Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Mr. Swokowski (Jan) was one of the art teachers at L.B. Clarke. He was probably in his early-40's. He had a thin build and full beard.

I believe I had Swokowski all three years at Clarke. I can't quite remember if I had him in 6th grade or not. I know I had Mr Kjelstrup in 6th grade for sure. But I think our class had both of them. At the very least, I had Swokowski in 7th and 8th grade.

For whatever reason, Swokowski (who was sometimes referred to simply as "Swo") and I didn't get along. It probably had something to do with me being an asshole.

As I recall, we all sat at tables - two on each side. It was alphabetical. So in 7th grade, I sat at the same table with Tricia Wetzel, Lori Wavrunek and Missy Vertz. For the most part, I got along with Tricia and Lori. Missy was always grumpy.

For the life of me, I can't remember what I had done. But Swokowski blew up at me and made me stay after class one day. Our art class was in 7th hour - the last class of the day. So by staying after, I was essentially staying after school. After everyone left, Swokowski talked to me very calmly. I was still pissed off though. He wanted me to make some sort of amends with him, and make some sort of promise to "wipe the slate clean." But me, in my complete stubborn glory refused to budge. When I repeatedly turned him down, he gave up and said, "Fine. Then you can sit there until I'm ready to go home." So I sat - for about 90 minutes. Around 4:30 or so, he let me go. Ha! I beat him!

A few days later, I had art class again. Swokowski caught me off guard. He made me stay after school again, until I made nice with him. And again I refused. So he said he was going to make me stay until he left again. And he was going to continue to make me stay everyday from then on. Screw that! After about 10 minutes, I gave up. He won that round. I said whatever he wanted to hear me say. But I assure you, I didn't mean it!

We sat on benches in his class. They were more like half benches actually - one-seaters. One day, as he was teaching us something, I decided to slowly inch my seat out and move it down the aisle. It was impossible for me not to be seen. My plan was to move all the way to the back of the room where B.J. Lutterman, Sarah Plappert and Jenny Malley were seated. I made it about five feet before Swokowski slid off his stool, walked around his podium-type desk, walked down the aisle, and grabbed my seat and flung me back to my own table. I didn't try that again.

In 8th grade, I had Swokowski once again. I seem to recall moving around a lot. He had assigned seats for awhile. But eventually he let us sit wherever we wanted to. For a time, I sat at the same table with Ken Bartz and Nick Novachek. One day Ken Bartz and I got into a paint war. We were dipping our paint brushes in paint, then flinging the brushes in the air, sending a tiny amount of paint flying. It was in the middle of teaching, when the class was quiet. Then suddenly Ken nailed me right in the eye. I yelped in pain, and immediately got up to wash my eye out in the sink. Surprisingly, Swokowski didn't do anything. He just told everyone that there was to be no more paint flinging.

Whenever the class got a little loud, Swokowski would say, "People!" In time, if got even louder, he would follow it up with, "I'll tell you what people!"

Check out my entry on Scott Gauthier for stories about a fight with Randy Klein, and the day he got his hand completely sliced open by Richard Crowe's exacto knife.

At some point in 8th grade, I sat at a table with Stacy Taddy and Jamie Tadych. This must have been in the beginning of the year, when we were still assigned alphabetically. Stacy and I always got along well, in some weird sort of way. Jamie seemed to always have the hots for Stacy. Anyway, one day we were working with clay. Swokowski had a gigantic bag full of clay. And prior to class starting, he gave us a very stern warning. He warned us that nobody should dare to use their pencils to poke a hole in the bag of clay.

That was too tempting for me to avoid. Had he not said anything, it never would have dawned on me to do it. But since he said it, I had to go for it. So at some point in the class, as I was walking by, I jabbed my pencil into the bag. I was incredibly covert about it. Nobody saw me.

About 15 minutes later, Swokowski let out a loud, monotoned, "Uh-oh..." He then informed us that someone had poked a hole in the bag. And man oh man, was he pissed! If I'm not mistaken, he made everybody sit down. He then waited for the guilty party to fess up. As if! Needless to say, no one did.

