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Queens Chronicle

The man behind the Kodak Christmas tree

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Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2014 10:30 am

On Dec. 21, 1962, Kodak Pavilion field engineer George Kojac scaled the company’s new structure, under construction for the 1964 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows, to plant a Christmas tree atop it.

Physical feats were nothing new to him.

Born in in 1910, Kojac was a top swimmer who broke his first world record as a senior in DeWitt Clinton High School, in swimming the 50-yard backstroke in 29 seconds. As reported by the International Swimming Hall of Fame, he learned to swim in the East River.

And he learned well. Kojac broke every National Scholastic freestyle and backstroke record there was; and then, while a student at Rutgers, won NCAA and National Amateur Athletic Union backstroke and freestyle national championships from 1927 to 1931. He never lost a race when representing Rutgers.

In the 1928 Olympic Games, where he was a teammate of Johnny Weissmuller, Kojac won two gold medals, for the 100-meter backstroke, with a time of 1:08.2, and as a member of the winning 800-meter freestyle relay team. He also came in fourth in the 100-meter freestyle race.

He did not enter the 1932 games, focusing instead on medical school at Columbia University. But he set and held 23 world records.

Kojac also served the nation in World War II and the Korean War, ending up as a colonel in the Air Force. He died at age 86 in Parsippany-Troy Hills, NJ after a lifetime of accomplishments — including the installation of one high Christmas tree.

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