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Retired MCCC Athletics Employee Zinna Kusnirik Is "Grandmom" to All
Kusnirk Looks Forward to Coach Howie Landa Tribute Sept. 15


West Windsor, N.J. -- In recent years, Zinna Kusnirik, who celebrated her 96th birthday on July 31, may be best known as a fixture at the Trenton Thunder Stadium, where she has had season tickets since the Thunder's inaugural season in1994. "That's section 15, row F. That's where you will find me," says the mother of three, grandmother of five and great grandmother of ten.

While baseball is her key focus during these steamy summer months, Kusnirik says she is a fan of all sports. And once upon a time, she was a key member of the athletics staff at Mercer County Community College. "I was equipment manager, facilities clerk, whatever you want to call it, I did it all - everything that needed doing," she maintains. "I took care of all the kids and all the sports, boys and girls."

According to Kusnirik, sometimes that included bus money and lunch money, and even laundry. "That's the way we worked. We made it like family," she recalls of her 20 years at Mercer. Joining the staff at Trenton Junior College as a cafeteria employee in 1963, her passion for sports drew her to the fledgling Athletics Department, where she volunteered for ten years.

"That was when the college's sports teams practiced and played all around the city," she recalls, noting venues including the Armory and the Lower Bucks YMCA. She spent her second decade as a full-time member of the athletics staff at the brand new West Windsor Campus until her retirement in 1983.

Back then, Al Leister, now a professor emeritus, was athletics director and Howie Landa was the men's basketball coach. "Oh, he was first class," Kusnirik says of Landa. "He was respected by the players. He was known all over, everywhere we went." She vividly recalls being part of the excitement when Landa led the Vikings to four national tournaments and two national titles (1973 and 1974).

Former athletics employee Zinna Kusnirik celebrated her 96th birthday at the Trenton Thunder Stadium July 31. She was presented with flowers by Matt Pentima, director of Thunder Ticket Operations. Photo Credit: Bill Cook/ Trenton Thunder.

Kusnirik is among MCCC retirees clearly looking forward to reuniting with "the fellas," especially Landa, when the college pays tribute to its former coach on Sept. 15 in a ceremony that will unveil his name on the basketball court. The free public event, which starts at 4 p.m., will be followed by a dinner reception at the MCCC Conference Center at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $65 per person; contributions for the tribute are also being accepted, with proceeds to be donated to MCCC Athletics.

According to Leister, Kusnirik's former boss, "Zinna was an important member of our athletic staff. Her involvement beyond the job description was priceless. She meant so much to us. Her caring for the student athletes was monumental."

Kusnirik notes she ran a tight ship, but one that was clearly steered by love. "I was hard on the kids, but I had a chicken heart," she admits. "If they needed help, they knew they could turn to me.

"Those young people grew up right under my nose," Kusnirik maintains. "They finished two years at Mercer and then two years at another school and then they went and lived their lives."

Kusnirik still runs into some of the MCCC athletes she helped mentor, often at Trenton Thunder games. "They all call me 'Zinna Baby,'" she says with a touch of glee.

In addition to her own family, which has spread out far beyond the Trenton area, Kusnirik clearly relishes her connections with an extended family of former athletes who continue to stay in touch. "I still get letters from quite a few of them from across the country. They have told me they don't know what they would have done without me."

No doubt the feeling is mutual.

For more information about tickets and donations for the Howie Landa Tribute, click here, email foundation@mccc.edu, or call 609-570-3659. For the latest updates or to add comments or share photos, the committee invites community members to "like" the Howie Landa Tribute on Facebook here.

Visit Howie Landa Tribute Page

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