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Flushing Rotarian Kurt Weishaupt dies at 90

"When I look back on my first 80 years, I see a young man in Nazi Germany who may never have lived out his life," Weishaupt said in a video made to celebrate his 80th birthday in September 1993. "And also I see a miracle, that he did live."

Weishaupt died June 30 at New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens in Flushing after suffering a stroke. He was 90.

"What is most important to me, during all these years (is) helping people who need help," Weishaupt said.

A member of the Flushing Rotary Club and a stamp wholesaler and maker who worked internationally, Weishaupt, a longtime Flushing resident, was well-known and respected for his generous spirit.

"Those early days, they seem like a dream now - a very, very bad dream," Weishaupt said of his youth, when during his years as a teenager the Nazi party was forming.

He fled the country and lived in Milan, Marseilles and Lisbon avoiding beatings, arrests and persecution during his early 20s.

Before turning 27, he boarded a boat with his wife Trude in 1941 and sailed to New York, eluding German submarine officers who boarded his ship at sea in search of Jewish refugees en route to the United States.

It was in a small Manhattan apartment, where Weishaupt began collecting and making stamps.

His stamp company, Kurt Weishaupt & Co., brought him all over the world, to countries such as Russia where he developed an affinity for the people even as the Cold War created a rift between the East and the West.

"If you ask me for a high point, it has to be Sputnik," he said in the video interview. "And by that I mean convincing the Russian government to turn its space capsule into an official post office."

"Sputnik" was his nickname for the spacecraft which carried both a retired U.S. astronaut and a Russian counterpart together into space where they signed 500 first edition space stamps, which he later sold to collectors.

During an interview on Russian TV, he said, "it is for us to build bridges of friendship with your people to forget what was in the past and to get a relationship where we can trust each other, where we don't need atomic bombs."

Weishaupt, with his friend and fellow Flushing Rotarian Murray Seigel, revived the Gift of Life program by financing open-heart surgeries for ill children abroad - especially from Russia.

"There are a lot of kids whose lives he saved," said Frank Macchio, president of the Gift of Life program. "The ones that he didn't get to yet are the ones who are going to miss him most."

Weishaupt and Seigel were honored by the Reagan family after orchestrating a photo-op with former first lady Nancy Reagan and two Korean children coming to the United States for Gift of Life surgeries.

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) met Weishaupt when the congressman was launching his newspaper, the Queens Tribune. Ackerman said Weishaupt and his international stamp business made it to the front page of his publication.

"Kurt and his effort was our first page one story. I was 29, he was going on 60," Ackerman recalled in his eulogy. "Somehow we became friends."

Weishaupt was most known in the local and international community for his philanthropy, especially with the Gift of Life program.

The Gift of Life program "remained at a grassroots level until Murray and Kurt got full speed behind it. From then on it flourished," Macchio said. "We'll all carry forth his torch and let his legacy live on."

Weishaupt had his generous hand in other organizations, including St. Mary's Children's Hospital, the Salvation Army, the Ronald McDonald House, the American Cancer Society and the Flushing Y and Rotary Club, among others.

"He was not just a member of the Flushing Rotary Club, he was a Rotarian at large internationally," Macchio said.

In his 80th birthday video, Weishaupt said he had a three-pronged approach to success in life.

"There is a wisdom of the ages," Weishaupt said. "First with years of hard work, then by providing security for your loved ones and your children's futures.

"Finally, the most satisfying phase, when showing gratitude for all you have been given," Weishaupt said.

Macchio said Weishaupt's life story is inspirational, through his charitable nature and his strength to survive.

"I will remember him as a brave person who persevered through life-threatening experiences, put that aside and then made the world a better place."

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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