When Walter Rutkowski walked into the Hero Fund offices in September 1973, as a newly hired field investigator, the future must have gleamed like the resident typewriter keys busy telling the stories of countless heroes. Through the years that followed until his recent retirement on June 30, 2017, Rutkowski carved a legacy of service that became the gold standard of the Commission, always true to Andrew Carnegie’s vision to recognize and support civilian heroes.
Still in the days when the Commission investigated nearly all of its cases at the scene of the rescue, the new job took the young Rutkowski on trips to distant states and provinces in pursuit of details of heroic rescues. Travel was nearly constant and often for weeks at a time. Rutkowski made an early impression for his thorough and thoughtful case investigations.
Investigations Manager Jeffrey A. Dooley received training from Rutkowski when Dooley started at the Commission as a case investigator in 1985.
“I was working under the tutelage of Walter, whose thoroughness and devotion to the craft of case investigation fit well with the intrepid tradition of the organization,” Dooley said. “His astute observations, terrific writing ability, attention to detail, and vast storehouse of institutional knowledge made him a ‘go-to’ source for any and all things ‘Carnegie,’ and I learned a lot from him during the more than 30 years we worked together.”
His exceptional writing ability would serve him throughout his career, as it expanded beyond case investigation to encompass all facets of the Hero Fund’s mission. He went on to hold the titles of investigations manager, executive vice president, and executive director, creating imPULSE in 2005 and serving as its editor through its first 50 issues.
“The newsletter provides friends of the Commission with a glimpse into the inner workings of the organization. Not only does it help to fulfill the mission of the organization, by spreading the news of the Commission’s heroes and their deeds, but it also allows us to keep everyone update on the extracurricular activities of the organization,” said Eric P. Zahren, the current president & secretary for the Commission.
“Many readers of the newsletter look forward to receiving the issue each quarter, and that’s a testament to the work Walter did in crafting a well-rounded, interesting publication during its first 50 issues,” Zahren said. “He has set the bar very high moving forward.”
Rutkowski was elected president of the Commission December 17, 2013, and served as the Commission’s secretary from 1986 until his June 30, 2017, retirement.
Rutkowski referred to the Hero Fund as a “jewel of an organization,” and did much to enhance and protect its shine.
At the Commission’s Annual Meeting, held June 12, 2017, Commission Chair Mark Laskow presented Rutkowski with a framed resolution, adopted by the board, honoring Rutkowski’s long and successful career. It heralded, in part, Rutkowski’s steadfast devotion to the mission of the Hero Fund.
“Administering its work for more than a third of the organization’s life, during which time more than 36,000 nominations were considered and over 3,500 awards were given to worthy recipients, Walter has brought honor to the work as envisioned by its Founder,” the resolution stated.
Laskow called his long association with Rutkowski one of the highlights of his personal life and professional career. (See more in “Board Notes.”)
One of the honoraria presented to Rutkowski at the meeting bore a favorite phrase: “the gods send thread for a web begun.”
And so it was sent and woven to its completion with great skill and grace by a master weaver, indeed.