Kulwicki Driver Development

-Family Matriarch Remembered For Her Kindness, Generosity & Determination- 

MILWAUKEE (Oct. 20, 2015) – Thelma Kulwicki was laid to rest yesterday at St. Adalbert's Cemetery in Milwaukee.  Fittingly, her grave is directly beside husband Gerald’s, who passed away in 2008.  A stone’s throw across the massive neatly-kept graveyard lays the final resting place of her stepson Alan, the 1992 NASCAR Champion.

Mrs. Kulwicki passed away peacefully at her Milwaukee home last Tuesday evening.  She will be forever remembered for her kindness, generosity and determination.

“She was so special and never realized she meant so much to so many people,” said Julie Horanski, who delivered the opening remarks at Mrs. Kulwicki’s memorial service on Monday at St. Matthias Catholic Church.  Horanski dated Alan and accompanied him to the 1992 NASCAR Awards Banquet in New York.  She remained a close family friend after Alan’s untimely death in a plane crash on April 1, 1993.

“Thelma lived a full life during her 89 years here on earth,” added Horanski.  “We certainly mourn her passing, yet we should be happy and celebrate what a wonderful and kind lady she was.  Heaven has added another special angel.”

Mrs. Kulwicki’s love for automobile racing extended far beyond just being a fan who attended races with her husband to cheer her stepson on.  Her charitable endeavors to the sport over the years have included the establishment of engineering scholarships at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

In 2014, Mrs. Kulwicki spearheaded the creation of the Kulwicki Driver Development Program.  The KDDP was established for the purpose of helping worthy drivers toward reaching their dreams, while at the same time keeping Alan’s memory and legacy alive.  During the 2015 racing season, seven young competitors from Maine to California are benefiting from the program and proudly carrying the Kulwicki colors on their race cars and driver uniforms.

“Thelma was giving to the sport of auto racing up until the day she passed,” said Tony Gibson, who served as car chief for Alan’s 1992 NASCAR championship team and now is crew chief for Kurt Busch’s Sprint Cup operation.  Gibson is one of seven advisory board members for the KDDP.

Monday’s memorial service was attended by KDDP driver Steve Apel from nearby West Bend, Wisconsin, and Susan Majeski, mother of KDDP driver Ty Majeski, an engineering student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Drivers, friends and others associated with the program chimed in with their thoughts and condolences on the passing of Mrs. Kulwicki.

“I had the pleasure of seeing and meeting Thelma on one of her last days this past week,” said Apel, three-time track champion at Slinger Speedway.  “Never before had I met her, but I have always only heard good things about her and her generosity and love for the sport of racing. She was a part of making a huge impact on our racing season this past year.  We couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity she gave us by starting the driver development program. She will be greatly missed by the entire racing community.”

“Thelma Kulwicki was an extremely special lady,” said Ty Majeski, KDDP driver from Seymour, Wisconsin. “Although I never had the honor of meeting her in person, I know what a special, giving person she was through her actions.   Not only did she love and care about everyone around her, she had a passion for the sport of racing. She took her mission to keep Alan’s legacy alive to the next level.  Thelma understood that there are many talented individuals that deserve the opportunity to show their skills.  I am honored and humbled to have been selected to be part of the great program that she created.  I hope as one of the inaugural drivers that I have made her proud.  Godspeed, Thelma.”

“I was very saddened to hear the news regarding Thelma’s passing,” said Bradley Weber, a Milwaukee native who is now in the promotion and entertainment business in California.  Weber played Alan Kulwicki in the 2005 movie "Dare to Dream: The Alan Kulwicki Story.”  “Thelma was such a wonderful and amazing person that helped give back to so many while keeping Alan's memory alive.  What she has done to help engineering students with scholarships and current racers through the KDDP is quite amazing.”

“I was fortunate enough to get the chance to meet Thelma before the race season started this year,” said KDDP driver Reagan May, a student at Michigan Tech who hails from De Pere, Wisconsin.  “She was caring, full of laughter and a remarkable woman of strength. I loved hearing stories of her and Alan. She has done wonders for Alan, short track racing, and the seven KDDP drivers. She was loved by many and will be missed by many more. Like Alan, Thelma's legacy will continue to be felt throughout the racing community and those she touched.”

“I can’t even start to describe how much Thelma meant to me,” said Jan Beatty, Mrs. Kulwicki’s financial advisor, close personal friend and KDDP advisory board member.  “Though she came from humble beginnings, she became a quiet philanthropist who gave generously without fanfare or expecting anything in return.  She loved racing and knew far more about the sport than she let on.  She was always grateful for the little things that friends or family did for her, whether it was a phone call, a card or a bouquet of flowers.  She was always in awe that someone would do that for her.  She was also a determined fighter, not giving up through many health issues, including cancer treatments and a hip replacement.  She will be greatly missed.”

“I lost my grandmother four years ago and she was the biggest influence in my life,” said Bryce Napier, the 16-year-old KDDP driver from Scotts Valley, California.   “I have missed her so much.  I have been hoping that I could go and meet Thelma so that I could spend time with her.  I wanted to ask her questions about Alan and what he was like as a kid.  I loved hearing all the stories my grandma used to tell me about her past.  I felt like meeting Thelma would be a lot like talking to grandma again.  I wanted to do something to show Thelma how much I appreciated her giving to me the chance to be a part of her family in the KDDP.  We designed a special hood for her and I was so excited that I got to run it on my car in the last race of my season, which just also happened to be the biggest race I've ever run.  I heard she was able to see a picture of my hood and that it made her happy.  That made it all worthwhile.  I want Thelma's family to know that I will always have a love for her.  I hope they know they have been such an important part of my life.”

“Thelma would always greet us with ‘hello darling,’ no matter how she felt down to her last days,” said Jim “Thumper” Rauth, close family friend who also serves as an advisory board member for the KDDP.  “She was always asking how we were and how we were feeling without ever complaining of the physical ailments she battled.  Many times she would talk of Gerry and Alan -- about how proud she was of both of them and showing photos of both of them. She was so happy to help young people out whether if it was the UNC-Charlotte or UWM-Milwaukee engineering schools or, of course, the KDDP program.  Thelma was always smiling about those projects. However, her favorite thing to talk about was going dancing with her beloved Gerry.  I believe that is what she is doing right now; dancing with the love of her life, Gerry.”

“My personal best memory is seeing how much she enjoyed being part of the Alan Kulwicki 7K Fun Run/Walk at the Milwaukee Mile,” said close family friend Dennis Czarnyszka, who also serves on the KDDP advisory board.  “She and Gerry paced the start in a Ford Mustang convertible in the first one in 1995.  Proceeds went to help fund Alan Kulwicki Park and Variety Club Childrens Charities. She so loved and admired Alan and she beamed at the turnout of 2100 people the first year.  In the second year, we had 2500 people and shortly after the park was fully funded.  We raised over $85,000 in two years and she was so proud of us exceeding our goal.  Her generous gifts to UNCC and UWM as well as the KDDP didn't surprise me because I always saw Thelma as incredibly grateful and giving.”

It was Czarnyszka who delivered Mrs. Kulwicki’s graveside eulogy.  He concluded by saying, “You would always say you were a tough old bird and you truly were.  Upon your wings you helped many people soar and now that those wings brought you to heaven, we all feel secure knowing we have another angel watching over us."

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