Norwich Native Son credits family, coaches, scout leaders and teachers for his success
Norwich — Retired U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Ed Cubanski returned to his hometown Wednesday as the 2018 Norwich Native Son Award recipient to reminisce about his childhood upbringing, but he wasn’t able to visit a couple of his former schools, as he learned that one is a parking lot and another is a field.
More than 100 family members and friends, teachers from Norwich schools and Norwich Technical High School and representatives from the Coast Guard, Boy Scouts, Rotary and Women’s City Club and local officials gathered Wednesday at the Holiday Inn to honor Cubanski at the 51st annual Native Son/Daughter Award luncheon.
The award, presented by Norwich Rotary and the Woman’s City Club, honors a Norwich native who has excelled in a chosen career outside the region.
“It’s humbling,” Cubanski said in between handshakes at the start of the luncheon, “overwhelming and honoring. It’s great to come back to the city of Norwich. To be part of a group of 50 amazing people who have made an impact all over the world!”
Cubanski paused to hug his aunt, Ann Carignan, who nominated him and introduced him Wednesday. Cubanski choked up as he wished that his parents and mentors, Edward and Laura Cubanski, now deceased, could be there. His brother, Brian Cubanski, and many family members attended.
Cubanski said he and the 50 other Native Son/Daughter Award recipients all were “raised, taught and encouraged by family, friends, coaches and inspired by teachers and educators of the Norwich community. ... Thank you, Norwich for setting the foundation for our successes.”
He urged Norwich citizens and politicians to support the local schools “to provide the resources needed for their students to succeed in school and life.”
He said his parents set the standard for him and his brother and made volunteering paramount, whether through coaching, Boy Scouts, sports or community service. Family gatherings were cherished, and all the kids wanted to emulate their grandfather, Major League ballplayer Augustin Joseph "Lefty" Dugas of Taftville.
Cubanski said his approach to school and life changed when 10th-grade civics teacher Mr. Koch gave him a C when he thought he deserved better. Koch told him he needed to justify his essay answers with more detail and thought.
Cubanski asked all teachers and educators to stand to thank them for their service.
Cubanski often is asked how he became one of 300 out of 6,000 applicants accepted to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London. “My answer is one word: Norwich,” he said. His education, sports, scouting and community service added to the high level of Coast Guard training prepared him for life-or-death missions.
“I approached each Coast Guard mission as if my community depended on my success,” Cubanski said, whether intercepting a migrant boat before it capsized, containing an oil spill or collecting wildlife scat in the Arctic to determine the health of animal populations.
Cubanski left Wednesday with more than the Native Son plaque. An Eagle Scout with enough badges to obtain a double Eagle Scout, Cubanski received a proclamation from the state General Assembly, a certificate of recognition from Boy Scout Connecticut Rivers Council, a lighthouse keeper’s pin from the New London Maritime Society, a clock from the Norwich Woman’s City Club and, from Norwich school Superintendent Abby Dolliver, her favorite children’s book: “Change the World before Bedtime.”
Dolliver talked to several of Cubanski's Norwich elementary and middle school teachers, who remembered him as a good student who was excellent in math and never missed classes. Dolliver called him “an ordinary kid, a good student and a superhero.”
Cubanski most recently served as U.S. Coast Guard sector commander for Long Island Sound. After retirement in July 2016, he moved to Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Two weeks ago, he became regional chief operating officer for the American Red Cross Eastern New York Region.
Throughout his career, Cubanski was active in local civic and cultural groups in the communities where he was stationed. He kept his ties to southeastern Connecticut as the president of the New London Maritime Society since November 2016.
Susan Tamulevich of the maritime society credited Cubanski’s positive attitude and dedication for getting the society through tumultuous times and “rescuing” the organization.
While Cubanski received most of the awards and gifts Wednesday, Tamulevich turned to Cubanski’s wife, Shirley Cagle, and daughters Lily and Zoe, and offered them a thank-you gift of a large apple strudel for their sacrifice of his time to travel from New York to attend monthly meetings in New London.
“Whenever we needed support, Ed came,” Tamulevich said. “He came on at a difficult time and set a different tone for the New London Maritime Society.”