Kurtela Scholarship Honors Father’s Volunteer Work
Steve Kurtela knew the best way to honor his late father, Nick Kurtela, was to establish an endowed scholarship at SI, even though his dad had graduated from Lowell.
Nick Kurtela, who died last August at the age of 80, felt connected to SI in two ways — through his son, who was a member of the Class of 1973, and through the CYO and PAL track programs, as he used SI’s field for grammar school and high school summer competitions shortly after the Sunset District campus opened.
“My father worked as a lithographer all of his adult life after leaving the Coast Guard in 1946, and he didn’t feel comfortable that he had enough knowledge regarding the sports he had volunteered to coach,” said Kurtela. “He volunteered to coach soccer and track because they were new sports for the CYO program. He wanted to help my soccer team when I was in third grade and, later, my track team at St. Gabriel’s, so he went to the library and got books on the subject to teach himself how to coach those sports. St. Gabriel’s ended up being a powerhouse in track and field thanks to him, and went undefeated in track for the six years he coached.”
When the city’s Catholic grammar schools started fielding track teams in the 1960s, competitions took place at Kezar and City College. “Then my father met Terry Ward ‘63, who coached track at SI,” said Kurtela. “Thanks to that connection, my father organized three of four summer track meets with the help of Mr. Ward. These meets were open to all comers from eight to 18 years of age and were sponsored by the Police Athletic League (PAL). The meets started using the track at City College and then moved to SI’s new track. My father brought volunteers with him from the PAL and CYO to help. The meets lasted long after my participation. It was a summer ritual for more than 10 years with thousands of participants.”
It’s that spirit of volunteerism that inspired Kurtela to create the fully-endowed scholarship. “SI helps kids understand the importance of service,” said Kurtela. “That’s the same spirit that guided my father. He loved everything about SI. I told him I wanted to go to Lincoln because my Pop Warner friends were going there, but he just laughed and said no. Even though he went to Lowell, he insisted I attend SI. He loved the Jesuits and had Fr. Sauer and Fr. Allender over to the house for dinner many years after my graduation.”
After helping the CYO program launch the track and field program, Nick Kurtela brought the sport into the Police Athletic League in 1969. He worked with the PAL as coach, judge and official and served on the PAL track and field committee until the mid 1980s.
Steve Kurtela and his wife, Jeannine, hope that their four children — Sean ’05, Jaclyn ’06 and 10-year-old twins Brennan and Christian — will learn the lessons of service that he and his father both learned so well thanks to the SI community.