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A heart attack, a three-month coma, and triple bypass surgery could not keep Irene Klocinski from the volunteer work she loves.
The 80-year-old East Toledoan volunteers one day a week at Oakdale Elementary School, helping five pupils in second through fourth grades with their reading, spelling, and math.
“It's a tremendous feeling. Each one of them is such a treasure. They each bring you a little something,” Mrs. Klocinski said.
Cleared by her doctor this summer - once she could travel without her supplemental oxygen, since school officials wouldn't let her tote it to the classroom - she's been back at Oakdale since last month. She drills multiplication tables, expects students to look up vocabulary words in the dictionary, and helps them finish assignments from their classroom teachers.
“We read stuff, and she gives me a piece of paper to do math so I will know how to do math,” said first-grader Stephen Sutton, who meets with her once a week.
“She's different” from her teacher, said Nicole Tinsley, a third-grader. “She tells me to work more on spelling.”
Mrs. Klocinski began at Oakdale through the Seniors Teaching And Reaching Students program five years ago, said Jan Bissonette, volunteer coordinator. She was a regular until her heart attack in January, 2002, just before school resumed after the holiday break. “I didn't think I'd ever see her again,” Ms. Bissonette said.
But Mrs. Klocinski had other ideas while she was in the hospitals, nursing homes, and therapies. She told one of her daughters to let the school know she would return.
“I left all of her things in her cubby,” Ms. Bissonette said. “We were waiting.”
Fellow volunteer Sharon Anteau didn't doubt it. “She's feisty,” she said. “I think she's a person that makes up her mind she's going to do something and she's going to do it.”
The daughter of Hungarian immigrants who was born and raised in Toledo, Mrs. Klocinski said one of the biggest decisions she ever had was joining the navy in 1942 after she graduated from Waite High School.
“For a little mousy person that had never been out of Toledo in her whole life, that was a big step for me,” she said.
She was an IBM machine operator in the Washington area and in California before traveling to Hawaii to finish her tour. Upon returning to Toledo, she worked as a stenographer before marrying and having four children.
She raised them - they all attended Toledo Public Schools and still live in the area - and then worked in the city tax division. She retired in 1991 to care for her ailing husband, who died the next year.
Then, it was time for more volunteer work. When she heard about the volunteer opportunities at Oakdale, she applied. “You have to take a test to make sure you're smarter than the kids,” she said.
The experience was better than she could have imagined. “It really filled a place in my heart. I find it very rewarding to help the children with their studies,” she said.