By Bob Skolnik
For just over half her life Joanne Schaeffer has been a member of the Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 Board of Education. The 79-year-old Schaeffer has served on the school board since 1979, except for a couple of months in 1999 when she was briefly off the board after losing an election.
But a couple of months later she was appointed to the board to replace a sick school board member and she served for another 20 years.
But her 40 years as a school board member came to an end last week. She was defeated in her bid for another term in the April 2 election.
"I've enjoyed every minute of it, I really have," Schaeffer told the Landmark of her four decades on the school board.
Schaeffer was one of the longest serving school board members in Illinois, but not the longest. Don Choate a member of the downstate Jonesboro Community Consolidated Unit District 43 has served on that board for 51 years and is the longest active serving school board member in Illinois. The late Henry Vandenberg served for 55 years on two school boards in the south suburbs.
At her final meeting, Schaeffer was thanked and praised by eight people during the public comment portion of the meeting.
"Joanne has shown us what perseverance is," said Brookfield resident Krystal Steiner, noting that Schaeffer was on the school board when she attended Lincoln School.
"You have been honest, a warrior for our children," said parent Gloria Medina. "And always you have been fiscally and financially responsible."
Longtime District 103 custodian Jerry Przyzycki thanked Schaeffer for helping him get his job.
"Even when there was something we didn't see eye to eye on, we could always agree to disagree," Przyzycki said. "You never once ever held a grudge, and that's the quality that I will always admire the most about you."
Schaeffer received flowers and gifts, including a clock, from the school district in honor of all the time she spent on the school board. She was a little embarrassed by all the praise and got emotional at times.
"Wow, all these flowers, I'm not dead am I?" Schaeffer said.
Former board member Deanna Viti-Huxhold gave Schaeffer a bouquet of flower cupcakes and also gave her a case of White Castle sliders in honor of the late-night meetings they had when a fellow board member, the late Stephen Mazur, would make a run to the fast food restaurant when the hour got late.
"Everyone is going to miss you keeping us here late," Viti-Huxhold said to Schaeffer referring to Schaeffer's penchant for asking lots of questions and talking a lot.
Perhaps no one has observed Schaeffer longer than Marge Hubacek. Although Hubacek has only been on the school board for the past two years, she worked for 33 years as a secretary in the district, including 10 years as the recording secretary of the school board.
Hubacek started attending board meetings as a parent about the same time Schaeffer began serving on the school board.
"She's strong-willed and she's tough," Hubacek said. "She's not afraid to take you on head on if she has a disagreement."
Schaeffer showed her toughness late last year, returning to the board table 32 days after undergoing open heart surgery.
Former Interim Superintendent Patrick Patt described Schaeffer as the toughest person he has ever known.
Schaeffer was a rubber stamp for no one. She made up her own mind on issues and sometimes exasperated even those who were allies. Just this year she voted against reclassifying Robinson School Principal Al Molina as a teacher and against accepting the resignation of then Lincoln School Principal Tara Kristoff, who was forced from her job by the interim superintendents.
"You're not supposed to always agree up here," said Schaeffer in her final comments from the board table. "If you always agree, you're a rubber-stamp board."
No one ever doubted that Schaeffer voted the way she thought best for the students in District 103.
"Stand up for what you believe is right for the children and for the district," Schaeffer advised the three new board members.
Schaeffer was a particular target of her opponents in the April election. A political action committee, started by an ally of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty, put out a mass mailer that described Schaeffer as "extremely combative, opposed to technology in the classroom" and "lack[ing] understanding of modern durriculum, [being] dismissive to students who need help, and [being] offensive to parents and teachers."
Schaeffer made no secret of her disdain for "new math" or as she would say, "this crazy math that we're doing." She also doesn't think much of the new Common Core state standards and has a disdain for the current state of politics in Illinois.
"She's got strong opinions," Hubacek said. "Since she's had children, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren go through the district, she's very dedicated and protective of the school district. We've haven't always seen eye to eye on a lot of things, but she is protective of the kids in 103."
Schaeffer will freely tell you that she often talks too much, but made no apologies for always speaking her mind and often telling board members how things used to be done. She was never afraid to speak her mind and tell you what was going on and what she thought about it.
"She's opinionated, strong-willed, but fair," Hubacek said. "For the most part she listens to the other side but does what she thinks is right no matter what other people think."
Schaeffer, who grew up in Berwyn and moved to Lyons in 1966, has worked with 10 superintendents and four interim superintendents over her 40 years on the school board.
She said she is proud of many accomplishments in her time on the school board including establishing a middle school, creating a preschool, being one of the first elementary school districts to serve hot lunches, helping establish all-day kindergarten, and requiring school uniforms.
She's seen her children and grandchildren graduate from District 103 and is only disappointed that she won't be on the school board when her great-granddaughter, who is now a third-grader at Lincoln School, graduates eighth grade.
Schaeffer says she plans to continue to attend board meetings "as long as the crypt don't rise."
She admits that it will be hard to stay quiet in the audience but she always has the public comment period to share her opinions. But will she be able to abide by the three-minute time limit for public comment?
Hubacek acknowledged that meetings will probably be briefer without Schaeffer.
"I think they'll be shorter and I don't think that's necessarily a positive all the time either, because she certainly made us talk things out, whether we wanted to or not," Hubacek said.