September 1, 2014

Elyria
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Bittersweet sweepstakes: Amherst woman wins trip during a difficult time

AMHERST — Laurene Pasztor will forever remember May 13 with a mix of emotions.

It’s the day she learned her father, Bart Blaha, a fishing charter captain in Marblehead, was hospitalized with a heart attack. Two weeks later, he was dead at age 71.

It was the same day she heard from representatives of the long-running “Jeopardy!” TV game show that she was one of 25 people chosen from 2.2 million entrants in an online sweepstakes to win a 10-day cruise to the Galapagos Islands with “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, amazing opportunity and I’m really looking forward to it, but I’m also having a hard time with it because of my dad’s dying,” Pasztor said Thursday by phone. “I called my dad that day to tell him, ‘Do you want some really good news?’ It’s just the timing of it all.”

A fan since childhood when the game first aired on TV at midday with host Art Fleming, Pasztor has always loved the show’s distinctive format that challenges contestants to form the correct questions to answers in various categories. Her years of watching the show no doubt honed her skills as Pasztor wound up a member of the Academic Challenge Team during her junior and senior years at Danbury High School in Marblehead, where she graduated in 1976.

A year later, her family moved to Amherst after her father was laid off from his job at the Ford Motor Co. plant in Walton Hills, only to be transferred to the Ford plant in Sandusky.

Running from March 30 to May 1, the “Jeopardy” contest was launched to observe the show’s 25th anniversary in syndication. After watching episodes during the period, viewers submitted online entries with their answers to the Final Jeopardy category.

Everyone who answered correctly had his or her name entered in the cruise sweepstakes, with one winner selected each day, said Pasztor. Her name was picked April 28, but she can’t recall what her winning answer was.

“When they called to tell me I’d won, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, to hear something like, “Can I have your credit card number or something like that,’ ” Pasztor said. “I’ve never won anything, and now this.”

Pasztor will make the 10-day, nine-night cruise with her husband Michael, a 1970 Elyria High graduate, aboard the National Geographic Endeavour.

The Amherst woman is doubtless better-prepared for the trip than most.

“I read ‘Origin of the Species’ and ‘Voyage of the Beagle’ when I was in junior high. I’ve been a National Geographic subscriber forever.”

Located along the equator off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands were made famous by 19th century British scientist and explorer Charles Darwin, whose landmark theory of evolution through natural selection was cultivated during his five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle.

“I’ve already stocked up on SFP-80,” Pasztor said. “I’m Irish, freckled, very fair and burn like crazy.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com