David J. Gretkowski saved Susan G. Aley from drowning, Plattsburgh, New York, June 5, 1988. Susan, 15, was trapped in an air pocket beneath a sailboat that had capsized in heavy winds on Lake Champlain. Gretkowski, 24, who was on a boat nearby with others, went to the capsized boat, where he learned that Susan was missing. He put on a life jacket, and, despite the cold, rough water, entered the lake and swam about 30 feet to the sailboat, where he submerged and saw Susan’s legs. Avoiding lines and other debris, Gretkowski swam under the boat to Susan. He spoke reassuringly to her, calming her, and showed her how to swim from beneath the boat. They then left the air pocket, swam from beneath the boat, and surfaced. Susan swam to the safety of another boat that had arrived, but Gretkowski’s life jacket snagged on a line as he was escaping, barely allowing only his head to surface. He was unable to free himself. A woman from the other boat swam to Gretkowski and helped him out of his life jacket. Gretkowski then swam to his boat. Susan was taken to shore and treated at a hospital for hypothermia. She recovered.
63570 – 734463570-7344
David Joseph Gretkowski died on Aug. 5, 2018, at home in Burlington, Vt., following a 17-month battle with glioblastoma. Gretkowski, 54, was born on May 9, 1964, in Burlington, to Henry and Elizabeth (McSweeney) Gretkowski. The second of four brothers, he quickly learned to run fast and throw long. Growing up on Pleasant Avenue and at Starr Farm Beach, along the shores of Lake Champlain, Gretkowski’s childhood was a tumble of cousins, neighbors, stingray bikes, and kick-the-can. Always picked first for any team, Gretkowski, nicknamed “Hawk,” had extraordinary athleticism and natural leadership skills.
Gretkowski graduated from Rice High School and attended Bridgton Academy in North Bridgton, Maine, for a post-graduate year. He graduated from Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., where he earned a degree in business management and played on the golf team. His love for golf inspired his move to Florida soon after college; he worked at the PGA National Golf Club there. Gretkowski later caddied on the PGA tour, where he developed lifelong friendships with several caddies and players. Upon his return to Vermont, Gretkowski, following in his father’s footsteps, began his career in the pharmaceutical industry. His genuineness and kindness earned him the admiration of his competitors and the love and affection of his customers.
When Gretkowski was 24, he received the Carnegie Medal for his heroic rescue of a teenage girl and her dog; they were trapped under a capsized sail boat in frigid, choppy water off Valcour Island, near Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Gretkowski waited a long time to meet the love of his life, and he married Stefanie (Christoffel) on June 22, 2002. Stefanie was the best thing that ever happened to David, and he was extremely proud of her. Their marriage was one of laughter, love, and respect. The tenderness and care they gave to each other during his illness was the purest expression of their love.
(Edited from an obituary published in The Burlington Free Press on Aug. 9, 2018.)