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Vickroy: Family, friends and Sandburg High School community remember Barbara Bugal

Updated: December 13, 2013 6:26AM



With some 30 years of teaching under her belt, Barbara Bugal could have retired years ago, but her colleagues say she wouldn’t even consider it.

“There was nothing she liked more than to be with her kids in the classroom,” said Mark Fertel, math department chair at Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park. “She was one of those people who really loved her kids.”

Right up to the end of her life, when the upper-level math teacher was coming in and out of consciousness, her daughter, Amanda Konstantopoulos, said, “She kept talking about her students and how she needed to go back to school.”

Bugal, 63, succumbed to breast cancer on Oct. 18. In addition to Konstantopoulos and her husband, Ron, Bugal leaves behind a son, Christian, daughter-in-law Tracy, and three grandchildren, one of whom was born two weeks after she passed.

Her passing is mourned by her sister and extended family members, as well as countless friends and colleagues. More than 300 people attended services for Bugal, of Palos Hills, who was waked at Curley Funeral Home in Chicago Ridge and is now interred at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Worth.

First diagnosed in August 2008, Bugal successfully battled her way to remission, only to learn in November 2012 that the disease had returned and spread to her bones and liver.

Bugal taught math, the challenging courses — Advanced Placement Statistics and Pre-Calculus — at Sandburg for 22 years. Before that she taught home economics in Rolling Meadows and Mount Prospect.

At Sandburg, Fertel said, she worked tirelessly updating lesson plans and staying abreast of industry news and trends. “I have never known anyone who went on more professional development workshops than Barbara,” he said. “She was constantly updating herself and sharing the information with colleagues.”

In the classroom, Bugal was “very maternal, always mothering her students,” Fertel said. “She just wanted them to experience the same joy she had for math.”

Cheryl Healey, Bugal’s colleague and long-time friend, recalled how Bugal would spend countless hours after school, on weekends and during summer and winter breaks preparing challenging lessons for her classes.

“She was passionate in everything she did,” Healey said. “Many of her past students have expressed their deepest sorrow in losing what they say was one of the best teachers they ever had.”

Former student Erick Bennett said, “Mrs. Bugal was an outstanding educator who always went the extra mile for her students. When teaching or coaching an extracurricular, Mrs. Bugal made the experience both fun and educational. She made a difference in the lives of the thousands of students she taught and will be greatly missed.”

Bugal also coached Scholastic Bowl. Healey said laughter and intellectual conversation could be heard emanating from the classroom where the students practiced during the evening. Afterward, Bugal always made sure the teens were rewarded with a fun time socializing at a restaurant of their choice, Healey said.

Julia Wheaton, principal of Sandburg, said, “Bugal’s enthusiasm for life and absolute passion for math and her students is inspiring to all who have had the privilege of knowing and working with her.”

Konstantopoulos remembered her mom as someone who enjoyed the finer things in life, from gourmet cooking to fine wines.

She was an avid reader who loved nonfiction accounts of influential people, including Abraham Lincoln and Queen Elizabeth, her daughter said.

“I think she was the first person to see the movie, ‘Lincoln.’” Konstantopoulos said.

She said her mom first earned a degree in home economics, which she taught at schools in Rolling Meadows and Mount Prospect before her children were born. After Christian and Amanda were enrolled in school, their mom went on to earn a master’s degree in math.

“My grandfather was a real math mind,” Konstantopoulos said. “He took math courses for fun. I think she studied math so the two of them could connect. I know she inherited his brain.”

Mostly, though, Konstantopoulos said, Bugal was a doting grandmother to Konstantopoulos’s children, Tyler and Mia.

“She’d walk into my house and my son would say, ‘Grandma, what’d you bring for me?’ because she always had something for him,” Konstantopoulos said.

“She loved her grandchildren so much and she worried they would not remember her,” Konstantopoulos said. “She just knew she wasn’t going to live to see my brother’s baby be born.”

Christian and Tracy’s daughter, Grace Barbara, was born Nov. 2.

Before she passed, Bugal recorded her voice reading various children’s books, including “Guess How Much I Love You?” by Sam McBratney.

Bugal, who was divorced, first learned she had early stage breast cancer in August 2008.

Because it was deemed aggressive, she underwent chemotherapy in addition to radiation and hormone therapy.

“She taught through the entire experience, missing only the first week of school that year,” Konstantopoulos said. But it wasn’t easy.

“She wore her wig to school, even though it itched so badly, because she didn’t want to the kids to be distracted,” Konstantopoulos said.

Sometimes, she’d be so sick, her daughter said, that “she’d run to the bathroom between classes to puke.”

After the long round of treatment ended and Bugal was deemed to be cancer free, she and Konstantopoulos celebrated with a trip to Mexico.

Then, last November, while Bugal was babysitting her grandchildren, she picked up Mia and felt a surge of pain in her back. At first she thought she’d suffered a slipped disk, Konstantopoulos said.

But within weeks she would learn the cancer had returned.



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