June 26, 1918 – Dec. 30, 2013
Alois “Al” Szczepaniec, a longtime Kittinger Furniture Co. employee and resident of Buffalo’s Black Rock neighborhood, died Monday in his home of 68 years. He was 95.
Born in Fairpoint, Ohio, the son of an immigrant coal miner, Mr. Szczepaniec lived in three states and two countries before age 10, including Poland, where his family lived for about a year.
Eventually settling in Buffalo when his family moved to Grote Street in 1928, Mr. Szczepaniec was educated here but left Technical High School in 1935, during the midst of the Great Depression, after being offered a job as a cabinet maker for the Kittinger Co.
Among Mr. Szczepaniec’s most memorable moments there was being photographed in President Reagan’s cabinet room chair before it left the Buffalo factory for the White House.
An industrial engineer at the time, Mr. Szczepaniec routed the chair, which is now located in the Reagan Library. He also modified the White House “fireside chairs,” which are often photographed with the president and a visiting head of state.
Mr. Szczepaniec was the vice president of the laborers’ union at Kittinger in the 1940s and 1950s.
He retired in 1981 after a 43-year career at Kittinger that was interrupted by three years at the Chevrolet Engine Plant.
Mr. Szczepaniec was active into his 90s. He golfed regularly at Delaware Park. A member of the North Delaware YMCA for more than seven decades, Mr. Szczepaniec swam laps until he was 91.
After his wife, the former Katherine Handzel, died in 2000, Mr. Szczepaniec rode a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, explaining that “she was afraid of heights and would never do it,” family members recalled.
An avid traveler, Mr. Szczepaniec first achieved his dream of seeing the west by visiting California in 1962. It was a trip that led to 40 more with his family members.
In 2001, Mr. Szczepaniec also traveled to his ancestral home town in Poland with his son, Richard. There, he saw his late cousin’s name on a memorial to 17 men who were killed by the Nazis on a single day during World War II. That cousin, who was in the “underground” in Poland, was reported to have been “shot out of a tree” by the Nazis, Mr. Szczepaniec had recounted to family members.
Mr. Szczepaniec was a member of St. Florian’s Catholic Parish from 1930 until its 2007 closing. There, he was a Eucharistic minister and was active in the Holy Name Society.
Mr. Szczepaniec is survived by two sons, John and Richard; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Friday in St. Louis Catholic Church, 35 Edward St.