One of the last times they got together, Cody-Blue Cassidy Hough and Ondrej “Andre” Illini sang the hook from Forgot About Dre together.
Cody-Blue popped into Sandy’s Cigars and Variety on Hunter Street and grabbed them snacks. In the back of his mind, Cody-Blue was worried about how the COVID-19 pandemic would impact his friend, who had mental health issues and panhandled.
Ondrej, who was born in Toronto, spent the past several decades in Peterborough’s downtown core. He was considered “The King” of the streets.
Cody-Blue and Ondrej’s paths first intersected about 13 years ago.
“I got into playing guitar for change at the intersections and in front of the LCBO (on Sherbrooke Street), so Ondrej was a peer of mine,” Cody-Blue recalls.
“He liked my music and gave me a leg up in holding the popular/active spots for me. The spots downtown can get pretty competitive and contemptuous over who has them. So, he really looked out for me.”
Cody-Blue remembers how Ondrej intervened to stop guys from beating him up and smashing his guitar.
He misses his friend.
Ondrej died May 4 at Peterborough Regional Health Centre.
He was 49.
For Cody-Blue, Ondrej’s imprint was significant. And, as the news of the man’s death spread throughout the community and on social media, it became apparent Ondrej also touched the lives of hundreds of others.
People who live, work or frequent downtown knew Ondrej as the friendly panhandler, a gentleman who held doors open and wished passersby a good day. His smile and authenticity struck a chord with many, who in varying degrees, are mourning the loss.
“His death really upset me,” Cody-Blue says.
“Ondrej was an angel and a part of the positive spirit of downtown, that stays loving and friendly to each other even when things are rough for themselves.
“Because we all deserve care and respect, no matter who we are. Ondrej understood that better than anybody.”
Cody-Blue wasn’t sure how he would process his friend’s passing. There was the chance his response could be negative, impulsive.
Instead, Cody-Blue started a GoFundMe page and a Facebook group in memory of Ondrej.
In just a few days, people raised about $7,000 and the group’s membership swelled to more than 2,000 during the same time frame.
“There’s so much support here, it’s overwhelming and has given me so much more faith in this community knowing that people don’t want Ondrej forgotten — and that means not forgetting about his friends and peers.”
The money raised is earmarked for a tree and a bench in Ondrej’s honour.
But there are other ideas too, bigger and broader ones, with the hopes of making a poignant impact on the downtown community and particularly for those who are vulnerable.
Stay tuned to Electric City Magazine to read more about Ondrej and the ideas for honouring him in an upcoming article.
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