The first thing someone would notice when walking into Richard Jaworowski’s home was a television blaring some sporting event — most likely the Chicago White Sox — and his voice bellowing helpful instructions at the team.
“He talked about Sox players every single day we saw him, so he was a real die-hard Sox fan,” said Jerry Wilhelm, a senior manager at Standard Parking, where Mr. Jaworowski worked as an attendant during Sox games. “He was one of the guys that groomed me in the business and he found a way to make you laugh everyday.”
Mr. Jaworowski was thrilled when he met Sox legends Minnie Minoso and Carlos May at a 2005 Sox golf event in Plainfield.
He taught social studies for 36 years at St. Jude the Apostle grade school in South Holland until it was consolidated into Christ Our Savior School. He taught his final four years at St. Joseph School in Homewood.
Mr. Jaworowski died at Franciscan Hospital in Dyer, Indiana last month from heart failure, according to his wife. He was 78.
“Mr. J felt like home for all of us,” said Amber Travis, a St. Jude Class of 2001 graduate and a senior digital analyst for JPMorgan Chase in Chicago. “When I was a student, he used to ask me about my younger brother three years before he even taught him. When I reunited with him last March before the pandemic, he still asked about certain former students that he was concerned about.”
That concern for his students had an impact.
“Even though we were junior high kids, he treated us with respect and gave us a sense of purpose,” said Lynn Janusz, another former student at St. Jude. Janusz, now a funeral director, handled Mr. Jaworowski’s services at Thornridge Funeral Home. “It was about bringing our faith into the classroom by looking out for one another and teaching us not to be self-absorbed, thinking about how to make a difference in other people’s lives.”
Mr. Jaworowski grew up in Bridgeport and Park Forest. To help support his family, young Richard landed his first job at 10, caddying at Idlewild Country Club in Flossmoor. After graduating in 1960 from Bloom High School, he attended Southern Illinois University.
In 1967, he started teaching at St. Jude’s. To keep money coming in during summer breaks, Mr. Jaworowski worked as a park district camp director in South Holland and real estate broker. He also would drive an ice cream truck, coming home after a shift and giving away some of the leftovers to his neighbors.
Mr. Jaworowski was determined to keep kids off the street and started a variety of local sports leagues for boys and girls.
He coached boys in varsity basketball and a baseball league he created for 15- and 16-year-olds who aged out of Little League but wanted to stay involved in sports.
“He would referee these [basketball] games and purposely make foul calls against the leading team so that the game became close at the end,” said Ken Citkowski, a former student who played on both baseball and basketball teams for Mr. Jaworowski. “When it was over, he would always say ‘This was an NBA finish.’”
The Jaworowskis often took students to dinner, especially kids who seemed to need guidance, his wife said. She recalled he once invited his whole homeroom — about 50 students — for dinner. He also brought 20 pounds of ground chuck, so she could make them her famous Sloppy Joes.
“As a father, he really did a lot with a little in terms of resources,” said daughter Lauren Henzel. “I remember when we were young, he’d bring home a movie projector from school and set up a big sheet in the yard. All the neighbors would come over to watch a movie outside. He truly did a lot in what was a shoestring budget, being a Catholic school teacher.”
Many in his family dubbed “YMCA” by the Village People “Uncle Richie’s Dance” because of the way he’d dance awkwardly in the middle of the floor, surrounded by relatives and friends, at family events like weddings and holidays.
“He was the man standing in the corner watching over me to make sure everything was OK for me,” his wife said. “He would never let me walk down the street with me facing the street. He was always in protector mode.”
Mr. Jaworowski’s other survivors include daughters Emilee Biegel and Janet Palkon; siblings Linda, Dan and LeRoy Jaworowski; and 10 grandchildren.