Tag Archives: Patwin Elementary

Mike Parker: One of a kind

May 2021  

“It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives.” ― James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

May is usually a joyous month in our family. There are multiple birthdays and of course Mother’s Day. However, this year it was filled with bittersweet memories and wistful emotions.

A couple of months ago, our Davis school community lost a remarkable person. Michael (Mike) Parker knew how to forge deep personal connections with everyone he met. It turns out you don’t really need to know a person for a long time to miss them. I knew Mr. Parker for just a few years, at the tail end of his career as a school principal, but he became a good friend.

I can still remember the day we heard a Mr. Parker was going to be our school principal. There was already a lot chatter among the parents, mostly mothers like me, about this guy who was so notable that the school district was bringing him out of his retirement to be our interim principal.

“He must be so exceptional,” a friend whispered in my ear, as we waited in the school quad to meet this mysterious man.

I nodded. The rumors had been spreading for a while and I expected to see a man larger than life, a sort of Paul Bunyan of Davis. My first glimpse of him wasn’t encouraging. Well, he looks like an elderly grandfather. I almost sighed out loud in disappointment.

Then he approached me, put out his hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Mike Parker.”

Immediately, I was enveloped in his personal charm. As he introduced himself, he looked me in the eye and gave me his undivided attention. I felt as if I was the only person in that quad. In that moment he seemed to be larger than any legend. I felt I was in the presence of a unique individual, a one of a kind.

This immaculately dressed man was a natural leader. It was so evident from his firm handshake to his kind eyes and humble demeanor.

Mr. Parker eventually hired me to work in the beautiful Patwin Library and when both of us moved on from Patwin, we stayed in touch. I was lucky enough to be in his friend circle. At the center of our friendship was a young woman named Sarah. Sarah had Down’s syndrome but she was an avid reader and a star volunteer/worker at the library, meticulously shelving hundreds of books every week. She loved to celebrate birthdays and in Mr. Parker she found a kindred soul. Soon, I was celebrating her birthday with both of them. Pizza, cake and lemonade were on the menu. Who could resist? The company was even more enticing and all of us eagerly looked forward to our yearly luncheons. Even years after retirement, Mr. Parker was an admired public figure. Going out with him was like hanging out with the most popular kid. Everyone wanted to say hello. Mr. Parker was his usual self: patient, attentive and charming as he greeted former students, parents and other acquaintances who accosted him during his lunch.

Sarah and I weren’t the only ones who fell under Mr. Parker’s charm.

The students loved him, the parents found him open and engaging and the staff respected him.

“He really was a special man,” said former Patwin school secretary, Paula Horn. “We were a happy staff when Mike was there.”

He made an impact on everyone he met.

“He was fun,” said a former student Ajay. “Recess was always great with Mr. Parker.”

Gay Bourguignon is the current principal of Patwin and had this to say about Mike: “Mike Parker was a friend to all and always had a smile on his face.  Mike had a way of making everyone feel like they were his friend.  He had a great sense of humor and was always ready to share a funny story or experience.  Mike was a devoted family man. He was so proud of Brian and loved watching him and coaching him in baseball.  When the grandchildren came he was a devoted grandfather.  Most of all he loved Michele.  They had a true love story.  We will miss you, Mike!  Our hearts are with you, Michele.”

 Kate Bowen, a former teacher at Patwin and close friend of the Parker family had these moving words, “I met Mr. Parker through his wife, Michele, when we were both upper grade teachers at Pioneer Elementary.  Mike was a principal in Martinez, I believe, at the time, but the four of us (with Bob) became good friends sharing a love for education, Giants baseball, golf, and family.

When Mr. Parker became our “Interim” principal at Patwin, I saw him in a different light.  First, he was a snappy dresser – crisply ironed button-down shirts always with a terrific tie.  Second, he truly cared about our students or “youngsters” as he called them.  His distribution of monthly birthday pencils, for example, meant that Mr. Parker had a one-on-one conversation with every single Patwin Hawk at some time during the school year. (Students with summer birthdays received a pencil during the last week of school).  Organizing lunch-time intramurals was another highlight for students (at least one Spencer Bowen), where students were in control of their lunchtime activities – from drafting players to managing teams to demonstrating good sportsmanship.  Mr. Parker provided these leadership opportunities, yet did so in a way that the “youngsters” had fun and developed a greater connection to the school.

“Mr. Parker was a devoted friend to many, beloved husband, father, and “Pops,” die-hard baseball fan (Go Giants), and lover of Yosemite. He bled blue for his Memphis Tigers and never turned down the opportunity to play a round of golf.  He loved southern barbecue and a smooth Bourbon.  He also had a sharp wit, matched only by Michele, making each and every outing a hoot. “

Hearing what Kate had to say about Mr. Parker made me realize how lucky I was to have known him. His legacy is (was) his deep connection to his students, parents and staff.  Some people just leave an indelible mark on your life and soul and Mike Parker was definitely one of them.

RIP Mr. Parker. Gone but never forgotten.

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Feliks Krupa: The Heart and Soul of Patwin

November 2018

A life in purple, and service

“Feliks is the heart and soul of Patwin. A most remarkable man with a remarkable history, he will be missed by many and loved by all.”  ~~Kate Bowen, former Patwin teacher.

