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Zukowski keeps scoring with Terryville community

POSTED June 17, 2012
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

The 2012 Zukowski Family Foundation Scholarship recipients Tyler Tarnowicz and Lucy Hopko. Rick Wilson has the story on a Terryville native who keeps on giving every chance he gets.

                                  Zukowski keeps scoring with Terryville community

            TERRYVILLE – Ray Zukowski just has a penchant for giving, particularly to his hometown of Terryville. Call if a life-long obsession. It all started back in the 1970s with a basketball in his hand and continues right up to the present, this time around with more than few checks in his hand and these don’t bounce.

            Back in his high school days, winter was the giving time and boy could he give. Pleasure to Kangaroo fans and headaches of migraine proportions to opponents. Zukowski was a basketball player. Well, that’s not quite fair. He was a brilliant player, one of the Berkshire League’s all-time greats, leading Terryville to BL titles in 1977 and 1978 and then playing at Johns Hopkins and Sacred Heart University.

            He played with a lot of heart and these days the 52-year-old  Zukowski gives with a lot of heart. Late spring is a happy time for Zukowski and Terryville High because Ray comes calling and bearing gifts.

            Recently, Tom Banas, President of the Zukowski Family Foundation, announced that Terryville High senior Lucy Hopko would be the recipient of a $10,000 scholarship ($2,500 over four years). Hopko plans on attending Penn State.

            Senior Tyler Tarnowicz was awarded $2,500 and is planning on attending Penn State.

            Zukowski has never forgotten the educators either. Teachers Michelle Luba and George Bubka were given awards of $750 each to be spent on students.

            “We had 17 applicants from Terryville and one from St. Paul,” said Banas. “The awards are for somebody who works hard and has a plan to give back to the community. It’s about somebody who looks like they are making and going to make a difference in people’s lives.”

            This is no one-shot deal for Zukowski, who lives in Columbia, Maryland between Washington D.C.  and Baltimore these days.  In four years, the guy with the big heart has given over $70,000 to Terryville High School. Zukowski lost his father when he was 15 and will tell you about being on welfare early in his marriage. People helped him along and he has never forgotten.

            “It’s just the way Ray is,’ said Banas, a retired former Terryville teacher and administrator at Pomperaug. “This year was a good example. Ray called a week before Christmas and said, `Tom, we’re missing something. It’s Christmas and there are no kids that need something?’ “   

            Two organizations were quickly found. A school social worker had small fund for the needy while an eighth grade teacher ran a coat drive.

            “We called Ray and he said he wanted to donate a $1,000 to each cause,” said Banas. “We expected $2,000 and got $3,000. The social worker went to the grocery store and made a list of how many families needed food and the civics teacher who had 120 coats was expecting to have 200 along with 80 pairs of gloves and mittens and 80 scarves to add to the 80 already in stock.”

            Zukowski also donated $2,000 last year and $2,500 this year to Paul Newman’s Camp for kids with cancer called the Hole in the Wall Gang. Through the yeaqrs he has helped fund a shelter for battered women and been involved the Special Olympics.

            “He is just incredible. His whole thing is people. Recently he invited all of the past winners and teachers, the Superintendent of Schools, high school vice-principal and two people from the Hole in the Wall Gang and took them to Ruth Criss Steak House.”

            Zukowski put $100,000 of his own money into the Zukowski foundation to get it started and every year matches any donation made.

“The foundation is good for at least 12-14 years now and Ray’s goal is to have his kids carry it on after his lifetime," said Banas

  Zukowski also takes time to get to know the students who have won the scholarships. He uses his connections to obtain internships if possible and for one girl who was transferring from Bryant College to UConn and needed a computer upgrade, he took out $900 for the upgrade and had the computer delivered in 48 hours.’

Ray Zukowski gave his hometown more than a fair share of thrills 30 or so years ago with an admirable basketball talent. The ball is long gone, but the big heart beats on. And a community is that much richer. And the smiles of thanks keep coming.

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