"
Peter looked at me and said in the heavy accent of an old Jewish man, "What am I, a ‘meat’-i-ologist?"
Peter loved the ladies. The general consensus among female players was that Peter was a big teddy bear—warm and cuddly who delivered great hugs. In a friendly, flirty way, he would go over to a female player, start stroking her arm through her blouse, and say in his Groucho Marx voice, "That's a nice material. Can it be felt?"
Darcey Brady Wade (Indiana) recalls another humorous incident with Peter:
“I don't know when the last Lacon, Illinois tourney was, but as I was doing paperwork, Peter, who was conducting the Auction, knocked a glass of water all over my bare leg. Without missing a beat, he turned to me and said, ‘I'll lick that up later.’ He had the quickest wit, and was one of the very kindest people I’ve ever known.”
Without a traveling buddy like Peter, I might not have attended tournaments all over the world including Greece, Spain, and the Isle of Man. Additionally, I was fortunate enough to work with Peter at numerous Costa Rican “Tournaments of the Américas” in the 1990s, and on ten “Backgammon on Board” cruises since 1986. This year when he told me he wasn't going to be making the 2013 January cruise, I knew something was seriously wrong.
Peter was a very private person. To my knowledge, he never had any guests over to his house. Early out of college, he had a close girlfriend, but he never married.
Peter had his vices. He loved to gamble, especially craps and daily sports betting. And following tournament play on Friday and Saturday nights, Peter always made time to “tuck a buck” at the local gentlemen’s club.
But Peter's worse vice was his addiction to sugar. He never missed a dessert. When I would share a room with him at a tournament, he would bring in an extra large Hershey bar and wash it down with a quart of Pepsi-Cola. Sugar was the drug that kept him "up."
Years out of the banking business and scrambling by on telephone sales jobs, he chose to sell his Chicago two-flat and move to a cheaper home in Indiana around 2005.
As Peter aged, the addiction continued to take its toll. About 2009, due to his diabetes, he lost two toes. Peter didn't have insurance, so he was not properly caring for his disease. I could never convince him that if he cut back on his daily sports betting, he could easily afford health insurance. That wasn’t Peter.
Without the proper doctor’s care and medication, the diabetes did further damage to Peter. 2012 had been a terrible year. In January, black ice caused him to total the auto he had been using to earn a living as a limo driver. Additionally an open wound had developed on the foot that was already missing two toes. And with more money problems, he again had to downgrade his residence, moving further away from his Chicago backgammon friends to a cheap apartment in Valparaiso, Indiana.
What happened in July 2012 was likely the straw that broke the camel's back. Peter suffered a severe blood sugar spike affecting his balance and vision. Although he had to stop his limo job, Peter drove over 70 miles in hopes of earning $120 by working the August 5 Bar Point Sunday tournament. Ten minutes into the registration, his hand was shaking so bad that we had to send him home.
That was the last time I saw my old friend. Roz Ferris was so saddened by Peter's plight that over the last month of his life, she tried to help him apply for government aid and seek out free health clinics in the Valpo area. (Peter had no close friends where he lived.) She did all she could, pushing him to take positive action.
The first week of September, Peter didn't return any of Roz’s phone calls. I also tried calling him, but got voice mail as well. Roz wanted to telephone the police on Friday, September 7, but I was on vacation in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and suggested that we wait until Monday the 10th.
Roz couldn't wait. When she called the Valparaiso police, they referred her query to the coroner who informed her that a week prior, Peter had committed suicide in the shower. It was a crushing blow to all who knew him.
Everyone loved Peter Kalba. So why would he take his own life?
The positive and the negative. In him, the negative conquered. Perhaps he looked at his overall situation knowing that what used to make him happy was coming to an end. Instead of the potential for beauty in life, he saw only ugliness.
All of us have experienced similar feelings. The attitude with which we face our problems is never completely in our control. When we are depressed, it is vitally important to remember the virtue of patience, for things do change. And while we are being patient, it is a good idea to share our troubles with a family member or a close friend. Think now, whom you would be happy to talk to if someone was suffering and reached out to you for help. If you ever feel at the end of your rope, that is the person you should call.
Let’s create a worst-case scenario for Peter. He has no money and can no longer work; he loses more of his leg and ends up in a wheel chair; his vision is impaired, and he must move into a public aid retirement home. That’s a shocking new surrounding for an older man, just as kindergarten is a shocking new surrounding for a young child. A difficult and challenging adjustment, to say the least
But if he had been able to accept the terrible dice roll that had come out of his cup and played it the best way possible, can you imagine the joy and the laughter that Peter Kalba would have given the residents and the staff at his new home? Can you just imagine?
On Sunday, 16 September 2012, 40 friends gathered together for a luncheon at the Lone Tree Manor in Niles, Illinois to honor of Peter. $1000 was raised for the American Diabetes Association in his memory. At the end of the service, I read this prayer:
O God. Through suffering and rejection, you bring forth our salvation. Grant that our heart-warming memories of Peter Kalba sustain us and lead all of us to become better people. Amen.
Although I am deeply saddened by what has transpired, I am extremely happy and feel very lucky to have known such an amazing individual. Effective this year, the Chicago Bar Point Club Fall Trophy Tourney is being renamed the “Kalba Cup Tournament.” It’s a small way to remember Peter Kalba, a man who changed my life and the lives of so many others that he touched.—Bill Davis