Saturday, December 27, 2014

The End of an Era

My father passed away December 11, 2014.  Below is his obituary.

Walter Kuzyk, 98, of Philadelphia

Walter Kuzyk was born on June 6, 1916 to Walter and Maria Kuzyk in the town of Przemyśl on the
border between Poland and Ukraine during the peak of World War I.  Walter, his sister Lydia and his parents moved around the Galicia region until they took residence in Lviv, which is now in Ukraine.

Soon after, Ukraine fell under control of the Soviet Union.  Living in the city, they avoided the artificial famine imposed by Stalin that took as many as 7.5 million lives, but, were later caught on the battle lines of World War II.  Walter's father, a lawyer and a judge, fled from Ukraine in 1941 to escape the NKVD ’s purge of the Ukrainian Intelligentsia prior to the German invasion.  Walter was arrested as punishment for his father's departure.  In response to the imminent fall of Lviv to the Nazis, the NKVD hastily executed its political prisoners.   Walter escaped the midnight firing squad when freed by an officer who recognized him as a musician from the local dance hall.  His fiancée, Irene Bernakiewicz, was also detained for several days by the NKVD, where she was coerced into becoming an informant against her parents, who were both teachers (and her father a principal), to insure that they were loyal Soviet citizens, indoctrinating their students with approved dogma.

These events forced Walter and Irene to flee to Germany through the advancing Nazi front, using their high-school documents -- which featured a Polish eagle that resembled the German coat of arms, to fool the German border guards.  Through a network of friends, they located Walter's father, who had gained employment in Germany as a supply clerk, using his fluent German to convince the local authorities that he was a native.  Walter and Irene were married soon after they arrived.

Walter's father hid the young couple in his small apartment for the duration of the war.   Since necessities were rationed, and Walter Sr. could barely support himself, they gathered weeds under the cover of night to supplement their paltry food supply.  After the war, Soviet rule over Ukraine was restored, making it unsafe for Walter and Irene to return.  They were sponsored by a Ukrainian friend with US citizenship to immigrate to the US in 1949.  Walter's father’s application to the US was rejected, so he immigrated to Australia.

Walter's Master’s Degree in engineering and Irene's degree in Pharmacy from Ukraine were not recognized in the United states, so they worked outside of their professions, taking multiple jobs as custodians, dry cleaners, and assembly line workers until Walter eventually secured a job as a draftsman with Westinghouse.   In 1958, their son Mark was born.

While at Westinghouse, Walter attended the civilian division of Pennsylvania  Military College in Chester, PA, where he earned a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1965.  At age 50, he landed his first engineering job at the Philadelphia Naval Base, and remained with the civil service until his retirement in 1987.  Throughout his life, he was active in the Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church in Chester, PA, where he sang in the choir and served as cantor.

After his wife Irene passed away in 1990, he moved to Philadelphia so that he could immerse himself in the vibrant Ukrainian community.  Until he suffered a stroke in 2013, he volunteered at the Ukrainian Center, where he served senior meals, worked at the library, and interacted with his lifelong friends.  He enjoyed his independence, regularly attending operas at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia and driving to Cape May to enjoy the beach.  While he was frugal, he generously sponsored poor students in  Ukraine, supported organizations such as Children of Chernobyl, and lavishly indulged his grandchildren.  Walter was known for his extravagant devotion to his family, his appreciation to the US for giving him the opportunity to live in freedom and prosperity, and for the pride he took in the rich culture of his Ukrainian heritage.  He passed away on December 11, 2014, after having lunch in the company of friends.

The funeral liturgy in the full Ukrainian tradition was celebrated at St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church in Jenkintown, PA, on the morning of December 17.  He was laid to rest at Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery in Delaware County.   He is survived by his son Mark, daughter-in-law Patricia, grandchildren Mark Kuzyk and Alexandra Brune, Lexa’s husband Stan Brune, and great grandson Jack Sawyer Brune.