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Paula Blangger retires from Jackson Local Schools after 25 years

Patricia Faulhaber
Suburbanite correspondent
JLSF board members, Jackson Local Schools administrators and community members attended the Polar Beak Kickoff last year. From left, Paula Blangger from Jackson Local Schools; Superintendent Christopher DiLoreto; Jim Camp from the JLSF, Jill Kaempf and Jen Jones, JLSF board members; Mark Wright, past president of JLSF and Jeff Kracker, principal of Jackson High School.

JACKSON TWP. There are just some people who seem to know everyone, and everyone seems to know them. Paula Blangger is one of those people. She has spent 31 years watching and writing about the people who live in Jackson Township.

She started writing about the township when she was a reporter for the Jackson Journal newspaper and then assigned stories while she was editor of the same newspaper. She also wrote a weekly column called “Just Thinking” for the Canton Repository. In 1995, Blangger became the public relations/communications person at Jackson Local Schools.

While sharing the news of students and teachers at the district was one of the many highlights of her career, Blangger decided to officially retire from that position on June 30.

“I have spent my entire 31-year career watching and writing about the people who live inside the 36 square mile area known as Jackson Township,” she said. “I served first as a reporter then editor of the Jackson Journal weekly newspaper. In 1995, for just under a year at the Canton Repository, I wrote a weekly column called “Just Thinking” about the funny and touching things I observed in Jackson Township. That same year, I pitched the creation of a PR/communications position to school superintendent, Joe Larson. Such a position was unheard-of, but he hired me. That is where I spent the past 25 years happily informing our community of the ongoing achievements of Jackson students and staff. The pleasure remained fresh for me right up to the day I retired.”

Blangger added that she felt the timing was right to retire. She was thinking of retiring about three years ago, but her husband Dean became ill and she continued in her position for insurance reasons. After Dean passed, she decided to stay again but this time it was to keep structure in her life.

“When COVID-19 placed me squarely into my home, alone, I was surprised – no – shocked, that I liked it. My full-tilt world rolled to a crawl and showed me that I had been moving way too fast for the past 31 years in the workplace. Plan A was to retire with my sweet husband, but when he passed away in 2018, I thought I’d work until I, too, died. Work gave me the structure I needed to get out of bed and keep moving forward without him,” Blangger said.

Her work at the district has long been appreciated by the administration, staff and teachers.

“Paula has served the Jackson Local School District admirably for more than three decades,” said Superintendent Christopher DiLoreto. “As superintendent, I was afforded the opportunity to closely work with Paula and I quickly came to respect her and realized her knowledge of the district and Jackson Township in general. Paula always knew the right person to connect with in the community when we looked to form partnerships.

“Under Paula’s leadership, the district has forged a closer working relationship with the Jackson Local Schools Foundation, which is an unsung hero of the district. She has worked to grow the Polar Bear Plunge, which directly benefits our students and families. We wish Paula, her family and most especially her grandchildren, whom she deservedly will spend more time with, well in her retirement.”

Blangger also worked closely with the Jackson Local Schools Foundation and plans to continue to serve on the board. No matter where Blangger helped, her talents were always recognized and appreciated said Foundation President Justin Hardesty.

“Paula is such an exceptional person,” Hardesty wrote in an email. “It has often been said that she is the heart and soul of the Jackson Local Schools Foundation. I cannot emphasize enough how pleased I am that she will remain on the board during her retirement.  She was one of the founders of the Foundation and nobody by far has put more into it than she has.”

She also wanted to thank the many different groups she worked with at Jackson Local Schools. She sent the list below which is filled with love, respect and gratitude for the people she wrote about.

TO ADMINISTRATORS

“It begins with you, the ones who design the vehicle we call education. I admire your tireless 24/7 work ethic. Time off? Spring break? Summer vacation? Sure, as long as the phone doesn’t ring. In the 25 years that I served alongside you, I never heard a complaint about evening, weekend or breaktime work for the district. I only saw your gratitude for the opportunity to serve and your focus on the best outcomes for children.”

TO TEACHERS

“You are the engine of the vehicle designed by administrators. Each of you are cut from the finest fabric of service. Your patience, kindness, and ability to inspire are an artform that I enjoyed watching and writing about. You build springboards from which the future leaps. Your work is far more important than your paycheck reflects.”

TO COOKS, CUSTODIANS, SECRETARIES, BUS DRIVERS

“It may begin with administrators who design the vehicle and teachers who are the engine, but you are the fuel, oil, bolts, and wheels. You not only have the lofty task of keeping things moving smoothly, but also the immense power to make a child’s day.”

TO PARENTS AND THE COMMUNITY

“Jackson couldn’t rise to the heights it has without the ardent support that parents and community members so freely give. Jackson parents show up for their children. They see that assignments are done, and they join raise support groups to benefit kids. Our community at large just keeps saying yes. Because Jackson is mostly funded by local dollars, affirmative levy votes are important, but the community piece goes beyond the vote. Businessmen and women show up to teach and partner with students and staff, and they make monetary donations to programs that would otherwise not materialize. There is also a high level of cooperation between township government and the school district officials to share services that benefit both entities and, in turn, the taxpayer.”

TO STUDENTS

“You may be too young to realize the incredible opportunities you have in this school district. That’s okay; just work hard, take full advantage of the resources, and your certain success will help you understand. The Jackson curriculum is rigorous for sure, but it’s easy to succeed because the adults at school truly care. Ask them for help when you need it and watch them come to your aid not only in your schoolwork, but also in your life. And just as important as working hard is being kind to your classmates. Invite someone new into your circle of friends or to your lunch table. Be the first to say hello to someone new. Do it every day until the whole school is smiling. You will find yourself smiling, too.”

