- Associated Press - Sunday, February 8, 2015

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) - After 40 years of teaching and coaching countless students, Joe Wojtkiewicz still brings a passion and dedication to the job comparable to a first-year teacher hungry to make an impact.

Wojtkiewicz first came to Archbishop Bergan Catholic School in 1975. It was his first teaching job after graduating from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

He first became interested in teaching as a career when he was a high school student at Omaha Paul VI. It was there where he discovered the tremendous impact his Catholic education had on his life.

Throughout his 40 years as a teacher and coach, Wojtkiewicz said it has been the students, colleagues, community and his wife - a teacher of 30 years - that have kept him inspired.

“The Bergan family thing is used a lot, but that’s real,” he told the Fremont Tribune (https://bit.ly/1xjpVzS). “. Until you’re here and you’re in it, you can’t understand it all the time.”

During his time at Bergan, Wojtkiewicz has become part of that family in ways others haven’t. He’s had the opportunity to teach the children of former students, and see former students come back as colleagues.

“The families that I’ve gotten to know, I remember the first time one of the kids said to me ‘you taught my mom,’” Wojtkiewicz recalled. “Mr. (Neil) Feser, our longtime guidance counselor, used to say when you get to the point you’re teaching grandchildren you might want to start thinking about what you’re doing.”

Bergan Middle School English teacher Kim Dieckmann is one of Wojtkiewicz’s former students and played for “Coach Joe” on the 1988 girls basketball team that finished second in state. Her son is now one of Wojtkiewicz’s students.

Dieckmann said when Bergan graduates get together and recall their fond memories of school, Wojtkiewicz is always part of the conversation.

“He’s the standard, he’s what Bergan is,” she said. “He’s one of my role models.

“I know I’m where I’m at today because of Coach Joe,” Dieckmann added. “If I could be a third of what he is - he definitely makes a difference every day with the kids. If I can do that by the end I have accomplished a lot.”

Over the last two weeks Dieckmann has been helping gather cards from students, as well as former and present colleagues. She said every single card notes just how humble, passionate and caring Wojtkiewicz has been.

Wojtkiewicz said it has been an overwhelming experience to read through the cards and realize the impact he’s had on students and colleagues.

“I keep thinking, ‘OK, people are making this up,’” he said. “I think I’m working hard and trying to do things - but it is overwhelming to read those cards.

“The impact you have on people’s lives, I guess you don’t think of that at the time,” Wojtkiewicz added. “It just happened. I’d love to say I sat down and was trying to do this - I’m just very blessed with whatever gifts have come out of me.”

“We said God has given him a definite gift and he’s definitely used his gift every day,” added Dieckmann.

Part of that gift has extended beyond the classroom to the playing field.

During his time at Bergan, Wojtkiewicz has coached basketball, cross country for 37 years and now track and field. He said coaching in not unlike teaching, but allows the coach to form a unique bond with student athletes.

“Sports to me, that’s life skills all over the place just like school,” he said. “To be involved with that, I’ve been very fortunate.”

Wojtkiewicz said he’s had a lot of memorable experiences as a coach, but the 1988 girls’ basketball season stands out. Some sportswriters considered that team to be the best in the state - not just their class. Wojtkiewicz recalled the game against Blair. Bergan was ranked No. 1 in Class C, Blair was No. 1 in Class B, but Bergan ended up winning the game by 20 points.

The only game Bergan lost in the ‘88 season was the championship game against Gibbon.

“It was literally a death,” Dieckmann said. “The girls in the locker room, we were just sobbing. We just all knew when he came in that room, we were looking for him because we knew he’s going to help us get through this.

“When you’re his kids, you’re his kids,” she added. “He just takes you under his wing. I think that’s why kids gravitate to him.”


Information from: Fremont Tribune, https://www.fremontneb.com

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