October 21, 2021

‘He was just a super guy’

Cortland firefighter Stephen Zelsnack Jr. laid to rest Saturday

Photos by Joe McIntyre

Firefighters including full-time Cortland firefighter William Fox salute during Saturday’s funeral procession honoring Cortland firefighter and Marathon native Stephen Zelsnack Jr.

As the Marathon and Cortland fire trucks passed under the U.S. flag Saturday, firefighters stood in their dress blues, a black ribbon wrapped around their badges, saluting their friend, Stephen Zelsnack Jr.

The procession was part of the three-hour funeral service at St. Stephen’s Rectory in Marathon. During the services, the priest said Zelsnack was a great father to Justin Zelsnack and Stephanie Kulina, and was his wife Lisa’s whole world.

Zelsnack, 48, died Dec. 22 at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse as a result of injuries he received in an off-duty car crash Nov. 30. Police said Zelsnack was eastbound on Sayles Corners Road in Sempronious when he failed to stop at a stop sign at Route 41A and was struck by a northbound tractor-trailer.

Zelsnack, a Marathon native, was also a fourth-generation farmer.

Firefighters raise the U.S. flag prior to the funeral of fellow firefighter Stephen Zelsnack Jr. on Saturday at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Marathon.

“He loved the farm,” said his cousin, Gary Slade.

In September, Zelsnack and his brother Jim bought the 228-acre farm their father had owned since 1969. It has 40 sheep, 13 pigs and more than 100 beef cows.

Albert “Sandy” Doty Jr., the Willet town supervisor who runs Doty Farms, said Zelsnack would come down to buy pig and beef feed from him.

“He was just a super guy,” Doty said. “He had a lot of plans for the future. He had been building up his beef herd.”

Cortland, Marathon and other fire department have been taking up farm duties to help the family, said Cortland Firefighter Derek Reynolds.

Zelsnack was a paid firefighter in Cortland since 2001. He was also a volunteer firefighter in Marathon.

Firefighters and community members pay their respects to Cortland firefighter Marathon
and native Stephen Zelsnack Jr. during his funeral procession Saturday in Marathon.

“He was just a good man, what can I say,” Marathon Deputy Chief Larri Leet said. “It’s a total shame.”

The two departments had services before the calling hours, where they read the fireman’s prayer and rang a bell signifying Zelsnack’s return to quarters.

“It’s geared toward emergency services so that we could have time with Stephen and the family,” Cortland Deputy Chief Wayne Friedman said.

The department has been working to come up with way to help the family, including raising money to help pay for medical costs.

Ways to help

Pancake breakfast benefit
TIME: 7 a.m. to noon, Jan. 13
WHERE: Marathon Fire Department, 2 Peck St., Marathon

Buy a shirt or donate
All the proceeds help the family, the farm and cover medical costs

“It’s truly about the family, not us,” Friedman said.

According to Zelsnack’s wishes and that of his family his organs were donated.

“Even after death he still keeps giving,” Friedman said. “Somebody’s getting a hell of heart.”