Were it not for Larry Kushnick….
As I looked around a large funeral hall, mourner-filled far beyond capacity on a recent June day, I couldn’t help but wonder about the incredible impact Larry Kushnick must have had on the lives and hearts of those present. Beneath the palpable sadness and shock on so many of the hundreds of faces was a story, a personal story of how a man – one who has left us at 51 years young – inspired them, lifted their aspirations, made them laugh at life and themselves, and set a glorious standard for community involvement and generosity. And interwoven into each of those stories, the common thread of Larry Kushnick bound with positive, community-impacting change.
It was back in 1997 when Larry – a young, but already well-connected-in-town attorney, serving with me on the Huntington Historical Society board uttered the words he invariably repeated to many, “let’s get together for coffee”. And it was at Munday’s, the famous Huntington eatery-cum-breakfast meeting joint, that Larry charmingly persuaded me to sign on to a terrific young program he was currently involved in – Leadership Huntington. And it was only a few months after that, when Larry, inspired by my desire to form an entity in town devoted to the pursuit of a new, community-based land use planning model (“Smart Growth” and Traditional Neighborhood Development) enthusiastically agreed to help move the initiative forward. So along with Larry, historian Robert Hughes and architect Alex Latham, Vision Huntington – which later became Vision Long Island -- and the Smart Growth movement on Long Island was born.
Through Larry’s circle of connections with the Town of Huntington and his unbridled energy, with support from a growing network of other Leadership Huntington graduates, the organization grew, the Smart Growth Advisory Committee was formed in Town Hall, the seminal Smart Growth Speaker Series took place, and the rest is history. And all the while Larry was there to do the grunt work – discuss strategy any hour of the day or night, roll up his sleeves at 8AM on a Sunday with marker in hand helping lay out alternative plans for a development, hand out surveys on a street corner – always with a smile, always willing to help with the next step, always exhorting us on as we came upon obstacle after obstacle, always working behind the scenes to smooth the way for the organization.
Larry helped plant and nurture the Smart Growth seed, and it is safe to say, were it not for Larry Kushnick, Vision Long Island would not have come into existence, and the Smart Growth movement likely never introduced. Long Island would be at a different place in its land use development and perhaps looking at a very different future.
As I looked around at the many sad faces in the hall, I could see so many stories like mine. So many organization and community efforts, like ours, lifted up and cheered on by Larry Kushnick to better bring their goodness and hope, in turn, to the community. So many people inspired by his energy and joy of life to seek out the very best in themselves, the willingness to give to benefit others, to make the community a better place.With the passing of Larry Kushnick, we have truly lost a dear friend. But the indelible lessons, indeed gifts, Larry has left us with us – that almost anything is doable, pursue but temper your passions, do everything with a smile, handle adversity with grace… and a joke – remain alive for us to immortalize. Perhaps his most important gift, however, is this: do what you can to help others and doing so brings the greatest joy and fulfillment. This gift I truly cherish, and it is this gift that perhaps best allows Larry to live on in all of us as we strive to make our communities, our towns, our Island, a better place.
President and Co-founder
Vision Long Island