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Commanding Career

Area Native Honored For 50 Years In Coast Guard Auxiliary

Donald Kuczenski, pictured at right, was recently honored for 50 years of service in the Coast Guard Auxiliary. He previously served as a commander of flotillas based in Dunkirk, Jamestown and Salisbury, Md., at different times. Submitted photo

After 50 years of volunteering his time, Donald Kuczenski was honored for his service in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Kuczenski, now retired, is a Fredonia native who joined the Dunkirk flotilla on Lake Erie in 1969, eventually becoming commander and chartering a flotilla in Jamestown on Chautauqua Lake where he was also the commander.

On Jan. 18, Kuczenski was presented with a plaque commemorating his service at a Change of Watch ceremony held in Greenbackville, Va. Chief Warrant Officer Jack Williams of the U.S. Coast Guard presenting the award for U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Keith Smith.

“Typically, in the auxiliary you follow a chain of command so you don’t really have personal contact with someone like Rear Adm. Smith,” Kuczenski said. “So to receive a personal letter from Rear Adm. Smith and also contacted by the head of the coast guard auxiliary was flattering.”

The Coast Guard Auxiliary, established by Congress in 1939, has more than 26,000 civilian members in all 50 states. Locally, the volunteer agency that receives select missions and offers boater safety courses to area residents. Currently, there is a flotilla, or based Dunkirk.

A U.S. Coast Guard boat is seen on the Potomac River in Washington, Friday, Sept. 11, 2009. The Coast Guard was conducting a training exercise in the Potomac River moments before former President Barack Obama crossed a nearby bridge for a Sept. 11 commemoration. AP photo

Kuczenski later moved to Salisbury, Md., where he served as commander of the corresponding flotilla that operated on the Wicomico River off Chesapeake Bay.

Kuczenski has since retired from the Westinghouse Electric Company where he was the controller for international markets living in Pittsburgh, Pa.

While keeping up with his auxiliary-related certifications, Kuczenski admitted he carries on a “long-distance relationship” with the Maryland flotilla he was once commanded.

When he first began, Kuczenski was 18 years old and still attending Fredonia High School.

He heard — literally — of the volunteer service because it was two floors below where his radio club would meet in the Dunkirk lighthouse. Housed in the basement, Kuczenski, already a volunteer member of the Fredonia Fire Department, soon joined the auxiliary ranks.

Later, he became the youngest commander of a flotilla in the history of Ninth District Eastern Region. Kuczenski believes the early lessons he learned as a member and later as commander proved to be beneficial in life and in business.

“I think beside all of the aspects of assisting people and helping people just like firefighters and EMT people and things like that, there’s something that I picked up which I think has helped in my management career and that was when I first joined and then when I was elected as an officer,” Kuczenski said. “I learned how to work with people and manage people. Here I was a young teen and early 20s and all of the sudden I am the chief office, if you will, of this organization and working with people that some were my dad’s age, and actually people that my dad knew. So I learned not only how to manage people, but also to work with people of different ages and different experiences.

“I was the commander of people who had many, many more year of boating experience than I had been alive,” he continued. “These were people who were earlier commercial fisherman who had done everything and seen everything now taking direction from this young kid. They were very courteous to me and good at providing training and sharing their experiences with them and I learned how to take that and use their experience and their help and I probably provided a little more structure.”

Kuczenski recalled several incidents while commanding the Dunkirk flotilla that auxiliary members assisted in a serious search and rescue mission. Once a radio operator with the auxiliary helped a tug boat locate a sheriff’s boat that was in the process of rescuing fisherman who had gotten stuck in a storm on Lake Erie in January. Another time, auxiliary members assisted in a rescue of a capsized sail boat alongside emergency response teams.

Since joining, Kuczenski admits that a lot has changed with volunteerism. Before he joined the fire department, he said it was common to have a waiting list of dozens of members for months at a time. Now, he said, volunteer numbers are dwindling.

“I’m kind of saddened to see that volunteerism has declined since I first joined,” he said. “No. 1, it’s impacting the communities, whether its the firefighters or Coast Guard Auxiliary. I don’t see many people coming out to do these types of efforts and devote time and effort to helping out others. It impacts the community, but people miss the opportunities to gain some experience and things that they might not have otherwise.”

Kuczenski was able learn valuable information and go on rescue missions because of the volunteer auxiliary, he recommended others do the same. Those interested in volunteering, like Kuczenski had more than 50 years ago, can call 785-4966 to reach the officials from the Dunkirk flotilla.

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