Remembering Michael

Michael Whelan’s impressive record of service to FASNY and the fire service is really just the beginning of the story – there was so much more to Michael, who passed away December 18, 2014. FASNY First Vice President Ken Pienkowski summed it up best when he said, “Michael was one of a kind and a legend in his own way.”

As Robert McConville prepared to assume the role of president, he talked of making small changes that built upon things FASNY was already doing that were working well, but just needed “a little tweaking”. He recalls a board meeting where Michael Whelan looked at him and said, “You’re a tweaker!” McConville responded, “I’m a tweaker? Is that good or bad?” Michael explained that he felt President McConville’s plans of building on past successes and then “tweaking’” things where needed was the right approach.

DSC_0002This was Michael’s philosophy – take the lessons of history and the past, then apply them judiciously to move the fire service forward. Vice President Pienkowski knew Michael for almost 50 years. In the 1960s, Pienkowski bartended at a local watering hole and Michael was working as a counselor at the nearby Hillbrook Detention Home, where he dealt with troubled young men. A young, long-haired Michael Whelan – sporting a ponytail – would often come into the bar after work and order his regular drink: gin, Seven and lemons, Pienkowski recalls. Michael went on to join the family funeral business and the two lost touch.

Almost three decades later, after Michael joined the Fairmount Fire Department, they reconnected. In Onondaga County and across the Central sectional, Michael was a strong and distinct voice of reason and counsel. An excellent parliamentarian, he was also considered the “godfather” of the Steering Committee, said Pienkowski. “Michael would read something and comprehended it right away and then retain it in his mental file cabinet,” he said.

FASNY CAO David Quinn remembered Michael’s vital role in helping the association grow over the last 11 years.

“He was instrumental in getting FASNY’s membership to nearly 45,000 from 7,000,” said Quinn. “He showed us the way, leading us as we all learned how to account for and take care of those 45,000 firefighters.” He also fondly remembered Michael’s great wit and sense of humor as well as their shared love of wine: Michael with his chardonnay and Quinn with his cabernet.

Steve Abbott worked very closely with Michael over the years, planning all the logistics of FASNY Conventions and coordinating on items for the membership.

“Michael was an extraordinary and gifted man. I admired him for his love and commitment to others and especially for his devoted service to all of us in FASNY,” said Abbott of his close friend and colleague. “My personal experience with Michael will never be forgotten. He will be missed every day, whether it be in the treehouse (a screened porch off the back of Michael’s house where they would meet on FASNY matters), on the phone or in the office.”

FASNY attorney Ed Cooke very eloquently summed up Michael’s contributions to FASNY: “His dedication to all of us, incredible talents and faithful pursuit of FASNY’s purpose and missions will likely be looked upon decades from now, prominently with Michael D. Whelan’s name associated with it.”

– Robert Leonard