Willie I. Kocurek, civic leader, beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather died January 1, 2009 at the age of 98.
Born in Dime Box, Texas on October 14, 1910 to Steve and Agnes Kocurek, Willie was the eighth of nine children. Raised on a farm, Willie learned at an early age the meaning of hard work. He attended Caldwell High School and was valedictorian of his senior class. His high school English and debate teacher encouraged him to go to the University of Texas and helped him get a job working at a filling station to pay his way. He later purchased that filling station.
Willie earned his bachelor's in Business Administration in 1933 and soon after he met Maurine Gustafson at a dance he had been invited to by his filling station customers. Willie and Maurine dated for four years and were married in 1934. Together they ran the Willie Kocurek Co. and sold tires, televisions and appliances as well as gasoline.
He served three years in the United States Navy and was discharged as a Lieutenant in 1946.
Willie and Maurine enjoyed their years in business watching it grow. His mottos "Where there's a Willie there's a way" and "You don't need money, just a little bit a month" became familiar sayings around Austin. The store was originally located at 19th and San Jacinto and later moved to 41st and Guadalupe until 1977.
In 1977, Willie decided to take "renewment" instead of retirement. He re-enrolled in law school, something he had intended to do in 1929. At the age of 69, he graduated from the University of Texas Law School. He was the oldest person to ever graduate from the UT Law School, a feat that got him an invitation to appear on "Good Morning America." He often remarked that he was the oldest member of Texas Young Lawyers Association. After law school, he practiced for 22 years. His practice focused primarily on wills, probate and estate planning.
The Kocureks spent a lifetime in service to their community and have received recognition on numerous occasions. Willie was chosen as Austin's Most Outstanding Young Man in 1941, as Austin' Most Worthy Citizen in 1980 and in 1990 he and his son, Neal, were chosen as Austinites of the Year. His proudest day came in 1986 when an Austin elementary school was named after him. He was the first person to have an AISD School named after him while still living. Willie I. Kocurek Elementary School is located in southwest Austin.
For forty years Willie donated much of his time to education in general and AISD specifically. When he ran for a position on the AISD School Board in 1946, Jake Pickle was his campaign manager and the campaign cost him $25. He served for almost ten years as a school board member, the last four years as president. Then he went on to serve as president of the Texas Association of School Boards, director of the National Association of School Boards and on the board of directors of the Region XIII Education Service Center, and chairman of "Forming the Future" for AISD in 1982-1983. Willie was also named "Texas Hero for Children' in 1996.
Willie was a tireless volunteer and never refused an invitation to serve. Willie was a member of the University United Methodist Church for 60 years and served in many lay leadership roles at the church. He was very involved in the Austin Founder Lions Club. He served as President, Director of the Lion's Eye Bank and on the Board of Directors for many years.
He was a cofounder of Austin Groups for the Elderly. He also was a director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce for five years. He volunteered for Meals on Wheels, KLRU, Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of Austin, Adult Services Council, Salvation Army, YWCA, Capitol Area Food Bank, Brackenridge Hospital Foundation, Easter Seals, and Austin Area Garden Council.
He is survived by his wife of 74 years, Maurine Gustafson Kocurek, and his daughter, Kay Kocurek Bell. He was preceded in death by his son, W. Neal Kocurek. He is also survived by his daughter-in-law, Mary Kocurek McCarron; three grandchildren, Jeff Kocurek and his wife Dana; Kelly Kocurek and his wife Julie, all of Austin; and Suzanne Kocurek Rose and her husband Brian of Houston; and by eight great grandchildren, Cole Kocurek, Clayton Kocurek, Melanie Kocurek, Will Kocurek, and Mary Frances Kocurek of Austin and Zack Rose, Rebecca Rose and Hannah Rose of Houston.
His body will lie in state on Friday, January 2, 2009 from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. and on Saturday, January 3, 2009 from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. A funeral service will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 4, 2009, at Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home, 3125 N. Lamar Blvd. Interment will follow at Austin Memorial Park on Hancock at Bull Creek. A reception will be held at Westminster Manor, 4100 Jackson Ave. after the interment.
The pallbearers are Jeff Kocurek, Kelly Kocurek, Brian Rose, David Gustafson, Don Gustafson and Rudy Munguia. Honorary pallbearers are the members of the Austin Founder Lions Club.
The family wishes to express sincere appreciation for the staff of Westminster's Health Care Center and the staff of Lighthouse Hospice.
Memorial contributions may be made to AGE (Austin Groups for the Elderly), 3710 Cedar Street Box 2 Austin, Texas 78705 or the W. Neal Kocurek Scholarship through St. David's Community Health Foundation, 811 Barton Springs Road Austin, Texas 78704.
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