This week’s Life in the Spotlight started his involvement with the American Legion flipping hotdogs and brats at the Popcorn Fest years ago. Now, Joe Kusiak is the Membership Chairperson of the American Legion and has just been appointed to the state baseball board through the organization as well. Joe’s commitment to the Valparaiso community is obvious in the sheer amount of projects and events with which he makes sure to become involved.
“I stretch myself thin sometimes with my involvement I guess, but believe it or not, we’re all needed in the community. You just need to find your niche. I found mine. Just getting involved with the people in our community is my hobby.”
Joe’s passion for the community is easy to see. With his role in the American Legion’s involvement with local baseball teams, he has gone to many games and state conferences. With the baseball team, Joe says, “Memories are what’s important. We’re providing memories.”
He is also involved with veteran rehabilitation, flag education, and makes visits to the four hundred veterans in Valparaiso that are in assisted living. Recently Joe helped to build two portable flower gardens with wheelchair access with the help of a Master Gardener’s Grant and other volunteers.
The herbs planted in these gardens are used in the kitchens at the homes they’ve been placed at, and they give the people living there a change that brought them meaning, something Joe feels blessed to be a part of. Joe is also involved with supplying Hilltop Food Pantry with much-needed supplies, helping to run Friday night bingo with the senior citizens, and the soapbox derby that’s held annually in Valparaiso.
This year will be the seventieth anniversary and it is the longest running derby in the world. “Seeing generations work together at the derby is amazing,” he says. “And when the kids come down that ramp, they’re all smiles. It’s something.”
Additionally, Joe hosts the American Legion’s radio station on Thursday mornings from eight to nine. The radio station spreads the word about what is going on in the community and shares ways to become involved.
Joe explains he’s involved with the radio, “to recognize wonderful things and exercise the freedom of speech. We have to protect our freedoms,” he believes, “by living them every day.”
Joe also helped in forming the Porter County Military Support Group. Seeing “it was important for the veterans,” he worked with facilitator Camille Cook with the Purdue Research Institution to get the program started.
Joe has also worked to raise money for Operation Military Kids, a summer camp for kids in military families. With help from Purdue and others in the community, they were able to raise twenty thousand dollars to provide these kids with the camp that helped them deal with the trauma of losing parents that were in service.
“That makes volunteering worthwhile,” Joe says.
In college, Joe attended Oklahoma State on a football scholarship. “That’s where I learned about teamwork,” he explains. “Team is so important,” he continues, saying what he learned then has helped him so much in working as a team to complete volunteer projects and provide the community with memories to last.
“I live on principles. When I want to do something I get it done. I have a passion for being a part of my community. That’s the way I was raised,” Joe says in speaking to what inspires him to do all that he does. “I’m thankful for the freedoms we have in the U.S. that allows us to do all we do.”
In speaking of all of the community events Joe has been involved in, he relates it to his time on the football team at Oklahoma.
“You don’t really remember the wins and losses. You remember the struggle – the journey – to achieve these things.” And what a wonderful journey all of his involvement in the community has been so far.