It's a trip I've never forgotten. A number of years ago, while in New York on business, I hailed a cab on Park Avenue. The cabbie was a pleasant fellow, and on the way to my destination we got to talking. He was from Poland, which then was going through turbulent, revolutionary times. He spoke with a heavy accent and told me how fortunate he felt to be able to drive a taxi for a living. Then he made a statement that has stayed with me. "I don't think people in this country really understand what a privilege it is to be able to work," he told me. "In my country most of the people don't have jobs, and they are very depressed." I wonder how many of us really do appreciate how privileged we are in this country. For those in the-world-owes-me-a-living crowd, I'm sure this kind of thinking seems ludicrous. My conversation with the Polish cabbie came to mind as I was reading the newspaper the other day.
As I was perusing the obituaries in a recent Chicago Tribune, a headline caught my eye: "Peter Kusy: proud to be a citizen." A smiling picture of the man accompanied the article. Here's how his obituary began: "As a 16-year-old in Poland, the Nazis forced Peter Kusy and many others to board trains for Germany to become slave laborers at work camps during World War II.
"Though he survived the war, he never returned to his Polish home, and the experience molded how he viewed life afterward, said relatives of Mr. Kusy's, who died at home of complications from a stroke. He was 76.
"From the moment he immigrated to America, Mr. Kusy vowed to appreciate everything he had, including his family and job and the opportunity to buy a home. He worked two jobs for years, as a laborer and at a grocery store."
In the article, Kusy's daughter, Angie Urbano, says her father never talked much about his time in Germany, aside from saying he nearly starved to death and had some gruesome experiences in the concentration camps. After the war, he worked at a U.S. Air Force camp where me met his future wife, Wilma.
"Mr. Kusy left his wife and their new daughter to come to America in 1950 to build a better life for the family, taking a factory job at a company that made parts for printing presses. He worked for that company for 25 years, before it closed down," the article said. "He also worked part time at an A&P grocery store, took classes in English, and saved money for a home. By 1952 his family joined him in Chicago.
"Mr. Kusy became a U.S. citizen in 1955. It was one of the proudest moments of his life. For years, he had license plates PK 1355 representing his initials and Dec. 13, 1955, the day he was sworn in. It was obviously a very meaningful day for him, his daughter said." Another proud moment came years later, in the 1960s, when Kusy bought the family's first home.
Kusy's last job was with a bank where he worked for 10 years as a maintenance supervisor. "Although the pay was lower, it had other rewards," according to the article. "His hard work and friendly demeanor earned him many loyal friends."
Kusy's daughter summed up her father's life this way: "In terms of monetary success, my dad is not one of those people who came over here and made a million dollars. But in his own heart, he was a really wealthy man because he owned a home and never had to worry that he was going to be hungry again."
To me, that's an inspiring story about an uncomplicated man who took nothing for granted. Citizenship, work and family were his priorities. I wish I had known Peter Kusy. His story personifies persistence, integrity, loyalty and love.
Character does count,
Charles S. Lauer