- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) - In the early hours of Feb. 12, 1982, smoke billowed out of the Old Main building at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.

The nearly century-old academic hall - which looked something like a many-steepled Gothic cathedral - succumbed to the flames. The cause is still a mystery.

The fire that brought the building to its knees also claimed academic records, musical instruments, broadcasting equipment and a collection of stained-glass windows.

One of those windows, the Sam Houston Memorial Window, which stood 17 feet high by seven feet wide, had served to honor Sam Houston and the heroes of Texas.

An accounting student at the university, Joe Janczak couldn’t stand to see that beautiful window commemorating Texas history remain shattered in the ashes of the destroyed building.



“It tugged on the heart strings when it burned down,” said Janczak, who is now an independent home builder in The Woodlands area. “You really just don’t see entire buildings honoring somebody anymore.”

In the weeks and years after the fire, Janczak excavated the ruins, collecting shards of the stained glass around the remains.

For nearly 30 years, he kept the broken pieces of the window in a box, not sure what to do with them.

But in 2010, when Janczak found himself in the new role of caregiver to his ailing parents, he decided to take on a monumental project.

“There’s a lot of time to wait. I thought, hey, what can I do while I’m just here and taking care of them … I can redo the Sam Houston Memorial Window,” Janczak said. “Just as a whim … to pass the time.”

So Janczak, who had no prior experience making stained-glass windows, set to the task of recreating the massive work of art.

He ordered the stained glass through glass companies, a couple of them the same companies that provided the glass for the original window in 1889. The colored glass came in large sheets that he cut into precise pieces following a diagram for the window.

“Almost like cutting little jigsaw puzzles,” Janczak told Houston Community Newspapers (https://bit.ly/1oog1yV ).

He then welded the pieces together using a soldering iron following the pattern.

“That was the most difficult part, just making sure it fell in line with the pattern,” he said. “It has to be precise.”

Janczak worked on the window for a year, putting in about five hours a day. The final result is an exact replica of the original window, including the Texas seal, panels representing Texan battles and the different stages of Sam Houston’s life and an inscription that reads, “In memory of the heroes of Texas independence.”

Janczak’s original intention for the window was to donate it to the university so it could return to the home of the original window, but because of its size the only building where it would fit on campus was the new cafeteria.

“I thought, these are the heroes of Texas, they really deserve a better place than a cafeteria,” Janczak said.

For now, the only home Janczak can find for the window is his own.

“The window is sitting in boxes and gathering dust,” he said.

If the university can ever find a place for the window, Janczak said it will have first claim on it, but if another opportunity for a place of honor arises, he would be happy to see the window in a different part of Texas.

He has been in communication with state representatives about finding a place for it.

The window was valued by appraisers with “Antiques Roadshow” at anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000, but Janczak said he wouldn’t consider selling it.

“You can’t put a price on what the heroes of Texas sacrificed for us,” he said.

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