Friday, April 26, 2013

Our Small Town Hero Is Gone

Stan Durnakowski in town center holding Ground Zero flag on 10th anniversary of 9/11

Stanley Durnakowski, proud father, husband, army veteran, Polish farmer, and long-time Amherst College employee died yesterday at the Cooley Dickinson Hospital, where he was spending way to much time over the past few years, reporting for dialysis three times per week.

Over the course of my lifetime I have met many a person caught up in worthy causes who exhibited unflinching determination to meet a goal, but none that could compare with Stan The Man.

Thirteen years ago, with nothing but a clipboard, pens, folding table and a limitless yearning to make a difference, Stan Durnakowki singlehandedly shook the very foundation of Amherst town government.

Proving the pen is mightier than the sword, Stan collected 2,512 voter signatures required to force a ballot question on retiring our antiquated Town Meeting/Select Board government.

Mr. Durnakowski was then elected to the 9-member Charter Commission and deliberated for almost two years to come up with a professional Mayor/Council replacement government, except -- against Mr. Durnakowski's strong wishes -- the Mayor was more ceremonial with a town manager retained.

In 2003 the revolutionary binding ballot question stimulated an unusually high turnout -- at least for a local election -- of 30.8 %, and lost by less than 1%, only 14 votes.

Undeterred Stan went back out over the next two years and once again collected the signatures required to bring back the question for a second bite of the apple. In 2005 it failed by 214 votes.

But the close brush with death brought about a change in attitude of Amherst town officials. The Select Board has become far more normalized, almost to the point of boring, and Town Meeting has actually become more efficient, although still dominated by diehards who block progress at every turn.

Thanks Stan. If Heaven is is not to your liking, start a petition.

If anyone can keep God on his toes, you can.


Helen said...

So sorry to hear about Stan. He was a real gentleman, and a nice guy to know.

Tom McBride said...

I had to wrack my brain to remember where I had heard his name. I signed his petition. May he rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

Those charter votes were two of the sadder episodes of recent political history, along with the suppression of any meaningful dissent about the state of public education in Amherst. I suspect that most people would not lump those aspects of Amherst politics together, but for political junkies like me, "troublemakers" in Amherst make for interesting times. When the infidels are driven off, the community loses something valuable.

So these are not interesting times. For awhile, however, we had a real debate about town government that was interesting and meaningful and, yes, even fun, all spurred by Stan's efforts and then the very hard work of a very dedicated Charter Committee.

What we have now in the aftermath is a strange lull in political conflict in town, which either reflects contentment or disaffection, it's hard to tell which.

Stan was one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, and I believe that he was fairly polite to those with whom he disagreed. He made a difference, and I hope that he was at peace with what he did accomplish.

When we finally see the change in town government that Stan sought, I hope that his name will be raised again. I know that Larry has a long memory in this regard, which is valuable when it's time to give credit where it's due.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Notice how a new generation of such great people is not rising up -- with the possible exception of the current DPW director, can you name one person whom people will be eulogizing 20/30/40 years from now?

I can't.

That, more than anything else, is why I think Amherst is dying...

Tom Porter said...

Larry, thank you for so thoughtfully memorializing Stanley. I didn't know anything about his role in the campaign to change town government (it would have been for the better!!) and only met him recently - by your introduction, and on the day of this photograph. But when we sat side by side for haircuts late this winter at Global Cuts, he was full of life and war stories. And he admired your work. Stan the Man - I'll miss him!

Dr. Ed said...

Respectfully, Mr. Morse, I would use the word "discussion" instead of "dissent" -- there was a total suppression of any DISCUSSION of the state of public education in Amherst, discussion in general, not just dissent.

Anyone who doesn't worship Team Maria is simply attacked. That has created a situation where people like me just toss insults because I have so little respect for them (and they for me) that any objective evaluation is irrelevant. Others either do likewise or stay completely out of it, so we wind up with a bunch of quite expensive people who may or may not be accomplishing anything with no one really knowing and many increasingly not caring.

That does not sustain school budgets on a long term basis -- and I mean teacher-career-length long-term basis. Beyond everything else, if I were teaching in Amherst, I would be worried about the year 2020 and beyond....

Anonymous said...

Where are you teaching, Ed?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I was lucky to have met Stan and his lovely wife when I worked with their daughter Michelle at Steigers . Definitely a loss to our community.

Jennifer Dickinson said...

I don't know why it took me so long to thank you for this lovely tribute to my dad. He was such a loving Father and a great man. I am very proud to be his daughter and this world and Amherst lost a good, caring man a year ago. Thank you Larry Kelly for caring and being so good to him!

Larry Kelley said...

He was indeed the best. I can't help but miss him.