GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Oct. 1, 2017 was a day supposed to be filled with joy and excitement for the Polakovich family.
Jacob Polakovich, a senior basketball standout at Grand Rapids Catholic Central, was on an official recruiting visit to Ferris State University.
“We were at breakfast that (Sunday) morning and everything was normal,” said Jacob Polakovich. “He was joking around.”
That’s when things changed very quickly. Jacob’s dad, Jimmy Polakovich, suffered a massive heart attack.
“We’re sure he passed away there in the cafeteria,” said Missie Polakovich, his wife of 25 years. The two had been together for 32 years.
Jimmy Polakovich was better known by his nickname “South Side” Jimmy. He was 51 years old when he died.
“I just have to get out of bed every day and figure out what life is going to be next,” said Missie Polakovich.
The family said the most difficult challenge now is finding the strength to move forward each day.
Missie, Jacob and sister Alex Polakovich all find strength in each other and their memories of husband and dad.
“I’m not going to be defeated,” said Missie Polakovich. “We’re a family and this is what Jimmy would want us to do.”
“My dad was, I hate saying that word was, he was just the epitome of tough love,” said Alex. “It was like, ‘You know you have to do these things, why aren’t you doing them?’ Then it was like, ‘I love you anyways’ and a big bear hug.”
Jimmy Polakovich was the “Jimmy” in South Side Jimmy’s, a restaurant and bar he and his wife owned together in the early 1990s on Grand Rapids’ south side.
“He was a really hard worker,” said Missie Polakovich. “He’d do anything for anybody.”
Alex Polakovich said that was a quality people loved about him.
“People appreciated that about him. He was very up front and forward,” she said. “You knew if you were asking him something you’d get the right answer; I think people really hold onto that.”
Jimmy Polakovich was a well-known and respected man.
“Someone would almost always stop me and ask if I was South Side’s son and tell me a story about the restaurant and how he helped them,” said Jacob Polakovich. “I just think he really enjoyed helping people.”
That drive to help others never more evident than this past summer. South Side and “Mama P”, as the players know Missie Polakovich, rented a team van to take the Cougars to all their summer basketball camps.