Ivan Endre Modrovich
My father, the fighter.
In the early morning of September 14, 2013, Ivan passed away at St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital in Camarillo, CA after a short but valiant battle against pancreatic cancer. At the time of his death he was comforted by the presence of his wife at his side. Ivan was 75 years old.
Ivan was born on July 18, 1938 in Nagykanizsa, Hungary. He was the middle child born to Nandor and Roza Kutas Modrovich, along with older brother Nandor and younger sister Ildiko.
Ivan, my father, didn’t like long obituaries, and so didn’t want one for himself, but it is hard to compress a life like his in a few sentences. In deference to his wishes, I did a short version for the newspapers, but I had to do more to honor his memory.
Ivan was a fighter. Born during a time of war in Europe, he grew up with it. And when WWII ended and Stalin’s Cossacks rolled into Hungary, he and his family came to know even more about it. Stripped of their family’s land, they became impoverished, often with no shoes to wear and no food to eat. My father remembers meals of onions and bread, and of constant, all-consuming hunger. Everything was a struggle. Everything was a fight to survive.
Then, in November, 1956, when his countrymen rose up and fought back against Soviet tyranny and his older brother was involved, his mother made the ultimate sacrifice to save her sons: she sent them both away. Nandor and Ivan, then barely 18, left family and country, escaping on foot while dodging bullets that sounded like bees as they whizzed by their heads, over a border dotted with landmines, until they finally reached Austria.
After being interned with other refugees for several months in a Red Cross camp, they flew via Red Cross transport to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, where they were given several employment options. Being in love with American Westerns, and well, because they heard the weather was good, they chose the Onyx Ranch in Onyx, California. And so my father’s life in America began.
Ivan worked his way from being a young immigrant ranch hand that barely spoke any English, to a Kern Valley High School, Bakersfield College and then UCLA college graduate with a B.S. in Chemistry. All the while working full time to support himself, his new wife and burgeoning family. Shortly after graduation, he got a job as a chemist in Indianapolis, Indiana.
It was there that Ivan had his first stroke of genius. At that time, blood tests were sent to hospitals/labs and mixed with and against chemical reagents and controls that had to be sent from manufacturers in powder form and reconstituted in each lab, making results vary widely. Ivan had an idea to stabilize these reagents and controls in liquid form, thereby eliminating a wide margin of error. His employers just shook their heads and laughed at the young man with the heavy accent.
But Ivan was a fighter, and would not be deterred. He decided to take his idea and develop it himself. With loans from the SBA, his mother-in-law Winnie and brother Nandi, he took a leap of faith, left his job and moved the family to Camarillo, California where he started Medical Analysis Systems, Inc. (MAS) in a very small industrial office/lab space near an onion field.
Over the next 25 years, Ivan’s dream grew from nothing to an international multi-million dollar business. In 2001, during the years of rabid mergers and acquisitions, MAS was acquired by a large conglomerate and my father had to walk away from the business he started with an innovative concept and his two bare hands. But my father was still a fighter, and immediately started up another small company, again from scratch, which he called Navix, Inc.
Ivan was also a visionary, and taking a page from Star Trek’s Bones McCoy combined with his continual desire to help people, he developed a revolutionary idea for a non-invasive medical testing device, which he patented and worked on diligently up until his death this year.
All of this says what he accomplished during his abbreviated lifetime. Had he been given ten or twenty more years, who knows what his brilliant mind would have dreamt up and turned into reality? Because Ivan was a tirelessly hard worker and a pioneer. Because Ivan not only believed in the American dream, he lived it.
But none of this says who my father was as a person. To say he was a devoted family man would be an understatement. His parents passed away years ago, but I never saw anyone make him laugh harder than his mother. He lived for his children, three daughters: Dawn (husband Dave), Elise and Ildy (husband Tim), and a son: Andrew (wife Bri), with his first wife, Kathleen, and two sons: Eric and David, and a daughter, Abisha, with his second and current wife, Kriszta. He had two grandchildren: Wendy and Clover, and a third on the way as well as several step grandchildren and great grandchildren: Stephanie (daughter Hailey), Heather (sons Derrick & Travis), Kristin and David, at the time of his death. Nothing made him happier than spending time with his uncle Laci, siblings Nandi (wife Anne-Marie) and Ildi (son Gabor), his children, grandchildren and yes, even in-laws Winnie, Lydia, Laszlo, and Orsi. He is survived by all of them, and we will miss him dearly.
My father was a walking dichotomy. He was a serious man who loved nothing more than to laugh and play games. He worked endlessly inside a fluorescent-lit lab, but loved to be outdoors swimming, fishing, hunting, skiing, gardening, grilling on his BBQ and taking trips to Disneyland. He was a research chemist who loved music, movies, theater, and literature. He was a man of science who had a deep and abiding faith in God and the Catholic Church. He was a solitary person who loved to be surrounded by family. But above all, he was a fighter. He taught all of his children to stand up and fight for ourselves, as well as fight for those who cannot.
It is almost inconceivable to me that my father lost his final fight against pancreatic cancer, when he was so sure he would win. Many people, including myself, couldn’t understand why he refused to accept his diagnosis, why he kept believing he would beat it, even when all the doctors and tests showed he couldn’t. But now, looking back, it seems so clear. He didn’t just fight.
He was, simply, a fighter.
Ivan Modrovich will be laid to rest with a small ceremony, Friday at 3pm at Conejo Mountain Memorial Park. The family has set up a website where condolences and remembrances may be posted. http://ivan-modrovich-memorial.tumblr.com/. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Padre Serra Parish in Camarillo.