Taras Hunczak

Obituary of Taras Hunczak

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Professor Taras Hunczak of Chatham Twp., New Jersey, passed away on July 1, 2024, at the age of 92. Professor Hunczak leaves an indelible impression and profound memories for so many - for those who called him husband, father, brother, grandfather, uncle, friend, teacher, coach and mentor. He also leaves a record of significant personal and professional contributions to supporting Ukraine's struggles for statehood, to the development of Ukrainian political thought, and to the popularization of Ukraine's historic and modern treasures. Professor Hunczak's life story captures many defining historic moments of the20th and 21st centuries and epitomizes a life well lived.

Taras Hunczak was born on March 13,1932 to Maria and Hryhoriy Hunczak in Stare Misto, a suburb of Pidhaitsi, in the Ternopilska Oblast, Ukraine. In the summer of 1944, he and his family left Stare Misto on a journey that would eventually conclude in Germany – the family and others from the village were sent to Vilsbiburg, approximately 66 km from Munich. He was not to visit Ukraine again for almost half a century.

In May 1949 the Hunczak family embarked on their journey to the United States on the "General Jumper", a military transport ship. In the United States Taras started middle school as well as a lifelong commitment to community activities. He and the family eventually arrived in New York where Taras earned a B.A and M.A. from Fordham University. His years at Fordham were filled with a combination of defending Ukrainian interests within the university system while participating in many extracurricular activities within the Ukrainian diaspora – volleyball and ping pong in a sports club on 8th Street, singing with the "Dumka" choir, frequent meetings at "Lys Mykyta". This time was only interrupted by 18 months of service in the U.S. Army.

In 1958, Taras arrived in Vienna to continue his studies at the University of Vienna. His main course of study was history with Slavic philology as a secondary course. After a visceral disagreement with a professor regarding the need to differentiate Muscovy and Russia from Rus and Ukraine, he left the Slavic philology department and enrolled in the department of modern European history. The years in Vienna were also filled with activism. According to Professor Hunczak the most fascinating was "the 1959 action against communist propaganda which was to figure significantly at the world congress of communist youth being held in Vienna. I was asked to participate in this action by an American entity.......For almost half a year I organized various groups and we succeeded in opposing the lies which the communists wanted to disseminate......By the end of the weeklong congress I was informed that the communists knew it was I who had organized the campaign against their propaganda campaign and for my safety I had to leave Vienna immediately....."

By May of 1960 he had earned a degree as a Doctor of East European History. Upon his return to the U.S. he began lecturing at Rutgers University where he also served as Director of the East European and Soviet Studies program, as the Chair of the History Department and on the Rutgers University Senate. After 44 years at Rutgers University, he retired in 2004. He was named Professor Emeritus and inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Fame. In 1991, he accepted a position as professor at the National Taras Shevchenko University of Kyiv. He was the recipient of an honorary doctorate at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in 2013. His academic achievements were complemented by his leadership on the sports front. He established and managed the men's volleyball program at Rutgers-Newark. His team, described as "stacked with talented players of Ukrainian descent", including his nephews Nestor Paslawsky and Peter Melnyk, won multiple East Coast collegiate championships and placed second in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Championship. Their success paved the way to multiple appearances in the NCAA Volleyball Final Four for many years to come.

Professor Hunczak's extensive body of scholarly works focus on 20th century Ukrainian history including a history of Russian Imperialism, where he described Stalin and his followers as "building their empire on the bones of millions of innocent victims" during Holodomor. He became editor-in-chief of Suchasnist, a monthly journal of literature, the arts, history and political, social, and economic affairs. Upon Ukraine gaining its independence he moved the publication to Kyiv.

At the center of Professor Hunczak's life was a love for and commitment to Ukrainian independence, heritage and culture. He was active in New York Plast; he organized numerous conferences always focused on disseminating accurate and correct information about Ukraine; he participated in academic activities including the Scientific Society named after Taras Shevchenko and the Ukrainian Free Academy of Science; he spearheaded many efforts to support Ukrainian dissidents.

The tragedy of Chornobyl in April 1986 led to the creation of the Children of Chornobyl Relief Fund with Professor Hunczak playing an integral role in its establishment and administration. As Ukraine moved toward independence Professor Hunczak spent a significant amount of time in Ukraine moving seamlessly between political, social and human interactions. He was present for and recorded for posterity his eyewitness observations about historic events. As he left Ukraine in December 1991 he wrote"....I cannot calmly write about it. It brought the Ukrainian nation that which it awaited for generations, for which thousands gave their lives – for independence. Finally their will was fulfilled – Ukraine became an independent and sovereign state." He captured his thoughts in "My Memoirs; Life's Journey through WWII and Various Historical Events of the 21st Century".

Taras' love for family was constant throughout his lifetime. On August 19, 1961 he married Olia Karpenko, who survives him together with their sons, Paul and his partner Gloria Kupka, Dan and his wife Cindy; his grandsons Peter and his wife AJ, Andrew, Luke and Matthew; his dear sister Orysia Paslawsky and a large extended family.

Visiting hours will take place on Thursday, July 11th from 4 - 7 pm at S.J. Priola Parsippany Funeral Service, 60 N. Beverwyck Road, Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey 07034. A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated on Friday, July 12, 2024, at 10:30 am at St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Church, 406 High Road, Glen Spey, NY 12737. Interment to follow at Glen Spey Cemetery.

Donations in his memory may be made to the good work of the Ukrainian Catholic University Foundation, 2247 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago Il, 60622, supporting students whose parents are deployed fighting in Ukraine. 



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Visitation at Funeral Home

4:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Thursday, July 11, 2024
S.J. Priola Parsippany Funeral Service
60 North Beverwyck Road
Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey, United States

Funeral Mass

10:30 am
Friday, July 12, 2024
St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Catholic Church
406 High Road
Glen Spey , New York, United States


11:45 am
Friday, July 12, 2024
Glen Spey Cemetery
 Cemetery Road
Glen Spey , New York, United States
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Taras Hunczak

In Loving Memory

Taras Hunczak

1932 - 2024

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