“He turned my life around.”
“Strez was special.”
“He made me want to be a teacher.”
“A good and fair man.”
“One of the all time greats.”
Troy alumni and educators alike flocked to the Troy Area School District’s Facebook page earlier this month to mourn and memorialize together after the district announced the death of former Trojan teacher, principal and coach Raymond Mark Strzelecki.
Strzelecki passed away on Feb. 3 but was marked a local legend long before his death.
While he was not a resident of Troy, the authentic care Strzelecki showed for both his students and colleagues over his 30-year career as a social studies teacher, assistant principal and eventual principal of Troy High School cemented him in the minds of fellow Trojans as someone worthy of such grandiose statements in the wake of his death.
Along with descriptions that chronicled him as being accepting, trustworthy, understanding, compassionate, firm, calm and steady, those with fond memories of Strzelecki shared lessons he taught them like “expect the best and deal with the rest” and “take the high road.”
Many noted that one of the most notable, and beloved, qualities Strzelecki exhibited was the mutual respect he held for those around him, no matter their age.
“His impact as an educator had such an effect on all who knew him because he calmly and almost reverently commanded respect. In his own quiet way, he convinced kids to work as hard as he did. He didn’t do this by talking, he did this by showing,” stated Jolene Smyth, a retired Troy Jr./Sr. High School guidance counselor who worked with Strzelecki for fifteen years.
Smyth quoted Theodore Roosevelt, relaying that Strzelecki embodied Roosevelt’s words that read “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
“This is what students and adults saw in Mr. Strzelecki. He was a born leader and role model. Kids were naturally drawn to him and did not want to disappoint him. He was a person of excellence, fairness, and consistency, and the students saw this every day,” Smyth continued.
Smyth explained that while she would often hear students complain about staff, she never heard any negative feedback from students when it came to Strzelecki.
“Strez was the real deal and the students knew it. Many saw him as a father figure and grew to love him as such,” she said. The same effect he had on his students/athletes carried to how he related to his staff when he was Principal. The excellence and hard work we saw in him was just something we wanted to emulate.”
Smyth stated that the respect Strzelecki showed for others was carried not only in his words but also in his actions and demeanor.
“Strez never embarrassed or belittled anyone. If he was unhappy with you, he respected you enough to talk to you privately. Although a man of few words, he communicated volumes with just one look, sigh, or shift of his stance,” said Smyth. “Strez also had a great sense of humor. Because he was a man of few words, this didn’t show itself very often, but those of us who knew him well saw this side of him on a regular basis and loved him for it. I will always remember Mr. Strzelecki fondly and with great admiration. I am blessed to have worked with him so closely for fifteen years and thank God for the honor and privilege.”
Smyth also recalled more than one occasion where Strzelecki used his positive repertoire with students to help her address disciplinary situations with them, something Strzelecki was known for among other staff members as well, including by former Troy administrator Sue Shipman.
Shipman had the honor of knowing Strzelecki both as his student and his colleague as she met him while a student in his classroom but later worked with him professionally when she substitute taught at Troy and as she became an administrator in the district.
“From a student point of view he was an amazing teacher. He made the study of history and world cultures interesting; not necessarily an easy task when dealing with teenagers. He could discuss all of it as easily as if it were a simple conversation. It was also evident that he cared about us as individuals; we were way more than kids in a certain seat in a certain row,” she stated.
Shipman remembered that when she began her role as a substitute teacher, brand new to the profession and only a handful of years older than her students, Strzelecki was the first teacher to offer help and support and to accept her as now his peer.
Later in her career, while she was a Principal at W.R. Croman, Strzelecki taught Shipman a lesson she carries with her to this day.
“Always take the high road, Shipman,” she quoted Strzelecki telling her.
“This is a quote from Strez that I rely on all the time. He was a man who lived by this quote; he didn’t just pontificate and tell people to do this, he lived it,” Shipman told. “When I first became an administrator he was the person I called to work through new situations; he’d help me come to conclusions and most often leave me with the ‘always take the high road’ quote. No matter how people treat you, you need to be the better person.”
Shipman echoed Smyth’s sentiments unknowingly, reiterating that it was Strzelecki’s humility and respect for others that garnered a legacy.
“I think Strez’s genuine & humble nature is a huge part of what made him so impactful. There was nothing fake about Strez. It’s hard to describe, but he was just so real with everything he did. He treated everyone as if they were the most important person in the room when talking to him. He didn’t always have a lot to say, but his words were always impactful,” she commented.
“Strez treated students, teachers, parents, and fellow administrators with respect and fairness. He looked at situations as a whole and took all aspects of a situation into account before making a decision. What was the best decision for one situation/person, may not be the best decision for the next person/situation. He never belittled anyone in his dealings,” Shipman continued. “Strez was a rock. Firm, consistent, calm, collected and steady as an administrator. No matter whether you knew him as that 15 year old student, as a parent, or as a teacher — you knew you could count on him to calmly and steadily lead you through a situation.”
Shirley Grantier, a former Troy teacher, who knew Strzelecki as one of her husband (former Troy coach and administrator) Robert Grantier’s dearest friends also spoke to Strzelecki’s hard work, care and respect for those around him.
“Strez had the ability to run a tight ship, but because he did it with respect for everyone, students, players and teachers alike followed his lead. He was humble and unassuming. He was a true leader … I think more than anything, he was always fair and respectful, and he had a calming demeanor,” Grantier said. “Strez was a giant of a man, a gentle giant that is. He will long be remembered by the students he taught and the players he coached, as well as by his staff. He was loved and respected.”