Longtime Whitmer High School teacher Paul Zielinski, known for his hands-on approach to teaching students the basics of biology, chemistry, and environmental science, died Saturday at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center where he was being treated for a heart condition.
Mr. Zielinski, 56, who had submitted his resignation that would have ended a 30-year career at Whitmer, had suffered a heart attack the day after Christmas, said his wife, Marianne.
He inspired his students and left an indelible impression on them.
“When you went to his class, you never wanted it to be over soon,” said Ashley Henricks, who took his class in 2000. “He was a totally awesome teacher.”
Students in his classes did more than sit for lectures. He would lead his young charges into the field or into area creeks and ditches to teach them the importance of clean water.
Mr. Zielinski and his students would troop from the corridors of Whitmer and into nearby streams to gather samples.
“He was kind of like the Pied Piper leading the kids to Silver Creek for testing the water and doing what real scientists would do,” Mrs. Zielinski said.
He was honored with the Maumee Bay Watershed Award several years running, and he was given the longevity award for his annual participation in the Lucas County Water Quality Symposium at the University of Toledo.
“He had very high standards,” his wife said.
Those standards extended to the participation in water-quality symposiums.
“He would tell them, ‘Let’s look professional, guys,’ ” his wife said.
His biology classroom would resemble a greenhouse. He would demonstrate that soil was not needed to grow plants and showed students how to raise tomatoes, lettuce, and other plants through hydroponics.
Ms. Henricks said Mr. Zielinski would go the extra mile to make sure his students understood the material and even offered her advice on breeding mares.
“He made sure you were there to learn and he wanted you to learn,” she said.
He made sure his students knew the material and graded accordingly.
“He definitely was not an easy A,” Ms. Henricks said.
He would grade term papers with a critical eye, ferreting out students who took short cuts on their papers, his wife said.
“He was very conscientious. He read everything his students wrote,” Mrs. Zielinski said.
In a Facebook posting, Patrick Hickey, superintendent of Washington Local Schools, said, “Paul devoted his life to Washington Local and the kids we are so blessed to serve. His legacy as a teacher and role model is secure.”
Mr. Hickey called Mr. Zielinski a gifted teacher.
“I have a difficult time putting into words what a master teacher he was in fueling kids’ passion for science,” Mr. Hickey said. “I think he was put on this earth to teach. He was a natural.”
Mr. Zielinski was born on March 15, 1957, in Toledo, to Arthur and Helen Zielinski. He graduated from Start High School and earned a bachelor of science and a master’s in education from the University of Toledo.
He did his student teaching at Woodward High.
After leaving UT, Mr. Zielinski set his sights on being a pilot. He enlisted in the Air Force and went to San Antonio for his basic training. But a torn retina dashed that dream, and he returned to Toledo and began teaching, his wife said.
He kept his eyes on the skies, particularly at night, when he would look at the stars through his self-made telescope.
He shared his knowledge of science by judging science fairs in the Washington district and would help younger students understand that making mistakes was part of learning, his wife said.
In recent years he took up trap and skeet shooting at Adams Conservation Club after developing an interest in his brother’s black powder rifle, his wife said.
“He decided one day that he needed a hobby,” she said. He ran the junior rifle program at Adams and served as a coach for the young shooters.
His daughters, Carolyn and Laura, became expert marksmen through their father’s teaching.
Daughter Carolyn said when she went to college, her father would look through her textbooks to see what was being taught and to adjust his lessons to make sure his students were prepared for that level.
“He tried as much as he could to prepare [his students] for college,” she said.
Mr. Zielinski is survived by his wife of 25 years, Marianne; daughters Carolyn and Laura Zielinski; his mother Helen Zielinski; sister Victoria Jagielski, and brothers Robert and Alfred.
Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Friday at Sujkowski Funeral Home Northpointe, 114 E. Alexis Rd., where a Scripture reading will begin at 7 p.m.
A funeral service will begin at 9:15 a.m. Saturday in the funeral home and continue with a Mass at 10 a.m. at St. Clement Catholic Church, where he was a member.
Memorials are suggested to a charity of the donor’s choice.
Contact Jim Sielicki at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.