The same qualities that endeared Rich and Steve Kuntzman to their Lockport High School friends and teammates — loyalty, competitiveness and love of the game — are the same ingredients that have made the annual golf tournament and scholarship in their name such a success.
On Monday, five $1,000 Kuntzman Memorial Scholarships were awarded in the LHS Auditorium to senior athletes who demonstrated those qualities, bringing the grand total over 17 years to an incredible $71,000 — and counting.
The annual golf tournament that raises the scholarship money has long-since been a sell-out this year, with 44 foursomes expected to participate at the Lockport Town & Country Club on Friday, July 19.
“The award is based on competitiveness, loyalty and love of the game. Those are probably the very appropriate adjectives to to describe both Rich and Steve,” said scholarship co-founder and organizer Greg Bronson, a former teammate and Class of 1982 schoolmate of Rich, who died in 1999; and friend of Rich's younger brother, Steve (Class of 1984), a Lockport Police Officer who passed away suddenly in 2003. Like their father before them, the Kuntzman brothers died of congenital heart failure. They are survived by a brother, Brian, who is living out-of-state; and their mom, Patty, who is living out-of-state.
”I knew Rich since 9th grade. He had moved here from Michigan,” Bronson said. “I met him over the summer at preseason football practices and we played baseball together the rest of our careers. Steve was always around because he was friends with my sister, Robin (now teaching at Transit Middle School) and always at our house. We were always in the same places. Steve played varsity baseball and was also active in fast-pitch softball leagues that they had at Outwater Park, and of course he was a Lockport Police Officer. Rich was a salesman and a tremendous guy.”
Bronson, along with his brother Paul and brother-in-law Harry Clark batted around the idea of holding an annual fundraiser in their friends' memory for a few years, but at their 20th reunion, the thought started taking reality.
“It was really the brainchild of our other good buddy, Andy Lamont, and my brother in law, Harry, and my brother Paul,” Bronson said. “They were like, ‘Why don't we do something? Why don't we have a golf tournament?’ I don't golf at all. These guys do. I said, ‘This will work perfectly, because I'm the one who does the organizing. I'm taking the reservations, taking the e-mails, working with the funds that we raise and on Game Day they can go out and golf and enjoy themselves, while I take care of the rest of the stuff in the clubhouse.
“It really works well,” Bronson said. “Everyone has their role — even the guy who doesn't golf.”
Bronson said the Kuntzman Memorial has grown beyond all expectations.
“The same people return every year and that's a testament to the impact that they had,” Bronson said.
“On Monday, here at the LHS Auditorium, we gave out five, $1,000 scholarships. The first year we started with one, then we were giving two-to-three out per year. We gave away as many as nine in one year,” Bronson said.
“We try to keep it at three-to-five, but because the characteristics of the award are loyalty, competitiveness and love of the game, there's always a student or two who just reminds you of those guys — whether it's their demeanor or the way they compete. When you see those folks, it leaves an impression. We try to give back to those who keep that in our memories.”
Bronson said golfing is great, but remembering their late friends each year and how they lived their lives is what brings people back year after year, after year, after year.
“If there was something going on, they wanted to be involved because they wanted to be with their friends,” Bronson said. “They were always as enthusiastic as possible about things and loyal to a fault,” Bronson said.
“When they played, they played to win. And if you ever had a need, trouble, any type of problem, they were the first ones there to assist you in whatever fashion the situation might indicate. As they got older, I think those qualities were even more appreciated by the people who knew them because that's what family and friends are made of.”
Follow John D'Onofrio on Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7.