Alan Sorensen Havre Daily News email@example.com
Havre native Steve Jasinski left a big impression on every school he attended in Havre St. Jude’s Elementary School, Havre Central Junior High, Havre High and Northern Montana College. His accomplishments can still be glimpsed in the trophy case at HHS. But it’s a quickly expanding small town in Arizona that has chosen to show its appreciation of Jasinski in the grandest fashion. Jasinski, who worked at Buckeye Elementary School for 15 years as a teacher, coach, vice principal, principal and administrator, was immortalized Friday in a ceremony dedicating the Steven R. Jasinski Elementary School in Buckeye. The 75,000 square foot school cost $10.5 million to build and is the sixth school in the Buckeye district, according to an article by staff writer Rebecca I. Allen in the West Valley View (Ariz.) Newspaper. Jasinski’s parents, Bill and Carol Jasinski, live in Billings now. They knew the school was being built, but were not notified of Friday’s dedication until Thursday and were unable to attend. “ I figure that it’s an extreme honor to have a building or school named after you,” Bill Jasinski said. “Steve’s wife (Laurel) was there at the dedication. It’s a brand new school.” He said he thought it was appropriate that Steve should make his mark in a town similar in size to Havre. “Considering that Steve comes from a small town to another kind of a small town, it is really an honor,” Bill Jasinski said. “They were grooming him for a superintendent’s job when he passed away.” Jasinski was 45 when he died in his Phoenix home of Lou Gehrig’s disease on Feb. 4, 2002. Montana native Corey Christiaens is principal at Jasinski Elementary School and had worked with Jasinski for about five years. “I’ve been here in Arizona for about 10 years” Christiaens said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “When I first moved here, he worked in the main campus. At that time, we only had one school in the district. Now it has seven. The district had about 600 or 700 students when I got here, no more than 800 students in the school, and now we’re at 5,000 and something; we’re almost at the 6,000 mark.” Christiaens said he hired on as a math teacher but later switched to become a technology instructor and worked directly under Jasinski. “He oversaw the tech department,” Christiaens said. “Before that, he had been the principal.” Jasinski had been a vital part of the Buckeye community, having served as president of the Lions Club and belonging to the Buckeye Rotary Club. He developed a program called PRIDE, that recognized students for good behavior and set up student assistance programs. In 2000, he was named the Citizen of the Year by the Buckeye Chamber of Commerce. After his death, the district named the Junior National Honor Society after him. And, of course, he could be found at most of the afterschool programs for the students. “I think he was just so well-known in the community and had so many friends and so many people knew him the community, and because of his service and commitment to the district.” Christiaens said about naming the building after Jasinski. “It was such a sudden death. “He had a lot of family in the district; it was such a small school,” he added said. “When the old school tore down the old gym and replaced the gym, they thought about naming the gym after him, but it had already been named.” He said area leaders never discarded the idea of naming something after Jasinski and jumped at the idea when the new school was proposed. Last Friday’s dedication drew a broad spectrum of people from throughout the community, including his widow, the former Laurel Leonard of Havre. “It was a surprise to me; they decided to name the school after him” she said, adding that the ceremony was elaborate. “The band played a song and they had an opening prayer, closing prayer, cutting of the ribbon, national anthem, slide show,” she said. “When he got sick, they made a book for him and (the slide show was) the pictures in the book, everybody he worked with.” Christiaens said the dedication drew “quite a turnout.” “I would say we probably had between 200 and 300 people,”Christiaens said. “The mayor came, several council members, the superintendent, the principals in all the schools. “One thing I thought that was really impressive, this school is the first in the district that is cutting-edge technology. Every classroom has ceiling mounted projectors, document cameras and then a speaker sound system with multimedia capabilities. The teachers’ computers, everything is connected to a computer. It’s a very visual, kinesthetic technology for the students. “Because of his lead in the technology area, it’s kind of a legacy that was carried on. I think it will become the standard for all the schools, that each of the schools will be equipped like this. It’s kind of cool that it ties in with the job and service that he had done with the district.” Older brothers Larry and Len live in the Phoenix area and had a lot of contact with Steve over the years. “He was very involved in the program out there,” Larry Jasinski said. “A lot of times he would leave at four in the morning and not get back until after midnight. “At his memorial service, there