Designing Dreams: Nurko Kucevic’s Remarkable Journey from War-Torn Homeland to Packaging Innovation in the U.S.

January 18, 2024
April Phillips


Meet Nurko Kucevic. He’s a structural designer at IP’s Utica, New York box plant who creates custom packaging designs for our customers’ unique needs, but this is only one part of his story. Let’s start by taking a journey overseas to a small village in the former country Yugoslavia.

Nurko was one of seven siblings growing up on a dairy farm raising cows and sheep. They spent their childhood completing necessary chores around their 40 acres of farmland. Like many in this small village, they were poor farmers – happy just to have a meal every day. After the local government sponsored a trade education program for poor, rural children, Nurko was fortunate to be among those children to earn an education. In 1989, he attended the state university and earned an associate degree in civil engineering.

Chaos results in a new path

Unfortunately, just two years later, his dream was cut short by the fall of Yugoslavia. Nurko describes this experience as “chaos.” In just three days, the entire system fell, resulting in a war that would last over 5 years. In 1992, there was a draft of young men to fight in the war. Nurko says, “Of course, war was the last thing I wanted to do, so I ditched the gun and uniform and escaped to Germany.”

After escaping to Germany, Nurko had nothing. He slept outside and worked small jobs until he found a steady job in construction.

Nurko was eventually promoted to a supervisor managing a team of over 50 people. His hard work enabled him to save up money to move his brothers to Germany and to find a safe place for the rest of his family.

In 1993, Nurko met his beautiful wife, Ismeta, who he calls his “power station.” They married in 1996 and two years later welcomed their son, Ismail.

Calling the U.S. home

As the war in Bosnia had ended, his refugee status expired. Nurko and his family needed to find a new place to live. He researched alternative countries accepting immigrants, and the United States quickly became the best option.

In May 1999, Nurko, Ismeta and Ismail landed in New York.  Five hours later, the family arrived in Utica, the city they would call home for the next 24 years. Nurko began taking courses to learn English and by September was able to become a translator at the local hospitals and court houses.

Building a career rooted in safety and customer solutions

Seven months after arriving in the U.S., Nurko joined Chesapeake Packaging Company, which was later acquired by International Paper. Over the next 20 years, Nurko would hold a variety of positions in production, customer service and planning, until 2019 when he became a structural designer.

“It makes me proud going to the production line and watching our teams make something I designed.” – Nurko Kucevic

As a structural designer, Nurko knows how important the packaging design is to deliver the best structures for our customers’ products. “It feels good starting from scratch and making an actual product that serves the customer,” said Nurko. “It makes me proud going to the production line and watching our teams make something I designed.”

In his free time, Nurko enjoys spending time outdoors through hunting, fishing and gardening. He volunteers with the American Youth Soccer Association where he introduces children to the game of soccer and helps maintain the playing fields.

Nurko has enjoyed his 24 years with IP and values our commitment to safety and ethics most. “The people I work for take great pride in providing a safe environment,” said Nurko. “The company treats people with respect and dignity, and I’ve had the opportunity to develop.” For those considering a career at IP, Nurko says, “Just go for it. IP is a strong company that offers a safe and friendly environment with competitive pay, great benefits and opportunities.”

Behind all the products we make are talented team members, like Nurko, with incredible stories and a drive to deliver value to our customers, at every moment and in every experience.