By Gabriel Rom
Kenneth Kowald, who wrote with insight and compassion about his small corner of Queens and the world beyond it, died Wednesday. He was 88.
Known to friends, family and readers as a gracious, intelligent and highly opinionated man, Kowald was a columnist and blogger for the TimesLedger. Kowald’s bimonthly column, which ran for more than 15 years, was titled “As I Sit and Look Out” (taken from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”) and his blog was named “No Holds Barred.” Together, both titles embodied Kowald’s writing persona.
With headlines like “Music has had deep, enriching effect on life of columnist” and “King James Version the greatest of all Biblical translations,” the pages of the TimesLedger served as a diary of sorts for Kowald as an extension of his curious, wide-ranging mind.
Kowald’s columns were wonderfully discursive. As he wrote, he jumped from one thought to another, often playing on the slightest associations, moving from culture to politics or from Queens to New York to America and back again. He would often arrive at surprising places with genuine insight.
Kowald won first place for his columns in the New York Press Association’s annual contest several years ago.
Even the most specific, local issues–the brief legacy of Congressman Bob Turner to Queens, for example–would elegantly segue into meditations on the role of religion in the public space and the intentions of America’s founders.
“Ken was a bit of an iconoclast. He held the past in incredibly high esteem,” said Louise Radack, Kowald’s sister-in-law.
Kowald, a self-described “crotchety old fogey who is content with his life,” was born July 24, 1927 on Tompkins Street on the Lower East Side. He graduated from City College and received a master’s degree at Columbia University and attended Fordham Law School with the late vice president candidate Geraldine Ferraro. After a stint in the military and earning his law degree, Kowald spent much of his life in executive positions at companies such as Con Edison. But he continued to keep his hand in as a writer at newspapers.
Kowald, a lifelong environmentalist, donated all the fees he received for his columns for the TimesLedger to Queens conservancy organizations such as the Queens Botanical Garden and Alley Pond Park Environmental Center. The money was donated in the name of the paper.
“He was a very gracious man. He cared about the world around him, about taking care of this world and the people in it, ” Radack said.
Kowald lived in Richmond Hill for many years before moving with his wife to Port Washington, where he died. His wife, Elaine Radack, who was also suffering from illness, died 19 hours later.
Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@