were a lot of students who said if it wasn’t for Steve I’d be dead now, wouldn’t have finished school, wouldn’t have gone on to college. He was well-liked by his peers, I know that.” Bill Jasinski agreed. “Carol and I have visited with people a couple of times when were down there,” he said, “and yes, with the important people, he made an impression.” A 1974 graduate of Havre High, Jasinski is remembered as an outstanding athlete and student. “He was the state MVP in AA basketball his junior year at the tournament in Missoula,” his classmate Tim Ranes said. “He hurt his knee in football his senior year. He kind of drug his leg around in basketball and he was still real good.” Daryl Anez was a senior when Jasinski was a sophomore and would give Jasinski a ride home after practice. Though not a close friend, he got to know Jasinski even better when Jasinski returned to Havre after the military and went to work at Coca Cola in the early ’80s. “He had scholarships lined up for basketball and hurt his knee and was very bitter that sports chewed you up and I talked with him about it,” Anez said. “He could have played anywhere, he was really good.” He wasn’t surprised that Jasinski should carve out a distinguished career, saying that Steve’s confidence and aggressiveness on the basketball court was a trait he carried in everything he did. Ranes recalls that besides being a basketball star and standout quarterback in football and, Jasinski was an outstanding high jumper, long jumper and triple jumper on the track and field team. Dave Krezelak was a year behind Jasinski in school, but was one of his best friends and also a track and football teammate. “He was fun,” Krezelak said. “He was smart as a whip.” Krezelak, now a captain with the Havre Fire Department, was a bruising fullback for the Ponies and school record holder in the shot put. He has a vivid memory of the play that put an end Jasinski’s athletic scholarship hopes. “He broke a run and he was all the way down the field by himself and a kid from Bozeman caught him from behind,” Krezelak said. “That’s when he tore his knee out.” Jasinski’s younger sisters Julie Myers of Billings and Patti Barton of Havre, eight years and seven years younger, respectively, remember him fondly. “He was just this a really protective older brother, and very involved in sports,” Myers said. “Then he went into the service right after he graduated from high school.” After the military, Jasinski returned to Havre to attend NMC. “He and I went to college together, actually,” Myers said. “We actually had one class together, it was an accounting class. Right after he graduated from Northern, he heard that Arizona had the right to work and they had a huge teacher convention thing that you could just walk on and he went to that and got hired on, started as a first-year teacher.” Jasinski subsequently earned his master’s degree at Arizona State University, she said, and went into administrative work. “They absolutely adored Steve,” she added. “His goal, I know, was to go into superintendent of the school, but he never made it.” Barton said Steve had an impact on all three of her sons. She and her husband named one of their sons, Steven Robert, after her brother, and Jasinski was their son Matthew’s godfather. She sent videos of her son Michael’s Blue Pony basketball games to Steve to critique. Their daughter, Danielle, is now studying education at Northern. “I told my daughter that she should go do her student teaching at Jasinski,” Barton said. Barton said Jasinski sent every member of the family a letter shortly before his death. In that letter, he credited her softball team in Havre with peaking his interest in coaching. “I was playing on a softball team and our coach couldn’t make it.” she said. “And I called Steve and asked if he could do it. In that letter, he told me that after coaching me he had decided to be a coach.” Younger sister Barb Ruff of Plains said she didn’t get to see him often, but exchanged e-mails every day, usually more than once, the last couple of years before he died. “I’m very proud that it got to happen because he always worked so hard to accomplish things and he was always proud of his students and the staff,” said Ruff, who was five years younger than Steve. “Those were some of his proud times, working at Buckeye School was very important to him.” Dan Jasinski, four years Steve’s junior, remembers listening to his older brother play AA basketball and football on the radio and keeping his stats during away games. Dan went into the Air Force right out of high school and was station at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona when Steve got the job at Buckeye. They reconnected and spent some time together before Dan was assigned to a station in Japan. Dan eventually ended up at Edwards Air Force Base in California just after Steve was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and was able to spend time with him before his death. Dan was unable to get off work to attend the dedication but is planning an elk hunting trip with a friend in Arizona in the near future. “I’m going to try to stop by the school and get a T-shirt or something,” he said. Jasinski’s other older son, Len Jasinski, is a doctor in Peoria, Ariz.