There are people that leave an unquestionable mark on the landscape of East Boston that never fades with time. One of those people was Jeff Kuller, the man that help save Piers Park Sailing from certain extinction back in 2001.
Kuller, the former Executive Director of the Piers Park Sailing Center, died tragically at his home in Camden, Maine on Sunday, November 4. He was 56 years old.
At the time of his death Kuller had been serving as head of Camden’s Park and Recreation Department but most here in East Boston remember him as the kind and gentle mentor to the thousands of children learning to sail in the neighborhood during his tenure at Piers Park Sailing.
Following the country’s economic downturn following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Massachusetts Port Authority passed a fiscal recovery plan for Logan. The plan included cutting the lion’s share of the Sailing Center’s operating budget for the program that long provided free sailing for area youth.
The daunting task of raising money to keep the sailing center afloat fell upon the center’s staff and Kuller. At the time Kuller had to start from zero and raise nearly $350,000 that year to keep the important East Boston program going.
Kuller was forced to cutback staffing, maintenance, advertising and some programs to try and stretch the small amount of money the center was running on.
“We are now depending on grant money and donations,” said Kuller at the time. “We are trying to secure sponsors and donations from a wider area than just East Boston.”
Kuller began to heighten the centers profile throughout the city and secured corporate donors, organized a solid board of directors but always thought of the East Boston community as the Sailing Center’s biggest champion.
“The East Boston community is still our top supporter and while the businesses here just don’t have the available funds to give large donations they have been helping in any way they can,” said Kuller in 2002.
While Kuller always said that there was not going to be a ‘knight in shining armor’ that will save the center his optimism and belief in the program and the community always prevailed.
“I had the pleasure to serve on the Board of Directors during Jeff’s (Kuller) tenure,” said East Boston’s Mary Berninger. “He was a great husband, father, friend and mentor to many.”
Former Piers Park Sailing Center’s Youth Sailing Program Director Mark London, called Kuller the ‘original’ executive director of the Sailing Center.
“On many occasions I was asked how I felt about Jeff (Kuller) and my answer was always quick and virtually the same each time,” said London. “Jeff was the most honest person I have ever met. If he said something was so-so, then it was so-so. Jeff was a very kind soul, and was first to put in place many safeguards for the Sailing Center—especially for its youth sailors. Jeff was my boss, but first and foremost, he was my friend. I will miss Jeff terribly. My heart and prayers are for his wonderful two children, and wife.”
East Boston YMCA Executive Director Joey Cuzzi, who replaced Kuller at the Sailing Center in 2004, said Kuller was a dedicated and visionary leader at the Center.
“He was committed to eliminating the perception of the sport as elitist and worked diligently to expand opportunities for local children along with growing the adult sailing component of the center,” said Cuzzi. “He believed in the power of sailing to change young lives by providing them with unique life skills, transferable from the sea to school and beyond, and his passion for the sport and the children he encouraged was evident to anyone who set foot on the dock. It was a privilege to work with him.”