LOWELL — Some toast to the holidays. But for The Salvation Army of Greater Lowell, the season begins with an annual roast.
The subject of this year’s joking and honorary chairman of the Salvation Army Christmas Castle Breakfast — former Lowell police officer Michael Kuenzler — has raised over $5 million for local charities.
“Let’s face it — there are few causes as terrific as The Salvation Army,” said Governor Charlie Baker in a video at the breakfast Thursday morning. “Today is all about Mike and all about his heart and his generosity,” he said.
Over 300 community members packed into the University of Massachusetts Lowell Inn & Conference Center Thursday to honor Kuenzler and support The Salvation Army’s 27th annual fundraiser.
City Councilor Rita Mercier playfully zinged each speaker as the event’s emcee.
Kuenzler, a Lowell High School graduate and current Dracut resident, has given back to the community for decades. In 1996, he was named Division 1 “Coach of the Year” for his work with the Greater Lowell Technical High School wrestling team. As a cop, he founded the Lowell D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Program.
In 1998, Kuenzler launched his own young athletes’ sports product and apparel business called All Sports Promotions. He currently owns another business, Heroes Uniform & Supply Company, as well as Four Oaks Country Club.
From comedy nights to golf tournaments, Kuenzler has hosted numerous fundraisers to support local organizations such as the Greater Lowell Boys & Girls Club, Saints Medical Center and The Salvation Army.
Jack Dolan, a former Lowell police sergeant and Kuenzler business partner, joked that he has never said no to helping with one of Kuenzler’s endeavors, from coaching young wrestlers to working as a sales representative at All Heroes Sports. He jokingly shouted through a red plastic cone printed with the words “Say no to Michael Kuenzler,” on it.
Jokes aside, Dolan later added that he has never regretted working with Kuenzler.
Blake Galvin, a Lowell native who played in the NFL, and former state Senator Steve Panagiotakos also took the podium to roast Kuenzler.
While introducing Galvin, Mercier joked that he named his dog “Six Miles,” just to say that he walks “Six Miles” every day.
Galvin spoke about Kuenzler’s donation of sports equipment to help start a Lowell youth football team. “Mike is a very unique guy. I think this is a great cause. Obviously The Salvation Army does a lot of great things,” Galvin said.
Other local figures, including UMass President Marty Meehan and United States Rep. Lori Trahan, chuckled from the audience. The crowd bellowed with laughter through a stand-up performance by comedian Lenny Clarke.
The Drop Kick Murphy’s even thanked Kuenzler while playing “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” in a video.
“It’s humbling,” Kuenzler said. “Today really was a day that I have reflected on my family,” and the work they have done to help the community, he said.
In addition to honoring Kuenzler, Salvation Army Corps Commanding Officers Timothy and Nicole Ross thanked community members in the audience. Last year, over 1,560 children were given toys and clothing.
“It really is the community that makes it all happen,” Nicole Ross said.
Trahan said she has attended the breakfast for the last 20 years. “This event has long been one that not only kicks off the season, but it gets everyone thinking about giving,” she said.