There are some folks who make an everlasting impression on the ones they connect with in their lives. Ray Plewacki was a man who did precisely this. Raymond Plewacki passed away recently at the age of 93. A ski instructor at Holiday Valley for many years, Plewacki also taught at Kissing Bridge before coming to Ellicottville. From statements and stories extracted from folks around Ellicottville and elsewhere that knew him the Villager found that he was a very well known and liked individual. Although there are many more stories and recollections from folks all over the globe about Ray Plewacki a few that knew him from Ellicottville had some things to share.
Plewacki was a fighter pilot in WWII and from stories passed around it was learned that he was shot down twice in the Pacific theatre, once by the enemy and once by an American ship that didn’t have communications with him as his radio was out. Also learned by the Villager, he started to fly fighter jets in the Korean conflict and was also shot down during that stint, which lead to his grounding.
Plewacki was known as a story-teller which in turn makes for a good story. His Ellicottville connection began after he left Kissing Bridge as an instructor and came to Holiday Valley. Terri Gebler knew Plewacki for quite some time and shared some words about the “Polish Falcon”. “He was my instructor at Kissing Bridge (KB) at around the time of his wife, Pat’s passing. She had been a flight attendant. I think Pat afforded Ray the chance to live the life he enjoyed so much, being a fishing guide in the summer and a ski instructor in the winter. Then there was at least one summer I believe he taught in Portillo, Chile. He was old school and taught by the book, using exercises such as “fallink” leaves. This of course, with the Polish accent acquired at the hands of nuns in the Buffalo schools. His parents were born here but that accent dies hard.” Gebler shared, “Ray came to Holiday Valley after getting into a snit with the director we worked for at KB. I’ve heard both sides and yes it was just a snit! Ray prided himself with being highly principled, and just for the principle of the thing he felt he had to go to the Valley. The following year, Judy Adams and I followed him to work under “Hollywood” Phil Winton. And the fun just continued! He fell right back into asking me to do his demos whenever he could snag me. And to give anyone and everyone who dared venture into his section of the locker room, a good going over just to make sure they belonged there. If you were assigned to be in his section, you had to endure this dressing and undressing every single day! And the chatter with the Polish accent went on and on.”
Gebler also told the Villager that Plewacki raised two children in North Buffalo with his wife Pat, Raymond and Ellen. Antwan Clayton taught snowboarding at Holiday Valley along side Plewacki and often regaled tales of the popular old timer. Although there is a 40-year age difference Clayton called Plewacki one of his best friends. He called him his “Surrogate Grandpa” After teaching on the hill, some of the instructors would meet at the “Corner” or the “Office” both nicknames for Cadillac Jacks where they would share pitchers of beer and enjoy each other’s camaraderie. Clayton told the Villager another one of Plewacki’s monikers was “Father Winter”. “When I first started teaching snowboarding, the older ski instructors and the snowboard instructors stood far apart and never spoke to one another. I’d like to think my friendship with Ray and all the other “old timers” changed that a little.” Clayton recalled.
Plewacki was also an avid fisherman and was a guide in Montana during his summer months. He also angled elsewhere and was chronicled by author Randy Spencer in The Maine Guide, an Islandport Press online publication. It can be found at Islandportpress.typepad.com/maineguide/2009/10/my-friend-ray.html. The article written in 2009 tells about Plewacki’s fly-fishing expertise and a bit of his bio too. In it Spencer writes, “He once offered up that the reason he seems younger than his years is his constant association with younger people.” The article was mainly about angling and said that Plewacki taught fly casting in the old Scottish tradition, “Named for the River Spey in the highlands of northeast Scotland, this style of fishing is particularly useful when fly fishing for very large fish. Spey rods cover more water and fatigue the fisherman less.” Spencer wrote about his instruction form Plewacki.
“Raymondo” Plewacki led a life that catered to his passions. He was a very fit individual and also motivational according to his friends from the area. He was known for telling stories and keeping his students and friends amused and entertained. Plewacki left behind a legacy and his demeanor has been mimicked endearingly many times. Now his tales and life are all being retold and his voice and accent imitated to spice it up. Ellicottville and Holiday Valley will surely miss Ray Plewacki and his legacy will be remembered. There is so much more that could be shared about “Father Winter”. Many will be talking about Plewacki forever and as Antwan Clayton shared: “Next time I’m in town I’ll call a special “meeting”…which was ski school code for Cadillac Jack’s. I’m leaving Ray’s stool empty for that one.”