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Citizen Of The Year

Zukowski ‘always on a mission’

Earns recognition as The Recorder’s Citizen of the Year

Ray Zukowski in his Northfield home.  Recorder/Paul Franz

Ray Zukowski in his Northfield home. Recorder/Paul Franz

In the world of “good cop, bad cop,” Raymond Zukowski has a reputation for great things.

Montague’s former police chief may have retired a couple of years ago after 36 years on the force, but he’s hardly left public service behind.

The 58-year-old Turners Falls native will be honored today as the 33rd Recorder Citizen of the Year at a Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Deerfield Academy. But to those who know Zukowski, who now works for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Triad program, the award is no surprise.

“He’s constantly giving,” says Paul Bassett of Erving, who was Zukowski’s junior high school principal in Turners Falls, but now works with him at the Shuetzen Verein camp along the Connecticut River near Barton Cove. “He’s a humble guy, but he deserves this kind of recognition.”

Whether it’s playing in a golf tournament to buy clothes for Warm the Children or helping organize a tourney for the Triad’s “Warm the Seniors” program to assist seniors with heating expenses — raising more than $40,000 over the past eight or nine years — Zukowski shows he has a warm heart seemingly as big as Franklin County, says Bassett and others he’s recruited for these efforts, and those for whom he’s jumped in to help in their own times of need.

“He watches out for the vulnerable,” said Bassett, who’s among those Zukowski marshals into action for events like the annual Jane Lloyd Fund clambake in Salisbury, Conn., to raise money for breast cancer victims and their families. “He recruits four or five of us guys and packs up an entire clambake. He does this every year.”

Since Zukowski first volunteered to set up the clambake eight years ago for the fund memorializing the sister of a Northfield woman, the annual events have raised $150,000.

“It’s heartwarming,” said Zukowski, who insists that the work represents a team effort. “We have a committee. It’s a group of guys who all work together. As a group, we do the right thing.”

The Northfield honoree, who grew up in Turners Falls and graduated from Turners Falls High School in 1973, says that his father — who turns 88 next month — was involved in Schuetzen Verein all the time he was growing up.

“I was there in my crib,” recalls Zukowski. For more than 30 years, he’s been a member of the social and civic organization, and with the help of Farren Care Center Food Service Director Randy Crochier and Zukowski’s Shuetzen Verein committee, he says he’s organized chicken barbecues, steak roasts and clambakes “for the right reasons.”

Yet when he got the message that Recorder Advertising Director Rich Fahey had called him, Zukowski told his wife he was probably just being asked to serve on the Citizen of the Year nominating committee again, as he did in 2007. Instead, Fahey told him that panel had selected him as this year’s honoree.

“It’s very humbling, and overwhelming,” he said. Yet lending a hand seems to come naturally for him.

When Zukowski heard that a Greenfield cop had to quit working when his son developed a rare kidney disease and had trouble paying his medical bills, “Raymond immediately mobilized the troops and said, ‘There’s a big event at Camp Kee-wanee.’ We cooked all the food and transported it there and fed over 200 people,” recalled Bassett. “It’s the kind of thing he does. He says, ‘What can we do? How can I help?’ ”

That event raised roughly $20,000, said Shuetzen Verein President Jeffrey Suprenant, who’s known Zukowski for nearly 50 years.

“It was amazing,” said Suprenant, who found himself the recipient of Zukowski’s help earlier this year after his own daughter died. “He’s just one hell of a guy.”

For the past two years, Zukowski arranged a small clambake as a raffle prize to benefit the Baystate Franklin Medical Center gift shop. And the Shuetzen Verein meals he’s organized for the Wounded Warrior programs to help returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have raised thousands of dollars.

“It’s a team effort,” he insists. “It isn’t me.”

Yet Zukowski has also been organizing semiannual Gill-Montague-Erving Triad senior meals, at St. Kazimierz Society Hall and at the Shuetzen Verein grounds, for 20-something years.

“I’ve been passionate with Triad since it started,” he said about the sheriff-based service for seniors, for which he began working 20 hours a week since his retirement. “It’s the most satisfying, rewarding thing that I do.”

Zukowski, who is contributing $250 of his Citizen prize to the Franklin County Triad, regularly visits about 300 seniors in their homes in Montague, Wendell, New Salem and Warwick, checking on their needs and providing them with emergency and medical equipment as well as information.

“We’ve even brought hospital beds to people so they can stay at home,” he said. “We’ve got 61 power chairs and power scooters out in the community.”

“I spent 36 years in Montague as a police officer, so I know these people very well,” he explained. “I’ve spent a lifetime growing up with their families. And even in the other towns, every time you go there, you get to know them better and better, and you know what they need or want.”

When he learned a used $10,000 handicapped-access ramp was available to Triad, Zukowski said, “I know just the guy for that,” and arranged with friends to install it for one of his seniors, who walks with a pair of canes.

“To be able to come in and out of his house and have a little more independence, he’s so happy,” Zukowski said. “It’s very rewarding.”

He and other Triad officers devote part of their Thanksgiving and Christmas to deliver 40 dinners prepared by jail staff to shut-ins around the county, and recently offered to drive a group of seniors down to Springfield’s Bright Nights holiday attraction.

Zukowski has also arranged eight or so casino trips as fundraisers to benefit Triad, each of them bringing in an estimated $300 to $500.

“There is a never-ending driving force in Raymond and he keeps on finding ways to give back to Franklin County people,” said Kerry Togneri. “He’s involved in so many different areas. Checking in on elders is part of his job, but he always goes the extra mile. He really takes time to talk with elders in their homes, to make sure they’re safe. He has a huge heart and fills it with helping as many people as he’s physically able to. … He is very hard to catch sitting still. You will need to talk with him while moving, as he is always on a mission.”

She adds, “He never says no to somebody who needs help. He’s a great person.”

In Northfield, where Zukowski and his wife have lived for more than 18 years, he’s also served as a sewer commissioner, on the veterans memorial commission, the administrative search committee and the police chief search committee. He’s also helped the Northfield Kiwanis Club set up a community food pantry at Dickinson Memorial Library by getting shelving and enlisting jail inmates to paint the space. He’s also helped the Kiwanis organize clambakes to benefit its Kiwanis Park.

Zukowski, who’s also twice been named the Montague Elks citizen of the year and a distinguished Greenfield Community College alumna, was instrumental in helping Montague build its new $5.65 million public service building to replace its cramped quarters in the basement of the town offices.

One of his longtime friends said that although the former Turners Falls High offensive tackle might seem physically intimidating, he’s really “a teddy bear” with a “very caring, compassionate heart.”

Growing up, Zukowski said, “There was always just something you did because it was the right thing to do.”

As a young patrolman, he recalls being influenced by Holyoke Police Chief Harold Skelton, who headed the Western Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association. Zukowski recalls Skelton, whose organizations held its meetings at the Shuetzen Verein each year, say “If you live your whole career knowing you’re there to help people, that’s what you should be doing.”

“I always admired that man,” Zukowski said. “If you can help somebody, you do it.”

To read profiles on the past five Citizen of the Year winners, go to

www.recorder.com/citizen

You can reach Richie Davis at: rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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