Revised from “The Biographical Sketch of Norman Edward Kukuk” c. 1974
Norman Edward Kukuk, better known as “Boots” in his hockey days, was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin on October 8, 1918. When he was one year old his mother and father moved to Marquette, Michigan.
During his junior year of high school, Kukuk was selected to play hockey with the Marquette Millionaires, the City Hockey Team, which was affiliated with the Canadian-American Semi-Professional Hockey League. He also earned three varsity letters in track and field before graduating from Marquette Public Schools in June, 1936.
At Northern State Teachers College (1), Kukuk earned freshman numerals and three varsity letters in both football and track and field. He was co-captain of the track and field team his junior and senior years, and highlighted his career by winning a gold track shoe for placing in the javelin throw at the Michigan Invitational Track and Field Relays at Michigan State University in the spring of 1940.
Kukuk played hockey for the Marquette Sentinels in the winters while pursuing his degree. He played with and against many hockey greats during this time including Clarence “Taffy” Abel, Ching Johnson, Muzzy Murray, Toney Buckovich, among others. In the early winter of 1940 Kukuk was recommended for tryouts with the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, but due to the expansion of the European Theater of World War II, the Olympics which were scheduled for Helsinki, Finland were cancelled.
Kukuk graduated from Northern State Teachers College in 1940, and in 1941 was selected for tryouts with the Cleveland Barons Professional Hockey Club and the Chicago Blackhawks. He accepted an offer from the Barons for the 1941 season, but because of a low draft number (2) he volunteered for the U.S. Navy Airforce and was sworn into the Navy on November 24, 1941 as a pilot. Before enlisting, he was employed by Marquette Schools as an Industrial Arts teacher, football coach and track coach.
As a soldier, Kukuk served two tours of duty in the South Pacific Theater. On July 21, 1943, his aircraft was shot down and made a water landing with his burning fighter place near Rendova Harbor and Munda Point on the southeast tip of the New Georgia Islands, 200 miles northwest of Guadalcanal. An American destroyer rescued him under fire from enemy aircraft.
In August, 1944, Kukuk was awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Heroism Medal for, according to Admiral W. F. Halsey, Commander of the Navy’s Third Fleet at the time:
Heroism following an operational accident at an advanced airfield in the Bismarck Archipelago area on April 4, 1944. While making a landing under adverse weather conditions, Lieutenant Kukuk observed another fighter coming towards him from the opposite direction. Swerving sharply, he felt the other aircraft strike his left wing and saw it crash into a bomber behind him, causing both to burst into flames. He rushed immediately to the scene, climbed upon the wing of the fighter place and directed four enlisted men in extracting the injured pilot from the flaming plane. His courageous conduct and devotion to duty, despite the intense heat and exploding ammunition, in attempting to save the life of a fellow officer were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
He was also awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and six Air Medals for flying fighter planes against enemy forces on his first tour of combat. He was also warded Commendation Citations from Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander of the South Pacific Fleet and Captain Wyatt who was in command of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Chenango.
After the war, Kukuk served as the Director of Recreation for the City of Marquette, and during his tenure the first artificial ice plant was installed in the Palestra, a community indoor skating and hockey arena. He oversaw all city recreational programs, including sporting events and civic carnivals. He also continued to play hockey, playing again for the Marquette Sentinels for several more years before having his jersey number (14) retired by the Marquette city team after his own retirement from the sport.
In February, 1951, Kukuk resigned from the City of Marquette and enrolled at Michigan State University. He received his Masters of Arts degree on December 16, 1952 in Educational and Municipal Administration.
Kukuk served as a public school superintendent downstate before moving back to Marquette in August, 1957 to accept a position with the Michigan Corrections Department as Recreational Director at the Marquette Branch Prison. In November of 1959 he became the first full time educational administrator at the prison after being promoted to Director of Education. Kukuk was directly responsible for establishing the Adult Basic Education Programs on the prison site, and Resident Teacher Training Programs at Northern Michigan University.
In 1972 the Michigan State Aid Program was instituted in cooperation with the Marquette Public School System. Certified teachers were hire to teach in the correctional system. This program was a forerunner of the present university program where the residents have the opportunity to work towards a degree from Northern Michigan University.
Kukuk retired from the prison in 1975, and in 1978 accepted a position as the Executive Director of the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame. He was also enshrines in the Hall of Fame the same year.