Late UB Stampede supervisor remembered

Family and coworkers mourn a man who 'went the extra mile'


For the past decade, Stampede drivers have always had at least one thing to look forward to when coming into work on weekend mornings: a box of doughnuts from Victor ‘Vic’ Zoizack.

Zoizack, the UB stampede weekend supervisor for First Transit, was known for always having a box of Donut Kraze doughnuts to share with coworkers when he came into First Transit headquarters on Millersport Highway.

“He was a favorite of all the drivers, and not just for his habit of arriving at work with a box of doughnuts: He never forgot what it was like to be behind the wheel,” said Stampede driver Alan Gryfe in an email.

Zoizack died of a heart attack on Nov. 19, 2014 at the age of 74 during the snowstorm this past November. At least 13 deaths were reported during the massive snowstorm that paralyzed parts of Western New York for nearly a week.

Zoizack dispatched and monitored the buses, “getting the buses out on the road regardless of conditions,” according to Gryfe. He joined First Transit in 2005 and semiretired a few years ago, as he had only worked the weekends since 2012. Colleagues and family remember him as a hard worker who went beyond what was asked of him and whose presence has been missed.

“He was always concerned with customer safety,” said First Transit General Manager Jeffrey Hamill. “He was an all around great guy.”

Gryfe said Zoizack was a “hands-on guy,” and “always willing to pitch in wherever he was needed.” Zoizack would drive the Stampede buses himself some weekend nights, according to his daughter Lisa.

Zoizack, a Buffalo native, drove semitrailers and trollies in the years before he joined First Transit. Zoizack’s grandson, Justin Zoizack, has fond childhood memories of his grandfather bringing him onto his trolley and showing him how it worked.

Justin, a Buffalo State College student, remembers his grandfather, or “Papa,” as a hard worker. Hamill says he can’t remember Zoizack missing a day of work in the past four years. Justin said his grandfather would sometimes work 12-hour shifts. Rather than complaining when he came home, Zoizack would talk about the buses and his coworkers.

Despite his age and the amount of snow falling, Zoizack was adamant to Justin that they shovel when the November storm first started to hit their South Buffalo street on Nov. 18.

“He said, ‘We going to do this snow.’ I said, ‘Papa, it’s not going to stop anytime soon,’” Justin said.

Zoizack collapsed in his bedroom that night.

Justin had to pick him up off the floor and put him back onto the bed, but Zoizack brushed it off and said he was fine.

Zoizack’s daughter and Justin’s mother, Lisa, wasn’t as sure and called 911.

Zoizack was his normal, joking self, even while breathing from the oxygen tank first responders brought. He joked about the storm with three firefighters who responded and referenced former Buffalo mayor Jimmy Griffin’s comments that residents should “stay inside, grab a six-pack and watch a good football game,” during a blizzard in 1985.

Zoizack told the firefighters he didn’t want to go with them and that he would be fine. But when Justin’s mother yelled from the porch the next day while Justin was shoveling snow, Justin knew it wasn’t good.

His grandfather had collapsed again.

Justin ran to get the nurse who lived next door and the firefighter who lived down the street. The ambulance waited at the corner while the street was plowed.

The ambulance could only take one family member so Justin stayed behind.

“My grandpa was a fighter so I thought, ‘He’s going to get through this. He’ll be OK,’” Justin said.

Despite the walking ban, Justin headed on foot through the snow to nearby Mercy Hospital where his grandfather was taken. But his Papa died by the time he arrived.

Justin was devastated by his grandfather’s death. He didn’t have a father figure growing up, so Zoizack served as both his grandfather and father.

Even Justin’s friends saw Zoizack as a father figure, calling him Papa as well.

Zoizack was also a jokester, according to Justin. Zoizack would often come down into the basement where Justin was hanging out with his friends and crack a joke about them. He was also an avid Yankees fan who could tell you statistics about Hall of Fame players from years before.

At the funeral, Justin and Lisa’s grief was eased by Zoizack’s coworkers. Workers from First Transit arrived at the services in a bus and in full uniform, and told Justin and his mother that Zoizack was a great boss.

“He touched other people outside the family,” Justin said. “He left a mark on them.”

Even the small things Zoizack did left a mark on Justin, as he now has a ritual before leaving for school.

Zoizack would always ask his grandson, “You got everything?” before Justin would leave the house.

“I would think, ‘Wait, I’m actually forgetting something,” Justin said.

Now, he always double-checks his backpack, like his grandfather reminded him to do.

At one of the first supervisor meetings after Zoizack’s death, Hamill brought in a box of doughnuts – a sweet reminder of the man who always willing to do more than required.