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Leaving ‘very big shoes to fill’ PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 12 July 2017 18:35

Port High’s organizer extraordinaire Janet Trzecinski, whose secretary title belied the role she played at her alma mater, retires after 20 years at the school

    There has long been a saying at Port Washington High School, “If you want something done, talk to Janet.”
    “There’s a lot of truth to that,” Thad Gabrielse, assistant principal and athletic director, said.
  LADY LG  Janet is Janet Trzecinski, who for most of her 20-year career at Port High was secretary to the principal, a title that belied her role at the school.
    “I used to joke that I’m the principal but Janet runs the school,” said Duane Woelfel, a former principal of the school who is now director of special services for the Port Washington-Saukville School District. “She was such an important part of Port High.”
    On Friday, June 30, Trzecinski, a 1975 graduate of Port High, retired and left a school she knew perhaps better than anyone else.
    “She has left some very big shoes to fill,” Gabrielse said.
    Trzecinski’s success, her colleagues said,  certainly had a lot to do with her intellect and abilities, but it was her understanding of and passion for her native city and its high school that made her a key player at Port High.
    “She was loyal, committed and extremely organized,” Gabrielse said. “I’m not from Port, so when I had a question about Port High or the community, I turned to Janet, and she always had the answer.”
    Add to that list that she was a force to be reckoned with.
    “Janet was direct and honest to the point of pushing people outside their comfort zones, but boy, did she get results,” Gabrielse said.
    For years, Trzecinski was in charge of organizing the school’s graduation ceremony, a dignified affair where beach balls, Silly String and cowbells were forbidden on her watch.
    “She had this uncanny ability to effectively plan just about anything,” Woelfel said.
    But sadly, Trzecinski said, not all the events she organized were joyful.
    “I have organized two funerals during my time here,” she said, referring to visitations for Tyler Buczek, who drowned in 2012 just days before starting his freshman year, and Kerry Kemp, a 2005 Port High graduate and U.S. Marine who died during a training exercise in 2015.
    “You don’t think of that as part of your job, but it’s at those times when the community needs you and you are there for them.”
    After years of being a stay-at-home mom, Trzecinski went to work at Port High in 1997. She was a receptionist for three years before taking over for Bonnie Knaub as secretary to the principal.
    “I told Bonnie before she left that I want to retire before I need more than one hand to count the number of principals I’ve worked with,” she said.
    Having worked with four principals — Bill Henkle, Stephanie Luther, Woelfel and Eric Burke — it seems Trzecinski organized her retirement as well as she did school events.
    “Every principal brought a little something different to the table,” she said. “I helped acclimate them to the building.”
    That was the case for Gabrielse, who remembers well the introduction to the school and the gift he received from Trzecinski during his first day on the job in 2010.
    “To this day, I still wear the Port High Pirates tie Janet gave me for special events,” he said.
    From the beginning, Trzecinski was a natural fit at Port High, where her father Ed Adams worked as a teacher in the 1950s and early 1960s before becoming the school district’s business manager.
    “Having gone to school at Port High, I have a lot of history here,” she said. “And since my father was a teacher here, I knew multiple generations of teachers.”
    Trzecinski was often the public face of the school, dealing with parents and students and seemingly present at every school event, but behind the scenes, she was part of a community of staff members who supported each other in good times and bad. That, Trzecinski said, was essential for her when her late husband Michael was fighting cancer.
    “It was a tough 12 years for me when Michael was sick,” she said. “The people I worked with were here for me. They kept me going.
    “That’s what I’ll miss the most — the relationships I have here.”
    Trzecinski was also there for her colleagues. When custodian DuWayne Demge, a fellow Port High graduate who died in 2014, was diagnosed with cancer, she used her culinary skills to make carrot cakes she sold at farmers markets and other events to raise money for his treatment.
    “Janet used her talents outside of school to pay back and benefit others,” Woelfel said. “Her carrot cake is a great example of that. So is her amazing cheesy broccoli soup that she made during parent-teacher conferences so teachers would have a good meal.”
    For students, Trzecinski was a friendly face and a trusted source of assistance, but hardly a pushover. That was a lesson quickly learned by students who showed up at school events dressed inappropriately only to be sent home by Trzecinski to change.
    Trzecinski said she has watched students’ behavior change over the span of her career.
    “It’s a different world today with kids walking through the halls with their heads down looking at their cell phones,” she said. “They don’t talk to each other as much as they used to.”
    But that’s not to say they were oblivious to the role Trzecinski played at Port High.
    “I was surprised by the number of kids who knew it was my last day and went out of their way to wish me well,” she said. “I was very touched by that.”
    Trzecinski said she’ll miss Port High but is excited to embark on a retirement spent traveling.
    Her colleagues said they are happy for her but know that someone with her talent and commitment to Port High will not be easily replaced.
    “Janet had vacation and sick days, but she just couldn’t find it in her heart to use them,” Gabrielse said. “She’ll definitely be missed.”

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