July 22, 1953 – Nov. 11, 2018
Ken Bukowski was so adept as a mechanic and so helpful in advising customers about their bicycles that some of them were unaware at first that he was blind.
Left sightless at the age of 24 after suffering a gunshot wound to his head, in 1980 he went to the Blind Association of Western New York, now the Olmsted Center for Sight, to learn how to type and soon was enrolled in its pilot program in bike repair. After training, the association convinced Tom Pallas, then owner of Shickluna Bike Shop on Niagara Street, to hire him.
“I didn’t think that it was all that possible that a blind person could manage a bike and tools that well,” Pallas told The Buffalo News in 1987. “But he picked it up quickly.”
Mr. Bukowski died Nov. 11 in the Sisters Hospital St. Joseph Campus, Cheektowaga, after a struggle with cancer. He was 65.
One of the few professional blind bicycle mechanics in North America, he had worked at Pallas' shop – now called Shickluna Bike and Darts on Hertel Avenue – until September.
One of his assignments was to assemble new bicycles after they arrived at the shop.
“On a good day, I can build eight bikes in eight hours,” Mr. Bukowski told The News in 1987. “I could probably do more, but I also answer the phone at the shop and do other things.”
Born in Buffalo, Kenneth J. Bukowski was one of four children adopted by Leo and Adele Bukowski and attended Iroquois Central High School. After high school, he worked for his father, who owned the Skyroom in South Buffalo, and learned to repair restaurant equipment, a skill that helped him become a bicycle mechanic.
In a condolence note posted after Mr. Bukowski’s death, Pallas observed, “Ken took to bicycles (and tandem cycling) as though he was born to it. He assembled every bike we sold, and gave buyers a lesson on how to shift gears and ride safely. Customers loved him.
“The secret to being a good mechanic is to concentrate, and to keep your wits and tools handy,” Pallas added. “Ken was the master. There were many times he steered one of us to a missing tool because he heard where we had set it down.”
Beginning in 1983, Mr. Bukowski founded and helped organize the annual Ride in Plain Sight bicycle marathon, in which visually impaired cyclists rode with sighted partners on tandem bicycles. For many years, it was the Blind Association’s largest fundraiser.
He and Pallas rode the Five Borough Bike Tour in New York City on his tandem bicycle in 1987.
He also was a bowler. He served as president of the Upstate New York Blind Bowling Association for four years and was president of the Queen City Blind Bowlers.
He enjoyed skydiving and was a navigator in the annual Braille sports car rally.
“People would be amazed,” said his wife of 17 years, the former Elaine M. Filer, a retired fraud investigator for HSBC Bank. “He could tell you how to get to places.”
She noted that he also rewired every plug and outlet in their home in Cheektowaga.
“He took up cooking,” she added. “In the wintertime, he didn’t work so much, so he’d have almost the whole dinner prepared by the time I got home from work.”
For many years, he also volunteered as a cook at the Little Portion Friary, a shelter for the homeless in Buffalo.
In addition to his wife, survivors include a daughter, Nancy Kyle; a sister, Karen Mann; a brother, Kevin; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Services were held Dec. 1 in Lombardo Funeral Home, 3060 Abbott Road, Orchard Park.