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Published: Sunday, 7/16/2006

Teacher used classroom as her way of doing good

Cleo M. Kotula, 76, who for more than a quarter-century channeled her interest in doing good into the classroom as an elementary schoolteacher in the Toledo and Washington Local school systems, died Thursday in St. Luke's Hospital from complications of sepsis.

Formerly of South Toledo, she lived in Spring Meadows Extended Care Community for about four years, her daughter, Monica Stack, said.

She was known as "Mrs. Bagrowski" during most of her teaching career. She returned to her family surname after her marriage to Joseph Bagrowski ended.

Ms. Kotula retired around 1980 from Westwood Elementary School in the Washington Local district, where she worked much of her career. She taught third and fifth grades and previously worked at Trilby and McGregor schools and in the Toledo district.

"She really thought she was doing something good. She felt like those kids needed her," her daughter said.

"She was a hands-on, walking-around-with-students teacher. She was always the teacher who had all the bulletin boards decorated. She just didn't sit behind the desk."

Ms. Kotula was strict - "she had her rules, and she stuck to them," her daughter said - but her students appreciated her. And they remembered her. Former students often recognized her, approached her when she was out, and introduced themselves as someone in her class a decade or more earlier.

"She loved it," her daughter said.

Ms. Kotula taught for a year at a U.S. Air Force Base in France in the late 1950s and, later in her career, spent nearly a year teaching in Honduras.

Ms. Kotula grew up in the neighborhood near Nebraska and Westwood avenues and was a graduate of Notre Dame Academy. She received degrees from the former Mary Manse College and the University of Toledo.

"My mom was a little before her time all the time," her daughter said. "She really wanted to be an FBI investigator, but she was told, 'Women don't do that.' That's why she went into teaching.

"She was strong-willed," her daughter said. "She was always confident she could do things, and she also was very compassionate."

Ms. Kotula's travels later in life included a tour of several east Asian countries. She had been a member of the Women's Overseas Service League.

She liked to sew, and she always had pets, her daughter said.

Surviving are her daughter, Monica Stack; sons, Michael and Mark Bagrowski; sister, Natalie Kotula; brothers, Gerald and Fred Kotula; eight grandchildren, and a great-grandson.

The body will be in Sujkowski Funeral Home Northpointe after 2 p.m. tomorrow, with a Scripture service at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in the mortuary. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday in St. Patrick of Heatherdowns Church, of which she was a member.

The family suggests tributes to the local chapter of the American Diabetes Association or a charity of the donor's choice.



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