Ever since he was 11 months old, held in the arms of his dad on Broad Street, Jake Kudrick knew one day he’d step into the shoes of his father and his grandfather before him, to become captain of the Duffy String Band.
However, no one anticipated it would happen this soon.
On Oct. 19, Theodore “Teddy” Kudrick, 52, died of a heart attack in his Nether Providence home.
And with that irreplaceable loss came a question for the string band – what to do on New Year’s Day?
“When we lost him, it was so sudden and so shocking, that I really didn’t think about it … but the band did,” said Colleen Kudrick, Teddy’s wife of 13 years, Jake’s mom and a tenor saxophone player in the Duffy String Band.
“The whole band is reeling, the whole band feels his loss, but the show has to go on too,” she said. “When you lose your captain in late October on something you’ve been working on all year long, it’s a little bit tough.”
She said both she and Jake would’ve understood if the band wanted to replace Teddy with another adult.
“But there was never any question,” Kudrick said. “My sister-in-law called me two or three days after Teddy passed away and said the band had a meeting and they want to move forward with Jake. Are you OK with that?”
The 12-year-old was.
“I thought that it was fine,” he said. “It was fine with me. To be honest, I’ve wanted to be captain for three years.”
His mom, however, worried about what the day would bring.
“I’m a band member and I care about this band, I appreciate the work ethic but I’m his mother first,” she said. “This may become too much for him at some point emotionally – and that point may come New Year’s Day.”
She said the band didn’t flinch.
“They said Teddy wanted him to be captain,” Kudrick said. “We want him to be captain and that’s just how it’s going to be.”
So, now, not only will Jake Kudrick be the youngest captain in the Duffy String Band, he’s going to be the youngest string band captain in Mummers history.
But Mummery is in his blood.
The Duffy String Band itself was formed in 1945 and was originally called the Firefighters String Band after the profession of most of its members. At the time, the captain was George Duffy, himself a fire chief.
In 1956, Henry Kunzig purchased the band’s charter and became its captain from 1960 through 1985. Kunzig was Teddy Kudrick’s father and Jake’s grandfather, although he died in 1996 before Jake got to meet him.
In 1986, Teddy Kudrick took the helm. He and his sisters, Peg Rullo and Cheryl Crowe, have owned and operated the band since Kunzig’s death.
In 2005, Teddy was inducted into the Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association Hall of Fame, and his wife said that at the time of his death, he was the longest continuously active captain on the street.
“He was a big guy, great smile, performed his whole life,” Colleen Kudrick said of her late husband.”He wasn’t egotistical, he wasn’t a spotlight seeker. He loved it but it always made him a little uncomfortable, too.
“He led by example,” she said. “I think it was a large part of his identity. He was not the kind of captain (to say,) ‘Stand here hold my hat while I do this.’ He was in the back, climbing on props and putting the props together. He was very hands on and I think that commanded respect. That, in its own way, inspires people to want to perform for him.”
And they still do.
This year, a rallying cry for the Duffy String Band is “We’re trying to win this for Teddy. It’s for him this year.”
That’s in part because how he always made its members feel.
“We’re not a perennial top finisher,” Kudrick said. “We’re a small band, a family band but he always made us feel like we were Number One.”
When Jake was born, Teddy’s enthusiasm was buoyed, his wife said.
“I think that gave him a little bit of a spark that he liked,” Kudrick said. “When he got to get out there with Jake – father and son – it really rejuvenated him. He really started looking forward to it every year. He was waiting for the day that Jake could replace him and he could step back and rejoin the band.
“Fortunately,” his widow said, “he won’t get to see that. It’s happened sooner than we expected. ‘Cause the plan was always for Jake to follow Teddy as the captain, we just didn’t think it was going to be this year.”
In fact, the 12-year-old had been assigned a different role in the band’s skit.
Each year, every string band picks a theme that is approved by the city. Duffy’s skit is “Oz,” an interpretation set in the story of “The Wizard of Oz,” pre-Dorothy. It tells the story of how the wizard became the wizard.
Teddy Kudrick was slated to portray the wizard and Jake was going to be the mayor of Munchkinland.
Now, the boy will take the role originally assigned to his dad.
“It makes me happy to know that he wanted me to do it,” the youngster said.
His mother is aware of the emotional roller coaster that may yet come.
“At this point, we’re excited about our show, we’re excited about our routine,” Colleen said. “We’ve been working hard so we’re excited to bring a year’s work to the street but I’m a little bit nervous, too. I know it’s going to be an emotional day for all of us.
“I have found since losing Teddy that you just never know when and how those emotions are going to hit,” she said, adding her concern that it could range from getting teary in front of the judges or the band might be able to keep it together for the four and a half minute routine.
“I think it’s going to be a very bittersweet day,” Colleen said. “It’s going to be tough. There’s going to be a lot of tears, and a lot of smiles.”