DUSZA, RAYMOND K., (Jan. 6, 1935 -- May 3, 2009)

Labor leader and public official. Raymond K. Dusza was no stranger to the people of Cheektowaga, New York, in the late 20th century. In Cheektowaga (Indian, land of crab apples), the second largest suburb of Buffalo, 39.9 percent of the population was of Polish ancestry. The St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church was founded in 1967 largely to serve them.

His father, Joseph Dusza, who came from Poland in 1918, was the last of three Dusza families to settle in Buffalo, and started out as a riveter in the Buffalo Dry Docks. Ray Dusza was the only one to carry on the family name. By a large influx of families from Buffalo after the Second World War, Cheektowaga, once only a railroad stop, reached 94,019 persons in 2000. Ray Dusza was known as "Mr. Cheektowaga" because of the attention he gave to the taxpayers and consumers in his district.

His career of public service began at the age of seventeen when he entered the U. S. Naval Reserve at Niagara Falls. It was a false start. On February 4, 1954, he changed his service to the U. S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division in order to become a paratrooper. He was ready to go to Korea when the American paratroopers were told to stay home. The war in Korea was over.

When Ray Dusza returned to Buffalo, where he was born and raised, he proposed to Theresa Skowron, the daughter of Polish immigrants, but her father would not sanction the marriage until he could support a family. The would-be bridegroom then got a job at Westinghouse Electric in Cheektowaga, where 4,000 persons were employed at one time or other, and joined the electrical worker's union. By the time the plant closed in the 1980s, Dusza was president of the local union, father of two children, and usher of St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church.

Shortly after he was laid off, he received a call on a Sunday night from Dennis Gorski, a rising star in the Democratic Party of Erie County, New York, and asked him to run for the county legislature in the next election. His opponent was a much younger man. As a result Dusza represented the people of South Cheektowaga, Depew and Lancaster in the Erie County Legislature from 1988 to 2005. His constituents soon learned that they had no greater defender of their rights than Ray Dusza. He led the fight for scanners in food stores to protect buyers of groceries.

"He was one of our most visible representatives to ever serve in elected office," said Am-Pol Eagle in an editorial. "He attended just about every community gathering that was held, giving him a chance to meet with the people he represented on a regular basis. He wasn't shy about telling people about his travels, often stopping by the offices of the Am-Pol Eagle to ask us to publish a picture of himself at an event."

The dapper and hard-working legislator, with a refreshing sense of humor, was often compared to Caesar Romero, a Hollywood movie star. Both wore neatly trimmed clothes and a wonderful mustache.

Congressman Brian Higgins said in the U.S. House of Representatives, October 17, 2005, that Ray Dusza, with whom he worked, was one of the few public officials who remembered from whom and from whence he came.

From: Edward Pinkowski (2011) -- EdPink@AOL.com