In Memorium – Russell E. Pawlak 1950-2009
It’s hard for me to put into words just exactly how I feel about the passing of a man who changed my life so completely, but I will try.
After a trip to New York City and Grand Central Terminal back in 2003, I had remembered some family history involving my parents meeting at a train station where they both worked in the city of Buffalo and I began my quest to learn more about it and its story. I found out that it did, indeed, still exist.I read about its sad history on many internet websites and gasped in horror at its condition at that time. My first visit inside the terminal was in May of 2003 and I was in awe of its overwhelming beauty and saddened by the tragic level of destruction. I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my cheeks. At that moment, I knew that I had to do something, I just didn’t know what that something would turn out to be. When I voiced my desire to friends who were with me at the terminal, they couldn’t understand why I would even venture to get involved with such an impossible project. But, something in my heart told me not to give up. I had to find out more.
I first met Russell at the downtown library in July of 2003, where he was giving a speech on the history and current status of the Central Terminal. As I listened to this animated man talk about this building, his memories and the daunting task of rehabilitating it, I knew that I had finally found a kindred soul. His passion, humor and knowledge about this remarkable building was infectious. Because of this, I went from someone who was unsure he should even get involved, to someone who was convinced that he should, because of Russell’s hope and his passion. He not only made the project seem possible, he made it seem probable. After a brief conversation following his presentation, I added my name and address to his volunteer sign up sheet and have never looked back.
During those early years of being reopened to the public, we were all called crazy for thinking that people would come out to see a dilapidated old train station in a crime ridden area. That only made Russell, and in turn all of us, even more determined to prove to them all that they were wrong. He mounted a tireless campaign in the local media to bring attention to the building and to the project. He inspired us all to come up with creative event ideas to attract people. In 2004, he worked with the Albright Knox Art Gallery to bring Spencer Tunick to Buffalo to do a nude photo installation at the terminal. The 1,850th person to participate, shedding clothes along the way, was Russell!
I will always remember the great fun and comradery of those years. Under Russell’s leadership and since, we have attracted more than 150,000 visitors and have gained credibility as a rehabilitation project. On a personal level, his dedication to the terminal inspired me to get more involved with historic preservation and it has since become not only my passion, but my career. None of this would have been possible without the hope, passion and vision of Russell Pawlak.
Please join us on Wednesday from 1pm to 8pm at the terminal, to pay respect to a man who has done so much, not only for the terminal, but for the entire City of Buffalo. He will be sorely missed.