on September 12, 2013 - 8:21 PM
, updated September 12, 2013 at 8:31 PM
Oct. 28, 1934 – Sept. 11, 2013
Donald F. Kunzelman, retired director of the Town of Tonawanda Parks and Recreation Department and the town’s Santa Claus for 40 years, died Wednesday in Erie County Medical Center after an illness of several months. He was 78.
Mr. Kunzelman spent his entire career as a town employee and was named the first director of the combined Parks and Recreation Departments in 1977.
As head of the department, he oversaw the development of the Brighton Park Driving Range, irrigation systems at the town’s golf courses and the building of the Aquatic and Fitness Center. He retired in 1992.
A leader in the recreation field on the local and state levels, he helped organize numerous conferences and received many awards.
Earlier this year, the town honored him by naming the new pavilion in Lincoln Park for him.
Active in the Ken-Ton Kiwanis Club for 50 years, Mr. Kunzelman was in charge of the club’s candy sales, personally keeping the baskets filled in offices and businesses throughout the community. His work raised more than $750,000 for the club.
As Santa Claus, he appeared at the annual tree-lighting in the Village Green and the carol sing-along on Crosby Field.
The Rotary Club of Kenmore presented him its Jack Thompson Award for Community Service in 1997 in recognition of his work as Santa, visiting senior citizens, day care centers and youth groups every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas and giving away more than 10,000 candy canes annually.
An active member of Curtis Park Presbyterian Church, he served as an elder and coordinated the church’s annual picnic for disabled and disadvantaged children.
He also was active in Ken-Ton Lodge 1186, Free & Accepted Masons, and founded the Charlie Wolff Group for Children with Special Needs 10 years ago.
He enjoyed soccer, lacrosse, golf, horseshoes, bowling and visits to casinos.
Born in Buffalo, he was a 1953 graduate of East High School and earned a degree in recreation administration from Cortland State Teachers College in 1957. He served two years in the Army, stationed in Germany in the same company as Elvis Presley.
Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Sue; a son, David; and a daughter, Brenda Pilarski.
Memorial visitation will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Saturday in Carlton A. Ullrich Funeral Home, 3000 Delaware Ave., Kenmore.