June 23, 2006, - 7:39 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
Until today, I’d never heard of Waldemar Kaminski. And that’s the way he wanted it.
This unsung Polish American is emblematic of everything that’s great about our country and how government is not always the solution. Whether you’re left, right, or in between, Kaminski is someone to be proud of.
For 50 years, Kaminski ran a small butcher shop/food stand at Buffalo’s Broadway Market. He only took a break to serve America in World War II and lived very modestly in an unadorned apartment. But secretly, Kaminski was a millionaire from wise stock market investments, and quietly gave away his millions to charities and neighbors in need.
Kaminski died Wednesday at the age of 88, and we think it’s important to recognize this great American. From the Buffalo News’ Owen Hearey:
“He didn’t want anyone to know him, but I just had to thank him,” said Anne Gioia, co-founder of the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, to which Kaminski donated several million dollars. “Now I think we should shout it from the rooftops.” . . .
“He felt that if you died a wealthy person, you had not lived a worthwhile life,” Gioia said. “I don’t think he had any regrets.”
Kaminski gave so much to so many that it’s difficult to quantify just how much he’s given.
He donated millions to Roswell Park – including $1 million for an endowed chair in pediatrics and $1 million to build a two-acre park on the institute’s campus.
He gave handsomely to other groups as well, including the Father Baker Home, the Salvation Army, Hilbert College and Camp Good Days and Special Times. He even helped neighboring families with mortgage payments, college tuition and lines of credit at his stand.
“It wasn’t a handout. He was supportive and helped them maintain their dignity,” said one of his nieces, Marsha Kaminski of Oakland, Calif.
“If they were helping themselves, he wanted to help, too,” Eller said.
His gifts were kept quiet both because of his deeply humble nature and for his personal safety. Kaminski had been beaten and robbed several times over the years, and publicly revealing his wealth would only make him a larger target.
But now that he has died, no one who knew him is holding their tongue. The green space he helped create will be named “Kaminski Park” in his honor. . . .
Born July 23, 1917, in the Albany area, Kaminski first came to Buffalo in 1927 when his family opened a small grocery store in the Broadway Market. At age 17, he opened two food stands of his own, sometimes working as many as 18 hours a day.
Though he was brilliant enough to pursue higher education, he turned down a college scholarship and kept working so his late brother, Dr. Chester Kaminski, could go to University of Buffalo Medical School.
His grocery career was interrupted only once – when he joined the Army during World War II. As a first sergeant, Kaminski trained more than 1,200 men between 1941 and 1946.
Thanks to reader and trusted friend J, who says of Kaminski, “An Angel Lived Among Us.” Amen to that.
Tags: Anne Gioia, Army, Buffalo, California, Camp Good Days, Chester Kaminski, co-founder, endowed chair, first sergeant, food stands, Hilbert College, Kaminski Park, Marsha Kaminski, Oakland, Roswell Park, Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, Salvation Army, University of Buffalo Medical School, USD