TO THE BOARD OF EDUCATION

“Thank you for being the eyes and ears of our community. Your care, input and policy guidance have brought us to the summit.”

Todd Porter has taken Blangger’s place in public relations and communications Jackson Local Schools. Porter was a longtime reporter and editor at the Canton Repository.

Blangger wished Porter the best for his upcoming career with the district and said, “Best of luck. You have a beautiful writing skill and a long lens of kindness through which I know you will see this outstanding school community. I hope your experience is even richer than mine was.”

Expressing her gratitude to the district and the community, Blangger said, “I am truly grateful for the personal and professional development opportunities afforded me by Jackson Local Schools. Working, over the years, for 10 dedicated school board members, three visionary superintendents and alongside so many fine administrators and staff has been exciting and fascinating as I watched the mix of talents combine to create a premier school district.

“Thank you, Jackson Township, for allowing me to tell your stories. Thank you for your confidence, your trust and your friendship, which I hope will last long into the sunset.”

She has lots of plans for the future. Blangger intents to spend more time with her four grandchildren, Ella (12), Drake (8), Maks (2), Beau (3 months) and their parents Brandon and Lori, and Andrew and Elena. She intends to release her creativity in her art studio working with her favorite mediums: glass, clay, photography, and paper. Blangger said she may continue to write; she may even write a book.

“I will also wait and watch to see what magic the world brings to me,” she said.

Paul Blangger memories at Jackson

Paula Blangger has a long list of favorite memories both at the district and with the Foundation. Below is a list of memories she said stick out:

• Helping to establish the Jackson Local Schools Foundation.

• Helping to create the Polar Bear Plunge, which has raised more than $216,000 over the past four year.

• Working on a committee with Bonnie Sprankle, Bill Burger, Steve Hickman and Mary Aaby to move and restore Jackson Center School, which cost $300,000 and is now home to the Jackson Historical Society.

• Developing the unique banner on the front cover of Polar Bear Pride.

• Videotaping the JHS football team taking a ballet lesson from the dancers in our JSA program.

• Photographing soldiers who returned from Iraq to surprise student family members at school.

• Receiving photographs of American soldiers in Iraq holding copies of Polar Bear Pride.

• Photographing principals and teachers who encouraged students by having pies thrown in their faces, kissing pigs, being taped to walls or dunked in tanks of water.

• Watching hundreds of our students and staff have their heads shaved in the St. Baldrick’s event to raise funds for childhood cancer research.

• Hearing JHS teachers Fred Locker, Scott Eversdyke, Bruce Lautzenheiser and Steve Dye sing acapella for the student body each year.

• Capturing the excitement of the seven state championship teams: three for Speech and Debate (2010, 2012, 2017), two for baseball (2014, 2017) and two for basketball (2010, 2017).

• Watching second grader Lily Wahl stopped receiving gifts on her birthday and, instead, asked that guests give her a book that she could donate to the pediatric unit at Aultman Hospital. Through the years, Lilly donated more than 4,000 books to hospitalized children.

• In 2008, sisters Abby and Carly Zalenski (sisters) raised $50,000 and built a school in Vietnam. They campaigned for a year, appealing to their classmates and area Rotary clubs.

• JMMS 8th grader Sarah Wright collected more than 600 pairs of shoes in two weeks and sent them to Soles4Souls. This is similar to Miah Wilson’s annual campaign that collected 1,000 pairs of athletic shoes for Project Retread. When Miah graduated, her brother, Cohen, kept the drive going.

• When Caitlin Knox, a JHS senior, received the Presidents Volunteer Service Award for volunteering more than 120 hours at Aultman Hospital.

• Working on the Pancake Breakfast Committee with the three women who started it – Janelle Winkhart, Jen Herold and Susie Gindlesberger. It has served more than 50,000 pancakes over the last dozen years and raises about $9,000 a year.

• As a lover of art, she was thrilled in 2001 when, under Cheryl Haschak’s leadership, the district established the Jackson School for the Arts, ran the first year by Kathy Clark and since then by Susie Gardner.

• Seeing LeBron James in the bleachers at JMMS in 2012. He made a surprise visit to a basketball game to watch one of his campers play.

• Seeing the Amherst Choir which, under the direction of Cindy Grove, which was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first elementary choir to ever sing the national anthem to open a pro game in 2012.

• Writing about a group of Jackson students who spent 24 hours at Heifer Global Village in Maryland, living in simulated third-world countries to explore the issues of global poverty and hunger.

• Re-publishing the CNN photo of an Ebola virus survivor in Liberia, Africa, who was wearing a Jackson Polar Bear T-shirt. It’s amazing how far a donated shirt can travel (2015).

• Covering JHS math teacher Christy Harp’s world record for growing the largest pumpkin, weighing in at 1,725 pounds.

• Being there in 2019 when Taylor Mikesell became the first female to have her athletic number (24) retired, joining male athletes Jami Bosley and Jay Rohr.

• Hosting the Senior Citizens Spring Fling when approximately 400 seniors would arrive to watch the dress rehearsal of the school musical, then eat a dinner prepared by the culinary students and hear music by the Jackson Jazz Band.

Paula Blangger will spend more time creating artwork following her retirement from the Jackson Local School District after 25 years.