“Basically I want to keep her honor and her name alive,” says Jim Babjak of The Betty Babjak Memorial Fund, which will support Rutgers students who have lost a parent to pancreatic cancer. The Smithereens guitarist, whose wife Betty died in February of pancreatic cancer, created the fund with two of her college roommates.
“I’m sad every day,” says Babjak. “And when this thing came up, with the scholarship, it started to make me feel better.”
The Betty Babjak Memorial Concert, which will raise money for the fund, takes place at the Hungarian-American Citizens Club in Woodbridge, Oct. 29. The Smithereens’ original bassist, Mike Mesaros, will rejoin Babjak, singer Pat DiNizio and drummer Dennis Diken on this night, for the first time in 11 years. Babjak’s side band, Buzzed Meg, will also reunite (for the first time in about 15 years), and the Babjaks’ son, Tommy, will open the show with his band Snowblind. (For information, visit officialsmithereens.com.)
The venue has special meaning for Babjak, who grew up in Carteret.
“I used to see her at dances there, in the ’70s,” he said. “And you know, that’s kind of where we fell in love.
“There’s like a flower bed in the front, where I vividly remember talking to her one night, and thinking, You know what, this girl’s really cool. She’s smart. She’s like two years younger than me. But I kind of fell in love. It was something I didn’t expect.
“So that has significance. And I went to a lot of weddings there, and events. And it’s local: I wanted this event to be more like a family thing, kind of like going to a wedding. I had opportunities to have this memorial in a club or in a theater, but I decided I wanted to cater it, I wanted to have some really good food, and some door prizes, and stuff like that.”
The one-night-only reunion with Mesaros, of course, makes it a unique event in Smithereens history. Babjak says Mesaros will play the entire show, which will consist of a song-for-song re-creation of the band’s 1986 debut album, Especially for You, as the first set, and then an assortment of hits.
“For fans of the band, this is really something,” says Babjak. “And even for me, it’s going to be a joy playing with him again. He wrote the bass parts that are on the record.”
Babjak says he has been working on the setlist with Mesaros, but that the band probably won’t rehearse before the day of the show.
“We’ll have a soundcheck,” says Babjak. “The Smithereens have always been like that. We rehearsed in 1980, till about ’85. And then after that, it was just, ‘You know what? You just gotta know what you’re doing, and then show up.’ ”
Jim and Betty Babjak started dating in 1976, got married in 1983, and had three sons together. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2014.
Part of the reason Babjak created the memorial fund, he says, is to “give back” after a fan and friend of the band, Victor Erlanger, created a GoFundMe.com campaign, the Help Jim & Betty Babjak Cancer Fund. To date, more than $100,000 has been raised through more than 1,300 donations. (Donations are still being accepted.)
“I wanted to give back, because the GoFundMe thing really helped me a lot, to get me through some tough times,” said Babjak. “I’m still not on my feet, but you know what, I’m still alive, and I’ll manage.”
For information about the show, visit officialsmithereens.com.