Kenneth Emil Veselak, professor, fitness buff, dies at 79

Kenneth Veselak, 79, of Bayville and Holbrook, who Kenneth Veselak, 79, of Bayville and Holbrook, who taught physical education for 33 years at Nassau Community College and founded the circus arts program, died on Dec. 31. He was a gymnast, tightrope walker, trapeze artist, juggler and fire breather who survived three types of cancer. Photo Credit: Handout

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Whether doing a one-armed handstand, riding a unicycle or walking a tightrope, Kenneth Emil Veselak lived to have fun and be fit.

And he gladly taught that life lesson to his children, grandchildren and countless students at Nassau Community College, his family said.

Veselak, a resident of Bayville for 52 years who had moved last summer to Holbrook, died Dec. 31. He was 79.

"My father was never a man to sit down," said his daughter, Dawn Marie Nappi, of Holbrook. "He was always on the go. He wanted to be out interacting with people and developing their potential."

Veselak's passion for fitness propelled him through 35 years as a physical education professor at the college, where he founded a circus arts program, his family said. He retired in 1995.

Veselak was born in Astoria, Queens. He earned a bachelor's degree from City College of New York and went on to earn a doctorate in education from Columbia University at age 24.

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Veselak, who in 1976 co-authored a book on health and fitness called "Matters of Life and Death", battled skin, prostate and bladder cancer, but was cancer-free at the time of his death, succumbing instead to pneumonia and congestive heart failure, Nappi said.

"My father smiled until the day he died," she said. "He had such a positive outlook on life."

Veselak published articles in the Journal of School Health. In 1981, he earned the Maharishi Award, presented by the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa, "for creating an ideal society in this generation."

He was also an enthusiastic member of the Bayville Recreation Commission, running the fishing competition.

His family remembered him as the life of the party -- a man who made balloon animals, breathed fire and taught kids to paint faces and ride unicycles.

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"I was attracted to my husband because he was so fun-loving, jolly and happy," said his wife, Rosemarie Angela Veselak, 76, who met him on a blind date.

"He was amazing, with a beautiful body and a beautiful heart," she said. "He's probably juggling with the angels."

Other survivors include three daughters -- Kim Marie Rosario, of Kings Park; Lynn Marie Shane, of St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Gwenn Marie Blazo, of Hicksville -- and eight grandchildren.

A wake was held Thursday at Francis P. DeVine Funeral Home in Oyster Bay hamlet. His funeral was Friday at St. Gertrude's Church in Bayville. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

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