Harry Kutik, a long-time United Spinal Association member and wheelchair user who grew up in Spring Valley, NY and lived in Tenafly, NJ, never let his spinal cord injury interfere with his pursuit of happiness and success.
Kutik’s positive outlook on life and determination to defeat all obstacles in his path were engrained in him at a very early age. As a young boy, Kutik’s mom was committed to an asylum and his dad subsequently abandoned him and his siblings. He bounced around foster homes throughout his youth, finally landing in the home of an elderly couple that offered Kutik some stability during his high school years.
After he graduated Spring Valley High School, in 1941, he decided to join the Army. In the Infantry, Kutik served with the 7th Army Division in France and Germany, rising to the rank of staff sergeant and earning a Bronze Star.
In April of 1945, Kutik’s life changed forever. While his unit walked through a farm field on the last day of the war in Europe he was hit by 13 sniper bullets.
“After being so careful for so long, we relaxed. There was talk of peace. And I was hit,” Kutik said.
The surgeons were able to save Kutik’s life, but he came back home paralyzed from the waist down not knowing what the future would hold.
Harry underwent numerous reconstructive surgeries on his back. He had to learn a new set of life skills that encompassed everything from personal daily hygiene, grooming, to driving a car. It wasn’t easy, but he wasn’t about to give up.
While in rehab at Halloran Veterans Hospital in State Island, NY he met Carol McDonald, an attractive nurse with a radiant smile. It was love at first sight. The couple got married upon Harry’s release from the hospital in December of 1948.
During his hospitalization, Kutik learned about a small group of paralyzed vets that had recently formed a support group called Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (EPVA-now United Spinal Association). He decided to join the ranks of the organization to get help transitioning back into his community.
Through the EPVA, an amazing opportunity came his way. Bernard G. Nemeroff, chairman of the board at Womrath’s Book Stores approached then EPVA executive secretary Robert Moss with a proposal to offer to open a book shop to be owned and operated by a disabled veteran. The opportunity was made possible by a voluntary organization called the 52 Club, which pledged not to forget the wounded veteran and be mindful of their needs 52 weeks per year. Moss suggested Harry. He accepted the offer. The store opened in 1949.
“All I had was a love of books to recommend me. I didn’t know how to order books. I thought you drove into New York and picked them up at publishers’ office,” Kutik said.
Kutik worked long hours getting to know the book business as owner and manager of Womrath’s Hackensack Book and Card Shop, but he enjoyed every minute. Over the years the thrill of dealing books continued, the store grew to become one of largest bookstores in northern New Jersey and he also opened several successful greeting card stores, called “Cards Galore,” in North New Jersey.
Later in life, Kutik experienced skin breakdown and infections that required special beds and restriction of his mobility. But he never lost his upbeat mentality. He died in 1998 after a long battle with complications from his 50 year paraplegia. Upon his passing, it dawned on Kutik’s family, that although life had dealt Harry more than enough adversity, life had also given him a gift––that each day, by itself, is a gift.
Harry’s three sons, Robert, Ronald and David continue his legacy of living each day to the fullest and making an impact as their dad had despite the great obstacles he had faced. (Robert is still in the book business, Ronald works with his son in the restaurant business. David is a lawyer.)
“Sgt. Harry had beaten death in 1945. His life after that was tough, but as he said many times, ‘It’s better than the alternative.’ He realized something that few of us do. He realized we have the opportunity to make each day something that is positive––not only for ourselves, but more importantly for others. So everyday Sgt. Harry made an impact and everyday those who dealt with him were blessed,” said David Kutik, Harry’s son.
United Spinal Association sends our sincere thanks to the late Harry Kutik and his entire family for supporting our mission!
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To learn more about supporting United Spinal’s mission by making a planned, estate, or tribute gift, please contact Megan Duffy, Director of Development at email@example.com or 718-803-3782 ext 7301.