Stan Kowalski has made a positive impression on many people with all the volunteering he has done throughout his life. Add another fan to the list in Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart.
On May 13, Stuart swore Kowalski in as an honorary deputy sheriff for all the work the long-time Anoka County resident has done for veterans and countless others. Kowalski has lived in Blaine the past seven years and was a long-time Fridley resident before that.
This was the first time that Stuart has bestowed this honor on someone since becoming sheriff in 2011. Stuart said the sheriff’s office believes that true service does not just come from a work shift, but from the heart of a person who understands what the value of service is throughout the day.
“He already embraces our mission statement through his lifestyle. This is going to be an easy transition for you to assume this role,” Stuart said to Kowalski.
When Kowalski was the state’s VFW Commander in 2008-09, he became the last World War II generation statewide commander in the entire United States. He served as a gunner’s mate on three different submarines and was in the U.S. Navy from October 1943 to April 1946.
Kowalski became known as “Killer” and “Krusher” when he became a professional wrestler for 26 years after graduating from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, but he also became well known for his charitable work off the mat.
Watching veterans’ backs is an extremely important mission for Kowalski. It angers him when politicians — many who never served in the military — cut or reduce programs that help veterans because he was trained to not leave fallen comrades behind.
“Talk to your elected officials and tell them this is uncalled for and we as American citizens won’t stand for allowing a veteran to have to live under a bridge or in a cardboard box. These are our comrades and we have to pick them up,” Kowalski said.
A couple of his friends got in such a rough patch that they had to sleep under a bridge. Kowalski has been an advocate for homeless veterans. He has communicated with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s office to try to find shelter for these veterans.
Anoka County Commissioner Jim Kordiak said Kowalski was an advocate for Stepping Stone’s move to the former Anoka State Hospital campus. Although the shelter serves all adults, Stepping Stone chief operating officer Lonni McCauley had said there would be an emphasis on homeless vets.
Len Gudmunson, the 7th District VFW Commander, said five abandoned military buildings at Fort Snelling will be able to house 57 veterans.
Gudmunson added that Kowalski is one of only 125 VFW members in the world to earn the Triple Crown Award for his post, district and state earning All-American VFW honors when he was its leader. He served two terms as post commander for the Fridley VFW Post 363 and was the 7th District VFW Commander and the state VFW commander.
“He deserves it,” Gudmunson said about Kowalski being named an honorary Anoka County Sheriff’s Office deputy. “He’s given his heart to the veterans and the community. We at the VFW love him.”
Since 1961, Kowalski has given more than 15,000 speeches and raised millions of dollars for the Greater Twin Cities United Way. Tara Uppman, manager of campaign services for Greater Twin Cities United Way, said Stan is dearly loved and organizations often request him to speak at their company United Way fundraising events. Kowalski said he regularly did over 200 speeches a year, except for the first couple of years and this last year due to some health issues.
“I’m 87, but I don’t feel that old,” he said. He 87th birthday was actually May 13, so his friends sang “Happy Birthday” at the end of the ceremony.
There is now the Stan Kowalski Lifetime Achievement Award for those who have volunteered for 10 or more years for the United Way and the Stan Kowalski Orator of the Year award presented to the most productive fundraising volunteer speaker.
Kowalski advocated for children for 18 years as a member of the Spring Lake Park School District 16 Board and was selected in 1992 as the Outstanding State School Board Member. He also was a member of the state school board association and Minnesota State High School League.
In response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Kowalski since 2002 has organized the Honor the Heroes event at halftime of one Spring Lake Park High School home football game each year.
Kowalski has also served on the national committee for the POW-MIA Foundation and on the Big Brothers-Big Sisters Board. He was elected to the city of Fridley Hall of Fame and elected to the University of Minnesota Wall of Fame for outstanding service by an alumni.
As an honorary deputy, Kowalski received a challenge coin that each deputy receives and a plaque with his badge on it.
“I feel very humble, and to see my close, personal friends here I feel even more elated,” Kowalski said.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]