By EMMALEE C. TORISK
On Tuesday evening, in the midst of reflecting upon the past 24 hours, Brittany Klacik suddenly became very aware of her new reality.
“I would usually call my mom at this point, but I can’t,” she said.
Her mother, Linda Klacik, a first-year third-grade teacher at Struthers Elementary School, died unexpectedly Monday at age 52, and was missed by not only her family but also by her colleagues.
Teaching third grade had been a lifelong goal for Klacik, said Maggie Kowach, Struthers Elem- entary principal. And though it was Klacik’s first year as a full-time teacher, she previously worked within the school district as an intervention tutor.
“She had the chance to affect many students,” Kowach said. “She will be severely missed. It’s a loss for staff, students and the community.”
Kowach recalled Klacik as being consistently upbeat, with a smile on her face and with a joke at the ready. She also had a special knack for working with students, as well as the ability to easily forge connections with them. She was patient, too, and was the kind of teacher who would undoubtedly be there “if a student needed an extra shoulder to lean on,” Kowach said.
Overall, Klacik simply loved her students and her family and would “go to the ends of the earth” for both, she added.
Brittany Klacik agreed, explaining that her mother was always giving of herself and was always willing to help anyone in need.
“She was like a mom not only to my sisters and I, but also to cousins and our friends,” she said. “Everyone loved her so much. No matter what situation you were going through, she always made you feel better.”
Laurie Serenko, a second-grade teacher at Struthers, said Klacik’s love for children always came first in her life. She recalled teaching a kindergarten-readiness program with Klacik over the summer, and being impressed with the way Klacik “jumped right in,” prepared to tackle any obstacles in her brand-new job.
“Some of us were saying, ‘Are you sure you want a full-time job with four kids?’” she said. “But she wanted the job so badly.”
Staff members received word of Klacik’s death late Monday, and the parents and guardians of her 22 students were notified early Tuesday.
Superintendent Joseph Nohra said a crisis-response team and several counselors were on hand during the school day, adding that the Struthers City School District is “deeply saddened and shocked” by Klacik’s death.
“Anytime you lose a staff member in Struthers, it’s like losing a family member,” he said. “We lost a wonderful person and a wonderful staff member.”
Kowach said it’s important for both students and staff members to “keep going,” and that she commends the latter for being there for one another and for students. Another of the school’s third-grade teachers will stay with Klacik’s students for the remainder of the week or so, until a permanent replacement has been found.
Still, Klacik’s death comes as a “complete shock,” Kowach said.
“Life is fragile,” she said. “Tell your children and loved ones every day how much you love them.”
Linda Klacik leaves her husband, Michael; four children, 29-year-old Michael, 26-year-old Brittany, 20-year-old Kaitlyn and 17-year-old Kayla; and two grandchildren, Bella and Kayce. A son, Matthew, preceded her in death.