By Cortez Fields
He’s flown the fastest single-engine fighter jet in the world. He’s walked across the London Bridge before it was relocated to Arizona. He’s worked in newspapers across the western United States, winning multiple press awards and making a name for himself and putting the papers on the national stage. He’s been everything from the Lake Havasu City public information officer, to the Community Service Director and Development Director.
Stan Usinowicz has been the best man flying behind the scenes in Lake Havasu City for years, and Riverscene magazine sat down with him to hear more about this extraordinary Havasu resident’s life.
A Jersey Boy
Stan Usinowicz was born in New Jersey and grew up in the small town of Pompton Lakes, which he says was named after the long-extinct Native American tribe that once resided there. As a boy, Usinowicz remembers seeing the skyscrapers of New York City from his parent’s roof. He eventually went to Georgetown University, where he earned a degree in Foreign Service.
“I wanted to be a diplomat,” Usinowicz said.
However, fate would have him take a different path.
The Fighter Pilot
During the beginning of the Vietnam War, the college graduate enlisted in the U. S. Air Force, becoming as an officer and eventually, he became a fighter pilot.
Usinowicz flew over 100 missions as a F-4c Phantom pilot in North Vietnam, 38 missions in South Vietnam and Laos, and then became a flight instructor after his tours of duty. He flew the F106-Delta Dart, the fastest single-engine fighter jet in the world. When reflecting back on his time in the service, Usinowicz said he enjoyed it.
“It was fun being a pilot.”
In addition to being a fighter pilot, the officer also wrote for the Air Force papers and magazines. He liked to write and see his name in the papers, which fueled his passion for journalism even more.
When Usinowicz left the Air Force, he decided to travel around Europe from 1971 to 1972. Eventually his travels led him to London, where he walked across London Bridge before it came to Havasu.
“I heard they were moving it to Arizona and all I could think of was the bridge sitting somewhere in the middle of the desert next to some cactus,” Usinowicz laughed. “I had no idea it would be like this.” At the time, he had no idea that his passion for journalism would lead him right back to the bridge.
The Burgeoning Journalist
Usinowicz eventually returned to the writing business in the United States after living in Scotland for a brief time. In 1973, Usinowicz began working for the Ignacio Chieftain in Durango, Colo., in what would become one of the first of many journalism jobs in the state. After the owner of the Chieftain announced his plan to sell the paper, Usinowicz moved on to the Durango Herald as a sports editor.
“I loved sports and I always knew a lot about sports, so they took me on.”
However, his leadership as a sports editor impressed his bosses and he was quickly promoted to the managing editor of the paper just six months later. The paper sent him to the American Press Institute in Virginia.
Their investment paid off. Under his guidance, the newspaper developed an award-winning newsroom for its 7,000 daily circulation. When recounting his management leadership, Usinowicz talked about his approach to managing such an acclaimed staff.
“I learned that if you can’t do something, find the right people to do it and get out of their way. It wasn’t really me who won those awards, it was the team I had in there. There were a heck of a newsroom.”
Usinowicz led the Durango Herald to receive the first awards for any Colorado newspaper. He stayed their as the managing editor for five years before moving to the Southwest.
He became the editor and general manager of White Mountain Publishing Co., which presided over the newspaper group that covered semi weekly newspapers across the Navajo and Apache counties. The combined circulation of these papers was over 11,500, and Usinowicz brought them to be first-place award-winning papers.
A Refined Journalist in Havasu
“I remember attending a newspaper conference in Lake Havasu City in 1982,” Usinowicz told Riverscene.
“It was the first time I walked across the bridge since I had seen it in Europe.”
The seasoned editor was impressed with Lake Havasu City at the conference, and he never forgot the city after he left.
“I knew this would be an incredible town.”
A few years later, he interviewed to become the publisher of the Lake Havasu City News Herald in 1985, and gained the position. Usinowicz supervised the papers operations for the entire paper until he resigned a few short years later. However, the newsman was eager to stay in Havasu, so he joined the forerunner of Today’s Daily News in Havasu as an editor.
