Stagg teacher remembered for dedication, ‘zest for life’
By Nick Swedberg Correspondent April 10, 2014 3:42PM
Mary Ogarek | Photo courtesy of Stagg High School
Updated: May 12, 2014 6:32AM
There are those who teach, and those who inspire.
Mary Ogarek did both, in spades.
The popular English teacher at Stagg High School in Palos Hills is being remembered as an inspiration to students and as a model for her fellow educators. Ogarek died Wednesday after an illness. She was 33.
Ogarek, who first came to Stagg as a student-teacher before being hired full time in 2004, taught several English courses and was one of the school’s junior advanced placement teachers.
“Her impact was felt in the school far beyond just the walls of her classroom,” Principal Eric Olsen said.
Ogarek was engaged to the school’s choir director, Chris Betz. He and the rest of her family released a written statement Thursday afternoon.
“Mary Eileen had a fabulous zest for life, travel, fashion, literature and inspiring young minds,” it said. “She was quick-witted, kind, gentle and loving. Her life and the strength and grace shown during her illness serves as an inspiration to all.”
Ogarek’s relationships with students continued after graduation, Olsen said. Her dedication showed in that she ran after-school study sessions and served as Scholastic Bowl coach, play director, coordinator of the social action club, junior class sponsor and prom coordinator.
“She was a teacher that could spark an interest and love of reading in all students,” Olsen said. “Being a teacher isn’t what she did; it’s what she was.”
Ogarek taught American literature and particularly enjoyed teaching students “The Great Gatsby,” English department chairwoman Sandra Mech said.
Ogarek’s teaching went well beyond American novels.
“Mary always encouraged students to find out who they were about themselves, to learn about themselves,” Mech said.
Lou McKissic co-taught American culture with Ogarek for seven years. He regularly saw her arrive at school early in the morning and be the last teacher to leave at night. She also brought a great enthusiasm to the course they taught together and should be seen as a model for young teachers, he said.
“She probably was the most innovative individual I’ve ever met, and I’ve been teaching for 35 years,” McKissic said.
Counselors and social workers are being made available to Stagg students, according to a post on the school’s website.
Visitation is from 3 to 9 p.m. Friday at Damar-Kaminski Funeral Home, 7861 S. 88th Ave., Justice. A funeral service will be held at 9:15 a.m. Saturday at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 7240 W. 57th St., Summit.