Born: August 7, 1912
Died: July 30, 2002
Stephen John Lysak·was born August 7, 1912 in Newark. Steve’s mother died during the 1918 flu pandemic. His father sent his two sisters to live with relatives and placed Steve and his brother John in an orphanage. Later, they were sent to the Graham School in Hastings-on-Hudson. Steve and John developed a love of canoeing as a boy at the school’s Boy Scout summer camp and built their first canoe. Out of tarpaper and barrel staves, in the summer of 1927.
By then the Lysak borthers were expert canoeists, having paddled to the headwaters of the Hudson River and down to New York Bay. At the age of 19, Steve joined the Yonkers Canoe Club and quickly became the organization’s top competitor. During the 1930s and early 40s, the club won nine national titles. In 1936, John and his canoeing partner, James O’Rourke, made the U.S. Olympic team and competed in Berlin. They finished 7th in the folding kayak doubles. After returning to the U.S. John attended Springfield College in Massachusetts. He and Steve won a national title in 1939 as part of a four-man team.
Steve attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he applied his love of precision and artistic talents to become a cartographer. He went to work for British Petroleum (BP) in the company’s New York City office and served in the Marines as a staff sergeant during World War II. He continued to work for BP for more than 20 years after the war.
All the while, Steve was designing and racing various types of canoes. After the war, he partnered with Steve Macknowski, a champion wrestler and skilled canoeist who was 10 years his junior. They had known each other for more than a decade as fellow members of the Yonkers Canoe Club. The two entered the 1948 Olympics in London in a boat Steve built and won gold in the 10,000 meters pairs canoe, and the next day silver in the 1,000 pairs—coming in second by just four inches.
Upon their return to the U.S., the Steves won the national championship in the two-man singled, and teamed with two more Yonkers teammates to win the four-man event, too. In his 40s, Steve became interested in canoe sailing. He went on to win six national titles in that category. In his 50s, he designed and raced all types of marine canoes.
Steve passed away at age 89.