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March sadness: Tenants honor W’burg building employee who died amid his favorite NCAA tourney

In memoriam: Kevin Ojeda is mourning the death of his father Willy, but celebrating his dad’s first March Madness win, just about two weeks after he died.
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A sports-obsessed worker at a Williamsburg apartment complex who took part in fantasy leagues and pools with others there claimed his first victory when he won the group’s college-basketball contest earlier this month — roughly two weeks after he died.

But late building porter Willy Ojeda’s winning picks for the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s 2018 March Madness tournament — won by his favorite team Villanova — did not go uncelebrated. The other participants who wagered friendly bets on the contest decided to donate the prize money Ojeda would have claimed to his next of kin, according to a tenant.

“He was a beloved member of the staff, so we decided to give the modest cash prize to his surviving sons,” said Evan Thies, who lives in the complex on N. 11th Street between Driggs Avenue and Roebling Street and launched a GoFundMe page to support the deceased’s family.

And watching their 54-year-old dad’s beloved Pennsylvania squad take the title of Division I men’s basketball champs on April 2 — just weeks after he died on March 15 — was bittersweet, according to one of Ojeda’s two sons, who said his father expressed optimism about taking the top honors in his own competition before his sudden passing.

“For March Madness, he was in second place, he told me to watch out for that,” said 23-year-old Kevin Ojeda. “So when I saw Villanova won, I saw my dad won as well — but he never got to see the day because he passed away.”

The younger Ojeda — who lives in the outer borough of Queens with his 26-year-old brother, both of whom lived with their father before he died — said his pop woke up perfectly healthy on his last day on earth, but later collapsed at home due to unexpected heart failure.

“He had a massive heart attack while taking a shower,” Kevin Ojeda said of his dad, who submitted his winning basketball bracket two days before his death.

The deceased was a single parent who always made time for his boys, taking them to shoot hoops and see ball games, and teaching them to be the young men they are today, his son said.

“My father taught us how to play sports and get through our lives,” Kevin Ojeda said. “He raised us right. It’s hard losing the number-one person in your life.”

The elder Ojeda took home $210 for winning the March Madness pool at his place of work, which will be put toward a final-resting place that honors his love of the game, his son said.

“We want something to do with sports on the urn,” Kevin Ojeda said. “He was a big sports fan, and we want to make sure we get that right for him.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Posted 12:00 am, April 20, 2018
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