Minnesota Wrestling Pioneer Was 'A Legend for His Compassion'

October 21, 2017 09:15 PM

Stan Kowalski, a Minneapolitan who served in the Navy during World War II before becoming one of the most recognizable names in pro wrestling, died Friday. He was 91. 

Although Kowalski was known during his wrestling days by various monikers such as "Big K" and "Krusher," his best work happened outside the ring. 

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Kowalski's daughter, Stacy Smith, said his legacy in the ring was only surpassed by his compassion and love for his community. 

RELATED: Vet, Wrestler Stan 'Krusher' Kowalski Fights for Those Who Served

"If you called Stan Kowalski with a problem, he would have an answer," Smith said. "Every time his phone would ring, he would say, 'Let me see what I can do.'" 

His son, Scott Smith, said Kowalski lived for his family and to help wherever he could. 

"Nine times out of 10 it was out of the public eye," Scott said. "Whether a water heater broke and someone was just down on their luck, or if someone came back and needed help with depression, he just did it because it was the right thing to do." 

Kowalski attended North High School, enrolled at the University of Minnesota and spent much of his life in the community where he grew up. 

But he didn't hesitate to travel wherever he was needed, whether it was to the South Pacific during the war, to Washington D.C. on his own money to advocate for the POW/MIA campaign, or around Minnesota for his roles with the United Way and leader of the state VFW. 

Kowalski also wrestled on every continent, but Stacy Smith said some of his most memorable gestures were closer to home.

When she was little, Smith said her father would disappear for short periods of time around Christmas. She later found out that he would visit local hospitals while dressed as Santa Claus, handing out gifts and promising children that Santa remembered them too. 

Kowalski's was dedicated to his fellow veterans, Smith said. Instead of gifts for his 90th birthday, Kowalski asked for donations in his name that would help homeless veterans. 

"We plan on continuing his work," Smith said. "He was my hero, for so many different reasons." 

Scott Smith added that his father never slowed down as he got older.

"He always had a one-liner, and he could still work the room from his wheelchair," Scott said. "Everyone wanted to be around him." 

Scott said a funeral with full military honors is being planned, but that his father always wanted to be buried next to his wife of 51 years. She died in 2012. 

Scott said he hopes people will continue to draw inspiration from his father. 

"Time heals all wounds, but sometimes I wish it wouldn't," he said. "It's overwhelming in a good way." 

Credits

Andrew Heiser

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