We met him on a hot August morning in 1999. My son, then a seven-year-old, and I were on an informal tour of Patwin Elementary School in west Davis. We had just moved to Davis and my son was intimidated by the size of his new school. We stood near the lunch tables, looking a little lost. Just then we heard a heavily accented voice singing, “Happy Friday to you! Happy Friday to you!”

My son looked up at me, “Doesn’t he know it’s Thursday?”

I shrugged and turned around and there he was, a neatly dressed man wearing a white hat.  He noticed us right away and came over. He held out a large meaty hand to my son, “Hello, my brother.”

He then turned to me, “Hello, my princess. You are new to Patwin?”

I nodded and said we were looking for the library. (The most important building in my mind).

“Let me show you. I’m Feliks. Come brother.”

And just like that I saw the tension go out of my son’s body. He stood up a little taller and with a bright look in his brown eyes, he followed Feliks down the steps to the library (which was the most beautiful welcoming room I had ever seen).

“Is he the principal?” my son asked me.

It was only much later I learned Feliks Krupa was the custodian at our school. This may have been his official job title but his unofficial one should have been “master of all.” He took care of everyone and everything. Need the MPR for sixth-grade Grad night? Talk to Feliks. Need help with moving a desk? Need a cleanup in a classroom? Call Feliks!

Former principal Mike Parker put it best, “Fortunately when I became principal of Patwin I was experienced enough to know who really runs the school… the secretaries and the custodian. It didn’t take me long to realize the school had a custodian extraordinaire!  Felix’s “ hello my darlings” amazing whistled, morning greetings and ability to make all kids feel special and noticed helped me start each day with a smile knowing we were in good hands. Thanks Feliks- you will always be my favorite custodian.”

Over the next few years I watched Feliks interact with staff and students and he was a one-man welcome party. Scared little boys and girls shook off their parents’ hands and ran to greet Feliks, forgetting to be nervous. He brought his unique brand of humor to every situation.

Perhaps it was his upbringing in Poland or the fact he spent time in a prison for his support of the Solidarity labor unions along with the charismatic Polish activist Lech Walesa that was partly responsible for making Feliks so perfect for his job at Patwin.

Current Patwin principal, Gay Bourguignon added, “Feliks has always been more than a custodian. He had made students and families feel welcome at Patwin. He has brightened all our days with his cheerful greetings and caring ways. Feliks is our eyes and ears keeping our campus safe. He knows when a student or staff member is struggling and gives them a little extra TLC. By my count, he has touched the lives of over 10,000 students during his tenure at Patwin. He has trained at least seven principals! I have so appreciated all he has done to help me and take care of our school community.”

Keeping Patwinners safe was his primary objective. With that in mind, Feliks was responsible for setting up the “peanut-free” table at lunch and I have no doubt this was one of the reasons my son never had an allergic reaction while attending Patwin.

There are probably 10,000 stories about Feliks floating around the Patwin community. Here’s one from teacher Sarbjit Nahal, “Our Thursday morning coffee dates discussing politics, telling jokes and teaching Feliks about filtering what he says are priceless moments I will always cherish in my life. If I was ever late for our Thursday morning coffee date, Feliks would send out an APB! I mean literally, I would get a phone call or text from my colleagues Tyshawn or Linda wondering where I was.”

Just as he has celebrated or commiserated with many of the staff and students, Patwin community has shared many celebrations with Feliks. There was his yearly birthday celebration in November where staff members (Kate Bowen and Suzanne Fortin Morgan) outdid themselves each year decorating the staff room in unique and colorful ways. We all waved the American flag when Feliks became a US citizen in 2000 and we were all worried when he was ill.

Feliks and I shared a love of good food. He always requested samosas for his birthdays. So teacher Sarbjit Nahal and I took turns bringing in the spicy Indian snack. Two years ago I made some Pierogis for his birthday. “They are just like what my mother used to make,” he told me, a kind and wonderful compliment. He was always giving me large jars of his favorite sauerkraut and so when I made a batch of the fermented cabbage dish, I of course had to share some with him.

We are the lucky to have had Feliks in our lives and I’m sorry generations of new Patwinners will never get to know him.

As former Patwin principal Michelle Flowers puts it, “Feliks was my protector. I knew he always had my back and that he deeply cared for ALL kids. He has a big voice and even bigger heart. Feliks is part of the heart of Patwin and while he will be deeply missed, I bet there will be lot of Feliks sightings. Love you Feliks!”

When I told my now-grown son that Feliks was retiring, he said, “Oh, that’s too bad. Patwin will never be the same.”

Perhaps.

But I like to think years from now, a little boy or girl will sit on Feliks’ commemorative bench and run their fingers over his name and for a moment they will hear “hey brother or hi princess” in the soft breeze and feel an invisible hug from Feliks. The boy or girl will feel welcome and safe on that special black bench. Because after all you really can’t take Feliks out of Patwin, his booming voice and kindness are entrenched in those pale pastel walls.

Happy Retirement Brother Feliks!

 

11 Comments

Filed under Careers, Celebrations, Davis Schools, DJUSD, Patwin Elementary School, Patwin Hawks, Patwin Purple, Uncategorized