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The Train Stops Here

Russell Pawlak, savior of the Central Terminal, passed away last week at 59

Russ Pawlak in his element: in his beloved Central Terminal, drink in hand, at a party.

Although I had heard of the guy for a few years and casually met him as the president of the group that was trying to save Central Terminal, my first real connection with Russell Pawlak happened when we began organizational efforts for Dyngus Day Buffalo. Initially he struck me as an unlikely partner—hyper, arrogant, loud, and brash. He quickly proved that it was those very qualities that made him the energetic trailblazer that he was. Having grown up in the historic Polonia district, Russ obviously had an affinity for the neighborhood where he spent his childhood, but his passion ran much deeper than the former railway center on the East Side.

Book, movies, music, art, food, wine, architecture…he was well versed in all these things and more. It seemed his knowledge was endless, as was his reservoir of energy. Russ had a “we’re taking no prisoners” approach. While many lamented the decay of the art deco masterpiece and had all but surrendered to its demise, he began exposing intellectuals and the arts community and the media to the towering edifice, and to the hipness of not only the building but indeed the entire Polonia district. When a radio talk show host began trashing the attempt to save the building, Russ called into the show and defended the preservation effort. It resulted in a radio-station-sponsored open house that organizers expected a few hundred people would attend. Instead, thousands showed up. He singlehandedly began a tidal wave of interest in a part of our city that had been neglected for decades. Although there is much work to be done to restore the Central Terminal and resuscitate the forgotten East Side neighborhood, because of Russ Pawlak’s cheerleading, today it seems as if it just might be possible.

He may have lost his valiant effort against the ravages of time and mortality, but his drive and his spirit live on in the reinvigorated effort to bring life back to the neighborhood where he grew up. The thousands of people who will attend functions or possibly catch a high-speed train at the terminal, the shoppers looking for fresh foods at the revitalized Broadway Market, the young people, the artists, and the entrepreneurs looking for a unique, affordable place to live, set up shop, or just enjoy the warmth of a cool neighborhood tavern, can thank this diminutive man with a huge heart for blazing the path.

Thank you, my friend. The next round is on me.

eddy dobosiewicz

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