CEDAR FALLS — Garf Stych played “Taps” at military funerals and veteran events for decades in Iowa. The time has come for someone to play “Taps” for him.
Stych, a longtime University of Northern Iowa men’s gymnastics coach and state bugler for Cedar Falls AMVETS Post 49, died Nov. 26 at his home in Michigan, where he’d lived in recent years near family. He was 85.
Stych, a native of Cedar Rapids and the son of Czech immigrants, was a U.S. Navy veteran of the Korean War, serving as a member of the flight deck crew of the aircraft carrier USS Hancock. He lettered in gymnastics three years at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and worked at UNI from 1966 to 1990 as a physical education professor and as men’s gymnastics coach from 1966 to 1981.
As a bugler, Stych played at hundreds of veteran funerals and patriotic events.
Allen Koeppel, a longtime member of the Cedar Falls Municipal Band and Sons of AMVETS who plays trumpet at military funerals, said “I first met Garf when he played “Taps” at my father’s funeral in 1996 and then about 10 to 12 years ago encouraged me to help out with the AMVETS honor guard. And for a few years we played ‘Echo Taps’ at the Memorial Day service at the AMVETS.”
Koeppel recalled a story that when Stych’s horn froze up during a funeral on a cold day, the old sailor employed some rather salty language. At a subsequent funeral, the same presiding priest urged Stych in advance to refrain from a repeat performance.
“He was a good friend, and he will be missed,” Koeppel said.
Stych took it upon himself to support local National Guard and Marine Reserve units on overseas deployments. He personally handed out flags to loved ones in 2003 at a sendoff in UNI’s West Gymnasium for the Iowa Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment — the “Ironman Battalion” — to the Sinai Peninsula.
“I think it’s my responsibility,” Stych said in a 2003 Courier interview. “I just feel so proud in doing this, being a veteran myself.”
For that kind of support, in 2003 Stych was made an “honorary Ironman” by a representative of the 1/133rd at a ceremony at Cedar Falls AMVETS Post 49.
“Someone called out for me to make a speech. I said, ‘I can’t, because I’ll cry.’” Stych recalled.
“If there was a veteran who needed full military rites at their funeral, without reservation, Garf was there to play ‘Taps’,” said Cedar Falls AMVETS honor guard member Tom Hagarty.
“I hope Garf will be proud of us as we conduct full military rites at his funeral,” with a family member playing “Taps.”
Services for Stych are 10:30 a.m. Monday at St. Patrick Catholic Church with burial in Greenwood Cemtery. Richardson Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.