An ‘amazing public servant’: Retired hilltown lawmaker Steve Kulik dies at 72

  • Former state Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, left, and Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, walk in the 32nd annual Pulaski Day parade in 2018 in Northampton. Kulik, 72, died Sunday after an extended illness at his Worthington home. FILE PHOTO

  • State Rep. Stephen Kulik waves as he walks in the 71st annual Chesterfield Parade, Wednesday, July 4, 2018, in Chesterfield.  FILE PHOTO

  • State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, left, and former state Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, place a wreath by the Pulaski memorial during the 32nd annual Pulaski Day celebration in 2018 in Northampton. Kulik, 72, died Sunday after an extended illness at his Worthington home. FILE PHOTO

  • State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, at the Williamsburg Town Hall, Dec. 12, 2018. FILE PHOTO


  • State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, at the Meekins Library in Williamsburg in 2018. Kulik, 72, died Sunday after an extended illness at his Worthington home. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/19/2022 9:10:12 PM

WORTHINGTON — Over his more than 25 years serving in the state Legislature, Stephen Kulik showed dedication to the needs and interests of those in the region’s rural communities, defining the term public servant.

“Steve taught us by example what it means to be a true public servant,” said Natalie Blais, his successor in the 1st Franklin District, which covers about 20 rural towns across Hampshire and Franklin counties.

Kulik, 72, died Sunday after an extended illness at his Worthington home.

“Ask anyone in the district and State House about Steve and they will typically follow with a story about how he has helped them or touched their life in some way,” said Blais, D-Deerfield, who succeeded Kulik when he opted against running again in 2018. “It shows how many people he touched in his years as a state representative.”

A former colleague on Worthington’s Select Board, Julia Sharron, who served for 25 years on the board and was its first woman member, was among those who got to know Kulik.

“I found him always to be mild-mannered and he cared a lot about the community,” Sharron said, reflecting on Kulik’s tenure on the board from 1984 to 1993.

Whether it was riding out to Boston with other Worthington residents to appeal for school funding or getting plans to build a new firehouse, Kulik always got things done, she said.

“This will be a loss for the community,” Sharron said. “I am very saddened about it.”

Former state Senate President Stan Rosenberg said Kulik brought integrity, compassion and intelligence to his work in the Legislature. “Steve was an amazing public servant, and an even more amazing person,” Rosenberg said.

Kulik always kept his ego in check, never grandstanded and recognized the need to build coalitions, Rosenberg said.

“He was just so thoughtful, he did his homework, he understood the region and focused on the things most important to his constituents,” Rosenberg said.

Kulik grew up in Auburndale and met his wife, Suzanne, while marching from Cambridge to Boston to protest the war in Vietnam as part of the October Moratorium on Oct. 15, 1969. They were married in 1972, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary over this summer, and came to Worthington in 1976.

After building their own home, the Kuliks raised their children, Samuel and Elizabeth.

“It’s a very comfortable place in a very beautiful location,” Sam Kulik said, speaking from the home on Monday.

He said his father appreciated the collective governance in the small town and Town Meeting, and became a bridge between the old guard and new guard, initially setting out to solve problems at the local level.

“He was known as someone who would stop to talk and would be a good listener,” Sam Kulik said.

Before joining the Legislature, Steve Kulik’s roles included being a member of the Hilltown Energy Project, director of the Hampshire County Energy Project, the western Massachusetts policy director for energy for Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O’Neill III, the western Massachusetts director of the state’s Executive Office of Energy Resources and serving in government relations for the Chancellor’s Office at the University of Massachusetts that reorganized the UMass system into its current five campus structure

He served as president of both the Massachusetts Selectman’s Association and the Massachusetts Municipal Association and wrote two books, both Audubon Society Field Guides to the Natural Places of the Northeast, Inland and Coastal.

Then Kulik took the opportunity to take on the challenges of small towns on the state level.

Blais said Kulik was always focused on what the rural areas and small towns needed, becoming a leader in broadband, the agri-economy and delivering specific infrastructure, including equity in education for the rural schools.

Kulik also sponsored bills legalizing same-sex marriage and pursuing municipal health insurance reform.

When Kulik announced in February 2018 that he wouldn’t be seeking reelection to the Legislature after a quarter century, earning his seat in a special election in October 1993, he spoke about his accomplishments in terms of the issues his constituents needed addressed.

“I have worked hard to increase awareness in state government of the unique challenges and needs faced by my constituents in matters like health care, transportation, school funding, broadband, economic development and human services,” Kulik said at the time.

Legislative hero

Following his retirement from the Legislature, he joined the board for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture and earned CISA’s first ever Legislative Hero award.

“He was such a great advocate for farmers, he totally understood the mission of CISA and acted on it every day,” said Philip Korman, executive director of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.

Kulik was ambitious in making a better rural western Massachusetts, Korman said.

“Steve always represented the region really well and always could strategize with you about how to be more effective,” Korman said.

Until his retirement, Kulik was on the Massachusetts Food Policy Council, which advanced food systems and promoted healthy mass-grown food. He worked to enact the dairy tax credit that Korman said has been a savior for dairy farms, promote the Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Program, and strengthen the Agricultural Preservation Restriction program.

In Franklin County, Kulik’s influence was felt.

“Steve was such a good and kind man who leaves a legacy of public service and benefit to so many,” said Linda Dunlavy, executive director of the Franklin Council of Governments.

Dunlavy said his death is a sad day and a loss for his family, the region and the communities.

“For me, he was always my go-to when I had an issue or a problem that I couldn’t figure out,” Dunlavy said. “With calm, logic, and focused attention, he helped me figure how to make the unmanageable manageable and the seemingly impossible possible.”

Fantasy baseball

Aside from politics, Kulik’s other primary interests were music and fantasy baseball.

Sam Kulik, who is a musician, said his father has a large collection of vinyl albums and CDs and always had something interesting to play and listen to, from jazz and blues to rock ’n’ roll and country, as he made his way from town to town in the district.

“His enthusiasm for music rubbed off on me,” his son said.

Steve Kulik was an early adopter of fantasy baseball and friends with writer and editor Daniel Okrent, considered to be the creator of what was then known as Rotisserie League Baseball.

“Dad and Dan started playing together around 1980 or so,” Sam Kulik said, adding that his father was still in a league that formed in 1985, and each spring he would get a magazine previewing the coming season.

When Kulik was first elected to the Legislature, he succeeded Jay Healy, who left the position when he was appointed state commissioner of agriculture.

“Steve was an outstanding legislator and an even better person,” Healy said, adding that Kulik always looked at policies through the eyes of those he represented. “He never forgot his roots, and did a great job communicating with his constituents.”

Sam Kulik said he and his sister each have a daughter whom their father loved. He said his parents’ long marriage sets an example for them.

“Their model of partnership was such a beacon for both me and my sister, who have similar relationships of our own now,” Kulik said.

After he left the Legislature, Kulik served on CISA’s board and boards for Double Edge Theatre, Cooley Dickinson Hospital and the Massachusetts Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

“This is a huge loss for the region,” Rosenberg said. “Even in retirement, Steve continued to have great influence.”

“Steve was selfless and humble, grounded by his friends and the people he served in the 1st Franklin District,” Blais said. “He was an adviser, mentor and friend to me, only one of many lives Steve touched during his lifetime of public service.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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