Statesman: Austin icon Willie Kocurek gets a memorial garden

The Austin American Statesman featured AGE’s recent event to honor co-founder Willie Kocurek. Special thank you to all who joined us on Sunday and to the Statesman staff.

Austin icon Willie Kocurek gets a memorial garden

The Austin Groups for the Elderly, which Kocurek co-founded, dedicated a garden and planted a tree in his memory.


AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Monday, February 23, 2009

Willie Kocurek, a dedicated Austin civic advocate who died in January, nurtured the causes of education and elder care during his 98 years.

In honor of his contributions to the Austin Groups for the Elderly, a tree and memorial garden were dedicated to him Sunday on the grounds of the nonprofit organization he co-founded in 1986 to provide resources for seniors.

“Daddy would have loved” the event, Kocurek’s daughter, Kay Kocurek Bell, said Sunday, explaining how he’d have worked the crowd of dozens who turned out in his memory, many of them wearing Kocurek’s signature red bow tie. “He loved AGE. He loved people. He thought the potential of AGE was unending.”

Along with Kocurek’s dedication to elder care issues, he was well-known in the community for his role as a merchant and for his advocacy for education.

He owned a service station and store called Willie Kocurek Co., and the former Austin school board president had a Southwest Austin elementary school named for him in 1986.

Kocurek attended law school at age 67 and started a law practice at 70. He kept up with community issues and Austin Groups for the Elderly in particular. In recent years, as a resident of Westminster Manor retirement home, he requested and read the organization’s board meeting minutes.

The Willie Kocurek Legacy Garden is planned on the grounds of the organization’s building in North Central Austin next to the memorial garden of co-founder Bert Kruger Smith, who died in 2004.

On Sunday, Executive Director Joyce Lauck and Bell helped plant the first tree in the garden, a red crape myrtle, Kocurek’s favorite.

Along with Kocurek’s daughter and his widow, Maurine, state Rep. Elliott Naishtat showed up to honor his mentor.

Naishtat met Kocurek when Kocurek and Kruger Smith brought up the idea for the organization in the office of state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, where Naishtat was staff attorney at the time.

“That’s when they presented to us the concept, the idea of starting Austin Groups for the Elderly,” Naishtat said Sunday.

“To come out here and to see the fruition, to see how wonderful this program is, and to remember that Willie and Bert Kruger Smith made it happen — it’s very special.”

alorenz@statesman.com; 512-392-8750

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