Newly named Past National Commander and longtime Department of New York Adjutant Richard Pedro was leaving Indianapolis the day after the 94th American Legion National Convention ended when he did something he had been doing for quite awhile – he made a call to one of his very close friends, Past National Commander Michael Kogutek, to let him know how things had gone at the convention.
That’s when Pedro got the news that Kogutek had passed away the day before.
"I’d been calling him every two or three weeks for awhile to update him on what was going on in the department," said Pedro, who had known Kogutek since 1963. "I was on my way home from the convention when I did what I normally did, and that’s when I found out."
Kogutek, who passed away on Aug. 30 at age 86, served as the Legion’s national commander from 1980 to 1981. It was Pedro who nominated him for the post.
"He was a very close friend," said Pedro, who attended both Kogutek’s viewing and funeral mass. "I’d seen him at our department convention and talked to him two weeks before he died. He’ll be missed."
Pedro said his friendship with Kogutek was also professional. "He was in the Eighth District, and I was in the Sixth," he said. "We were always sharing what was going on in our districts. We’d talk about what was working, what wasn’t, share things like that. Michael was a very devoted Legionnaire."
Past National Commander John "Jake" Comer," who led the Legion from 1987 to 1988, also was a longtime friend of Kogutek’s. He remembers Kogutek as both a man who dispensed sound advice, and one who could relax and have fun once business was over.
"He was a very jovial guy, and he was a good kidder," Comer said. "He always had a smile. And he loved his Polish heritage. He was so proud of that. He’d get around friends and start singing the Polish song ‘Sto Lat,’ and he’d get everyone to try to sing along."
Elected during the 1980 National Convention in Boston, Kogutek was a World War II Navy petty officer and the son of Polish immigrants. Born and raised in Lackawanna, N.Y., he entered the Navy right after high school in 1944 and saw combat in New Guineau and the Philippines aboard the amphibious landing craft LCI-747.
Following World War II, Kogutek married Dorothy Druzbik, went to work as a forklift operator and attained an associate of science degree from Empire State College. He eventually became plant manager at Buffalo Brake Beam.
Kogutek joined Matthew Glab Post 1477 in Lackawanna in 1946 and held multiple Legion positions at the post and department level, including commander. He also served as Alternate National Executive Committeeman prior to being elected national commander.
During the 1980 National Convention, Kogutek referred to himself as a "grass-roots Legionnaire" and praised the rank-and-file Legionnaire for being the heart of the organization. "You are the rock the Legion rests on, the foundation it’s built on and the base that keeps it on a strong and sure course," he said during his acceptance speech. "If a leader is only as good as those he leads, then I say I cannot fail, because I look out on some of the bravest, most courageous and most determined people the world has ever known."
A Mass of Christian Burial was to take place today at Nativity of Our Lord RC Church, South Buffalo St. and Thorn Ave., Orchard Park, N.Y. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the PNC Michael J. Kogutek American Legion Scholarship Trust, c/o Michael D. Kogutek, P.O. Box 497,Silverado Canyon, Calif., 92676. Cards of sympathy and notes of condolence can be sent to Kogutek’s son, Michael, at P.O. Box 497, Silverado, Calif., 92676. Sympathies also can be expressed online here.