The next time we had art class, Stacy Taddy and Jamie Tadych both said to me, "We know you did it. And we're going to tell Swokowski." I was pissed off! I knew for a fact that they hadn't seen me. So I knew they were lying. Why? I have no idea. The fact that they were accusing the right person didn't matter. The point was, they hadn't seen me, and were accusing me for no reason. Well I professed my innocence. I wasn't about to get involved in a heated debate with Jamie. I just refused to listen to them and went back to work. They never bothered to tell anyway. So be it.

Sometime during 8th grade, Swokowski lost (more likely had stolen) some art tool that looked like a laser gun. He even drew an incredibly detailed picture of it on the chalkboard. He left it up there for months, hoping someone would find it and return it to him. That of course never happened. And no, I had nothing to do with it.

After I left Clarke, I don't believe I ran into Swokowski again. I did however call him once.

In my freshman year of high school, I made a series of prank phone call tapes. See my entry on Ben Franco to read how I lost those tapes! Anyway, I decided to call Mr. Swokowski. When he answered the phone, I just started talking to him like I knew him. Now, as a seasoned prank phone call expert, there's one rule to follow. If the person on the other line says, "Is this so-and-so?" The answer is always "YES!"

So after a few seconds of talking to Swokowski, he asked that same question. I of course said that I was the person he thought I was. I then replied with the usual, "I have a bit of a cold." Well, as it turned out, the person who he thought I was, was his very own son! Yikes! Once he thought it was his son just messing with him, he replied, "You turkey you!" We then spoke for another couple of minutes. I really didn't know where to go with the conversation. But I played nice. Then I apparently made a mistake. I mentioned something about coming home one of these days, and going out and having a beer with him. Immediately, the mood got dark. He started yelling and questioning me. What had I done? The call ended a minute later. In retrospect I specualted that perhaps one of the two participants may have had a previous drinking problem or something in the past. And that my mentioning of having a beer was unbelievably inappropriate. Oops. I must admit, I felt like an asshole after that call.

To the best of my knowledge, that was my last contact with Mr. Swokowski. Today I believe he still lives in Manitowoc. I can't find anything about him online. So I surmise that he's probably retired.

UPDATE - 6/17/07 - Kevin Dehne and I stopped by Mr. Swokowski's house today. When we pulled up, we noticed a "for sale" sign. No one answered the door. But a minute later, a van drove up and parked in the driveway. The woman turned out to be Swokowski's daughter. She said he'd be back in about 10 minutes. So we left to stop at Charla Peters' house - who lived real close by.

Once we left Charla's house, we went back to Swokowski's. Sure enough, as we walked up the driveway, we noticed him in the garage. Save for the hair and moustache being gray, he looked pretty much the same. He genuinely seemed overjoyed to see us. He maintained that he recognized our names. He also told us that he has students recognize him all the time - including a time he was in Jacksonville, Florida. Most amazingly, he also had a student recognize him when we was visiting Innsbrook, Austria!

Swokowski had a ton of stories to tell - mostly about fellow art teacher, Mr. Kjelstrup. Apparently he still sees Kjelstrup quite often. In fact, he said a lot of the retired teachers get together for breakfast on a regular basis. We happened to catch him literally as he was in the process of moving out. Both his sons were there to help out - as well as some grandchildren.

Swokowski said that he recently had a rummage sale, in which Mr. Kjelstrup had given him several items to try and sell. One of them was a door. Kevin snapped a picture of myself with that door. It's the bottom one below.

Swokowski was really, really nice. He mentioned that he retired in 1998. Visiting him also gave me the opportunity to apologize to him for the prank phone call I mentioned above. He said he remembered getting it actually. He also said that in all his years of teaching, he only got two or three prank calls. I guess I was one of them.

We took a couple of photos before we left. You can see them below. In the second photo with me, he's actually pointing at me and saying, "prank phone call."


At Mon Jun 18, 07:08:00 PM PDT, Blogger Lexis said...

Mr. S...
Having a ski at the end of your name was enough for me to worship you as a teacher...However it was your wit and your way with words that set you apart from the rest. Dude, your hair turned white....LOL
Was it the side effect of teaching or raising kids????
I am starting to get grey (but not white!) hair myself. I try in vein to cut and pluck it out. I hate to blame it on age so I can easily say it is from my son...
Hope you are happy and healthy!!!

At Mon Jun 18, 07:14:00 PM PDT, Blogger Lexis said...

lexis.academic is my gmail...Like Lexis Nexis..Law info site.
comment made by,
Paula BrotSKI


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