As the editor, Usinowicz helped to elevate the paper to greater heights, bringing it from a weekly paper to the first daily paper in the city. Today’s Daily News was voted the best newspaper in Arizona for its division, and its circulation grew from 4,300 to 8,400. Despite these successes, Usinowicz still credits his news team as the reason the paper was so successful.
Interviewing the Man Behind The London Bridge
“I had a heck of a team out there,” the former newsman said. However, Usinowicz still earned a reputation for being a writer, columnist and editor outside of his already impressive management experience. One of his greatest achievements was interviewing C.V. Wood, the man responsible for designing Disneyland and Lake Havasu City’s developments. Wood worked closely with McCulloch to create Lake Havasu City, and eventually buy the London Bridge.
“C.V. actually bought the bridge because he really needed a bridge for the channel he created from the Colorado River. The bridge just worked.”
Following a merger between the News Herald and the Daily News, Usinowicz served as the managing editor of the Today’s News Herald until 1999, when he resigned. Usinowicz planned on continuing his work in the news media as a freelance, and he started his own company – Stan Usinowicz Communications.
Usinowicz was a freelance photographer and writer under Usinowicz Communications for publications in Lake Havasu including The White Sheet for over 15 years.
A Civil Servant
Usinowicz was content to spend his days as a freelancer living in Lake Havasu City. Having devoted the majority of his life to writing and editing, Usinowicz was working as a professional photographer and freelance writer in Havasu in 1999 when he was approached to become the communications officer.
Initially Usinowicz was reluctant to do so.
“I thought I was done after the newspaper business, I was trying to do freelance work.”
The former veteran eventually accepted the position, and soon found himself becoming an integral part of the Lake Havasu City government. After only a year as the Public Communications Officer, he was promoted to the Community Development Director. Again, Usinowicz’s reputation as a gifted manager brought the city great success. The city promoted him once more to the Community Services Director, a position he served in from 2005 to 2010.
Communication Services Director and On
As the Community Services Director, the veteran Havasuvian oversaw the airport, was a member of the Partnership of Economic Development board of directors, and was a member of Convention and Visitors Bureau board. He also took on special assignments from the city manager. He retired from the city position in 2010, but still maintained an active role in the Havasu community.
One Usinowicz’s most prominent community roles was working with the Lake Havasu Area Chamber of Commerce. He wrote articles for them and did the Chamber’s photography. He is especially fond of the president and CEO of the Chamber, Lisa Krueger, whom he’s known for more than 30 years.
“I hired Lisa in 1988 and I saw her potential then.”
Usinowicz believes the Chamber is on fire, and is impressed with Lisa’s leadership. He loves the Chamber’s tight-knight and supportive culture.
“A prime example of her leadership is the Up with Women Conference. She networks well, nurtures people, and is responsive to the changing business environment,” he said. “The leadership team she assembles is first class.”
The Legend Retires
After years of flying behind the scenes, the veteran Air Force fighter pilot, civil servant and journalist is finally retiring in Lake Havasu City. Usinowicz plans on celebrating his good fortune in the Havasu community. He’s always loved Havasu, and he admires the community he’s been apart of for more than 30 years. His legacy is still celebrated by those he worked with.
Lisa Krueger, the president and CEO of the Lake Havasu area Chamber of Commerce had this to say about her mentor.
“Stan is one of the first people I met when I moved to Northwestern Arizona nearly 32 years ago. He was my boss at the Parker Pioneer newspaper where I was privileged to work with him for more than eight years.When he retired several years back, I jumped at the chance to bring him on board with the Chamber to write and take photos for our newsletter, etc. Over the years, my admiration for Stan has grown exponentially. I consider him as one of my longest and dearest friends. He’s got an amazing personality and he always makes me laugh” she said.
Usinowicz also has his family, which includes his son and daughter and six grandkids and four great grandkids. Usinowicz believes Lake Havasu City is a great community, and plans to stay here in his retirement.
“Havasu is not a community where we turn on each other: it’s a community where we turn toward each other,” Usinowicz said. “That is my favorite thing about this community.”