Planinsek, Jakob A. - June 30, 2019 - Beloved husband of Janet A. (nee Stevens) Planinsek and the late Helena (nee Kerc) Planinsek. Devoted father of Helen M. (Kevin) Brady, John J. (Tracy) Planinsek and Tina A. (Les) Daucher. Loving grandfather of Alexander Brady, Katherine (Luke) Auge, Dr. Daniel Brady, Monica Planinsek, Jakob Daucher, Gracie Daucher and James Planinsek. Dear brother of Marija (Joze) Retelj and pre deceased by brothers and sisters. Also survived by many nieces and nephews. The family will receive friends at the C. Mertz And Son Funeral Home, Inc. 911 Englewood Ave. Tuesday, July 2nd from 4-8 PM, where funeral services will be held Wednesday, July 3rd at 9:00 AM and a Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at St. John the Baptist Church 1085 Englewood Ave. at 9:30 AM. In lieu of flowers donations, may be made in Jakob's memory to Journey's End Refugee Services 2495 Main St. Buffalo, NY 14214 (jersbuffallo.org). Please share condolences at mertzfh.com
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July 25, 1921 – June 30, 2019
Jakob Anton Planinsek survived World War II despite the loss of his father and two brothers, the Communist takeover of his homeland and an incident that nearly cost him his life.
“His life had all the elements of a fairy tale,” said one of his grandsons, Alex Brady. “He grew up working in a vineyard, surviving the debilitating effects of three different dictators and an errant land mine, left for a new homeland with little more than clothes on his back, self-taught himself English with flashcards ...”
Mr. Planinsek went on to become a highly respected cancer researcher at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. He died Sunday in DeGraff Skilled Nursing Facility, North Tonawanda. He was 97.
Born in the village of Dolenje Kamence in Novo Mesto in southeastern Slovenia, he was among a group of outspoken anti-fascist students at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia who were picked up and taken by cattle car to a concentration camp in Trieste, Italy.
Released after a year, he joined his father and brothers in the resistance, opposing Communists under Marshal Tito. His father and two of his three brothers were killed in the fighting. Mr. Planinsek stepped on a land mine, lost his right leg and was not expected to live.
After numerous surgeries in Celje Hospital in Slovenia, he was sent to a refugee camp in Graz, Austria. There he met and fell in love with a young woman from Ljubljana, Helena Kerc, who had been jailed for speaking out against the Communists.
While a refugee, Mr. Planinsek attended the medical school at Kaiser Franz-Joseph University in Graz, leaving before graduation in 1949 to accept a World Student Scholarship offered him by Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa.
Leaving Helena behind in the refugee camp, he sailed to America on a Liberty ship and taught himself English with flashcards in his dorm room at Allegheny College. He graduated in two years with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Hoping to bring Helena to join him, he paid a farmer $500 to smuggle her across the Italian border to Trieste, where she was jailed as an illegal immigrant. When she was released, she went to Rome, finding work as a bookkeeper and living with the Sisters of St. Francis near the Vatican.
Meanwhile, Mr. Planinsek studied for a master’s degree in biology at New York University and worked as a cancer researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.
When he returned to Europe in 1953, he finally was reunited with Helena. They were married at the Altar of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Peter’s Basilica. A year later, they moved to Buffalo.
Mr. Planinsek had a 33-year career at Roswell Park, first as a cancer research scientist, then as a senior cancer research scientist in cellular immunology. Known to all as Jake, he was a collaborator and co-author for more than two dozen scientific articles, primarily in the Journal of Immunology and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. He retired in 1987.
A Town of Tonawanda resident since 1957, he was a longtime parishioner at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.
An avid vegetable gardener, he spent many summers and weekends at his second home on a 60-acre property in South Wales, which included a stocked two-acre pond.
He returned to Slovenia many times and traveled elsewhere throughout Europe.
His wife died in 1983.
Survivors include his second wife of 31 years, the former Janet A. Stevens; two daughters, Helen M. Brady and Tina A. Daucher; a son, John J.; a sister, Marija Retelj; and seven grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in St. John the Baptist Church, 1085 Englewood Ave., Town of Tonawanda.