Charlie Chotkowski died on August 8 having lived a life full of interests, contact with classmates, postings on the list serve and letters and op ed pieces to the New York Times—and railroading. But Charlie’s passions, as his freshman roommate Bert Rein noted, were his dedication to his Catholic upbringing and his Polish heritage. Stan Masters who, roomed with Charlie at Chi Phi, and stayed connected with him through the years said Charlie dropped out of the physics PhD program at the University of Minnesota and took a job as station-manager in remote Minnesota. Then he moved to an executive position with the Soo Line in Minneapolis, from where he often visited the Masters in Wisconsin. Charlie brought many thoughtfully chosen books for their daughter “who he adored”. He loved to cook and eat gourmet food. Stan believes Charlie retired early in the mid-nineties, returning to Fairfield, Connecticut to care for his mother. One evening Charlie saw the film “Shoah” (Hebrew for Holocaust) which he said presented a negative opinion of Poles. Attending a discussion at a local synagogue he was “rather upset there was nobody from a Polish background on the panel.” He became a member of the executive committee of the National Polish-American—Jewish-American Council and a Fellow of the Piast Institute, among others. Special among these was his membership in, and often chair of, the Town of Fairfield’s 32year Holocaust Commemoration Committee. He said “It’s an honor to serve ….” On Polish Independence Day in 2002 he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Polish Republic. “That’s the nice thing about the medal. It shows there’s progress, even if it’s slow.” On vacations and in retirement Charlie followed his passion for railroading—remember his recall of an enormous body of timetables---traveling throughout first North America then Europe, including the entirety of the Trans-Siberian and Orient Express. When asked what scale of railroads he liked best, he always answered “12 inches to the foot.” He would eventually talk his way into the engine cars of each train he road. Everyone who knew him spoke of his warmth, his easy-going nature, and his keeping up with classmates. “He was a lovely, gentle person” (Mike Vesselago) and as a colleague in Valentine “a calm, good humored and steady worker” (Ed Barber.) And kind enough to invite Californian John Lyon to his home during spring break in 1958. “Both he and his parents were very kind and welcoming to me.” Stan’s wife found a photo of Charlie which captures a relaxed and distinguished man. Stan last visited in 2014 when Charlie invited him to meet his girlfriend Christi. He is survived by her. She observed “that for the last eight and a half years of his life it was the first time he felt truly loved and could just relax.” He was predeceased by all in his family, but will be missed by his loving friends.
Thanks to all, particularly to Stan Masters, for sharing their recollections of Charlie and to Dick Klein for finding critical information on the internet. And a special thanks to Charlie’s dear friend Christi Pope.