Teacher leaves her mark on children

Longtime Port educator Suzette Pelczynski died in July, but her gift of more than 1,000 bookmarks is intended to continue inspiring young readers
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Hundreds of colorful bookmarks, all in the shape of animals — sheep, horses, cows, flamingos, cardinals, snakes, ducks, giraffes, turkeys, penguins and many more — are the legacy left by longtime Lincoln Elementary School teacher Suzette Pelczynski.

The bookmarks are handmade, many with multiple parts, done in needlepoint on plastic canvas. They aren’t flat but dimensional, and each one features a heart and googly eyes, perfect for youngsters.

Pelczynski, who lived in Port Washington, originally made bookmarks for her students, but even after retiring in 2002 she kept making them, her sister Nan Riley said.

“This is what she did all day, this and puzzles,” Riley said.

After Pelczynski died on July 19, Riley and her husband Jim found 12 large boxes of bookmarks in her house.

Some of the boxes were addressed to schools in the area, but many were not so Riley donated them to the Niederkorn Library in Port.

“I couldn’t see anywhere else to go with them,” she said. “The schools are closed right now.”

As Riley looked through the bookmarks last week, she found patterns and color combinations she hadn’t seen before.

“I’ve never seen the horse before. I didn’t know she made it,” she said. “The turkey — I’ve never seen it.”

There was only one bookmark that wasn’t an animal. It was a robot, and Riley added that to her collection.

“She must not have liked that one much,” she said.

Jamie Mercer, youth services director at the library, said there are more than 1,000 bookmarks.

The library is giving them out for its reading challenge, as prizes for games during the Friends of the Library’s beer garden and “whatever we can do to get them in the hands of kids,” Mercer said.

The library also sent bookmarks to a number of other libraries in the Monarch Library System.

The bookmarks, Mercer said, are detailed with bright colors that appeal to children. And because they’re dimensional, they may be used less for bookmarks than for play.

“They’re really cute,” she said. “She obviously spent a lot of time on them.”

  The bookmarks, Riley said, reflect her sister’s love of children.

“Children were her life,” she said. “She just had a deep love for children.”

It wasn’t always that way. Pelczynski, the fourth of 15 children, grew up on a farm near Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.

She studied to be a nun after graduating from high school, her sister said, but “the convent was too quiet.”

So Pelczynski studied at Cardinal Stritch College and became a teacher. She found a home at Lincoln Elementary School in Port, where she taught third grade for 30 years.

Pelczynski embraced teaching and school life, Riley said, noting she was the one who suggested the nickname Lincoln Lions for the school.

Somewhere along the line, she said, Pelczynski began making bookmarks for her students as part of the Cat in the Hat Club reading program.

“She would make them all summer long,” Riley said, taking money out of her own pocket to buy supplies.
Pelczynski started making the bookmarks using patterns she found, then began making her own patterns — something made easier by the fact she loved math, which helped her chart out the patterns.

She made patterns for more than 20 animals, some of which her sister hadn’t seen.

Pelczynski was a crafter, she added, noting she and her sister had a crafting business for years. But Pelczynski especially enjoyed needlecrafting, and used those skills for the bookmarks.

She had a system for making them, Riley added. She would spend a couple days cutting out the plastic canvas for the feet of one animal, then move onto other parts. Once she had everything cut out, she put all the parts for each animal in a bag, then stitched them and assembled the pieces into a completed bookmark. She would then glue a piece of interfacing to the back to protect the stitches.

Each bookmark has a heart incorporated into the design.

“That was her signature,” Riley said. “That was her way of telling the children that she loved children and she loved educating them.”

Pelczynski gave the bookmarks to students in school, and in retirement would send them to public and private schools throughout Ozaukee and Washington counties, her sister said.

“The kids loved them,” Riley said, showing a large binder filled with thank you notes Pelczynski received for the bookmarks through the years.

Donating the bookmarks to the library was an easy decision, Riley said.

“This is her legacy,” she said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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