FLUSHING - When a local funeral director needs help organizing a military funeral, he or she calls John Ciesielka.
Ciesielka is a very active member of the Flushing American Legion, Post 366, and the 11th District Color Guard. He is the First Vice Commander, serving as a liaison between the public and the legion.
"When somebody has a problem, it's supposed to be our job to fix it," Ciesielka said of his position.
John Ciesielka of Flushing was nominated to be January’s “Hey!?That’s My Neighbor” honoree by Erma Stoica.
Ciesielka served as treasurer for 10 years. He helps with Boys State, an educational program about government for high school juniors. American Legion Posts sponsor the students' expenses in most cases. Erma Stoica, who nominated Ciesielka for this feature, said he worked hard to get the Flushing Legion reorganized.
Ciesielka started helping out with funerals in 1990, and since then has become the go-to guy. Last year, Ciesielka organized 129 military-style funerals for members of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, sometimes two a day. Anybody in the legion can help with funerals to show respect for veterans, but Ciesielka is essentially in charge of organizing. He says he wants to help because of the nuances that come along with staging a military funeral.
"There's so much to know, that you wouldn't know unless you're a veteran," Ciesielka said. "The volunteers need a lot of help, and I'm one of the lucky ones."
Ciesielka doesn't take snow days. He already has 14 funerals lined up for this year, and says he can prepare them in less than a day on short notice.
"I can have everything organized and ready to go in a couple hours," he said.
Ciesielka credits his former employment for his ability to work quickly. He retired from Lucent Technologies, where he was a troubleshooter and installer, after 31 years and nine months. There he was required to be on call 24/7, and Ciesielka says he never missed a day's work. Before that, he spent two years serving in the Army. He was stationed in Alaska with the Chemical Corps, which is the branch of the Army that works to defend against chemical and nuclear weapons.
Ciesielka stays busy with more than the legion. He takes care of his pets, two dogs and a cat. He also participates in ham radio. Ham radio refers to amateur radio, a hobby for licensed amateur operators. Amateur radio operators must pass an examination for the Federal Communications Commission license to operate on radio frequencies known as the "Amateur Bands." Ham radio operators can communicate from essentially anywhere, and are often helpful in the wake of disasters. For example, during 9/11 ham radio kept New York City agencies in touch after the command center was destroyed.
Ciesielka is also a Senior Center member. Stoica says that he is always ready if anybody needs to go to the doctor.
"He is just special to everyone," said Stoica, who has known Ciesielka for more than 45 years. "He'd take the coat off his back if somebody else didn't have one. That's just the kind of man he is."
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