Kalamazoo City Commissioner Terry Kuseske dies

by Jessica Carreras

Terry Kuseske, who passed away Sept. 2 of pancreatic cancer, ran a successful campaign for Kalamazoo City Commission in 2009, becoming the city's first openly gay commissioner.

KALAMAZOO – Longtime educator, Kalamazoo City Commissioner and LGBT rights advocate Terry Kuseske passed away the afternoon of Sept. 2 after a nine-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 61.
"Kalamazoo has lost a great champion for equality and drum major for justice," wrote Rev. Matt Laney, chair of the Kalamazoo Gay Lesbian Resource Center's Faith Alliance. Laney had also worked alongside Kuseske with pro-gay rights group One Kalamazoo in the fight to pass the city's non-discrimination ordinance in 2009 – a battle that they won with 63 percent of the popular vote.
"Terry will be fondly remembered as a caring teacher and a dedicated public servant," Laney continued. "His ability to connect with people, frame important issues in a reasoned and patient manner and work tirelessly behind the scenes made him an ideal community leader."
Kuseske gave his life to public service in many arenas. He held a long career as a social studies teacher in the Dogwiac Union School District. He served in many community roles, including as a Cass County commissioner and, when he moved to Kalamazoo, as chair of the Kalamazoo Planning Commission and as a member of the public safety/citizen liaison board.
Throughout all his work, Kuseske fought for LGBT rights. He served on the board of directors for Michigan Equality and, recently, the newly formed Equality Michigan. He was also a founding member of the Kalamazoo Alliance for Equality.
In 2009, his activism work culminated with Kuseske being elected as Kalamazoo's first openly gay city councilman in the same election where the city-wide ordinance was voted into law.
"I am so proud of our city right now," Kuseske told Between The Lines after his Nov. 3 win. "We have an ordinance, and the city has elected an openly gay male to the city commission. This takes Kalamazoo to a whole new level."
It was a high point for Kuseske, who was sworn into office the following Monday.
However, his time on the city commission was short-lived, as he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent surgery March 19, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Kuseske's last weeks, spent at Rose Arbor Hospice Care, were adorned with many visits from friends, family and fellow community leaders, including Rev. Laney and KGLRC Executive Director David Garcia.
"In my visit with Terry a week ago his faith was strong and he spoke with gratitude for both the joys and challenges of life," Laney said. "It is said that our life is a gift of God and what we do with that life is our gift in return. On that score Terry gave heartily."
Garcia came with great news: The Resource Center would be creating a scholarship fund for LGBT youth in Kuseske's honor, and the Arcus Foundation had already pledged $25,000 to the effort.
The first scholarship, Garcia said, will be bestowed upon a West Michigan graduating high school senior at the KGLRC's first annual black-tie gala and awards banquet this winter. The center's Excellence in Education award will also be given to an outstanding community member in Kuseske's honor at that ceremony.
Through discussion and posts on Kuseske's Facebook page, the LGBT community collectively mourned the city commissioner's passing.
"(Terry Kuseske) personally touched the lives of thousands, and the entire state, indirectly, through his unwavering passion for LGBT rights," Equality Michigan said in a statement. "Many of us knew him, many more of us knew of him. While we will miss Terry terribly, he lived a rich life and we are so grateful for the difference he made. He set the bar high, and in his honor, Equality Michigan will continue the journey to equal rights with the same dignity and respect that was characteristic of Terry Kuseske."
Arrangements are being handled by Langeland Family Funeral Homes, Westside Chapel, Oshtemo Township. Details about a memorial service will be released as that information is finalized.

{ITAL Contributions to the Terry Kuseske LGBT Youth Scholarship Fund can be made to:
629 Pioneer Street, Suite 102
Kalamazoo, MI, 49008
Please indicate in the memo "Youth Scholarship Fund." All donors will be provided with a donation receipt for tax purposes.}


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