A building at Haven for Heroes in Anoka now bears the name of the local wrestling legend and veterans advocate Stan Kowalski.

Kowalski, a World War II veteran, was known as “Big K,” “Krusher” and “Killer” during a 26-year professional wrestling career. After retiring he became known for his support of veterans, especially homeless veterans.

“This was my dad’s dream,” his daughter Stacy Kowalski said during a brief ceremony outside Cottage 2 at Haven for Heroes, which was dedicated in his honor on Saturday, July 10.

Founded in December 2018, Haven for Heroes is a nonprofit board and lodging facility that provides recovery and transitional housing to service members and veterans. It is located on the campus of the old Anoka State Hospital.

Another cottage on the campus is dedicated to Pvt. Nicole Burnham, of Andover, who died by suicide in 2018 after being sexually assaulted on a U.S. Army base in South Korea. The auditorium is dedicated to Stan Nelson, a World War II veteran who participated in the D-Day invasion and went on to be a successful Anoka football coach.

Born Bert Smith, Stan Kowalski grew up in Minneapolis but lived in Fridley and Blaine later in life.

He served as a gunner’s mate on three submarines in the Pacific during World War II.

Later Kowalski became post commander at the Fridley VFW and served a term as the state VFW commander. He was on the national committee for the POW-MIA Foundation. He also served 18 years on the Spring Lake Park School Board and gave thousands of speeches for the Twin Cities United Way.

He used his platform to advocate for homeless veterans, among other causes.

Kowalski died Oct. 20, 2017, at the age of 91, just two months before the historic State Hospital campus began welcoming veterans under the management of Sauk Centre-based Eagle’s Healing Nest. Haven for Heroes took over running the facility a year later.

“Stan was a big fan of what we were doing here, and he was a big fan of helping veterans in general,” Haven for Heroes board member Bart Ward said.

“This was the culmination of what he hoped would happen,” said Sen. Jim Abeler, another Haven for Heroes board member.

The July 10 dedication ceremony included the unveiling of a sign in Kowalski’s honor outside the cottage that bears his name.


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