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Memorial service today for first lay principal serving St. Anthonys
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City editor of the
Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin
A story shared by Anna Bourbeau describes the late Maryellen Groznik as a school teacher.

Groznik passed away on Jan. 15 in Bigfork, Montana, but St. Anthony’s School in Manteca where she was the first lay person to serve as principal, is holding a Mass of Christian burial today starting at 10:30 a.m. at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church on East North Street. The school opened in 1952 with the Society of the Precious Blood sisters on staff.

One of Bourbeau’s sons somehow “did something wrong” in Groznik’s second-grade class one day. But instead of disciplining or punishing young Andre, Groznik simply talked to him, recalled Bourbeau.

At home later that day, Bourbeau asked her older son about what happened.

“And he said, ‘Mama, I really don’t know because she just kissed me and hugged me. And if I did something wrong, I wouldn’t do it again.’ She just talked to him and didn’t really scold him. By the time he got home, he’d forgotten what he did in the first place. But that’s the type of person she was. She was just a gentle person,” said Bourbeau talking about Groznik.

All four children of Bourbeau and husband John Paul attended St. Anthony’s School. However, only the three youngest ones – Andre, John Pierre, and Renee – had Groznik in second grade. Stephanie, the oldest, was already in third grade when the family moved here from the Bay Area.

When Andre entered second grade, Bourbeau became involved as one of the volunteer moms in Groznik’s class.

‘A beautiful person at heart’
“That’s how I met her. I remember her as being a mom, a caring person, so we nicknamed her our mother teacher. For every little celebration, we’d bring in cupcakes. We’d help with arts and crafts and she would always thank us. We weren’t just the parents of her students; we were all her children. She was just a beautiful person at heart, a gentle woman, a lady,” Bourbeau further recollected.

She also recalled another story that illustrated how Groznik often went above and beyond her role as a teacher and principal.

“I remember the time she got me involved when a young man lost his wife and she had a little boy,” Bourbeau said.

When Groznik found out that the little boy had never been baptized, she offered to help the widowed father in getting his son to receive the sacrament.

“So we had a private baptism for the boy with all the room moms. I was a godmother to the little boy. We brought bouquets. Barbara Jaeger (St. Anthony’s School longtime cafeteria manager who retired a few years ago) made a cake. Then we went to the cafeteria and had a celebration,” Bourbeau said, relishing the memory.

“She would take (her job) to heart. She loved all those little kids. She’d go over and beyond what she was required to do,” said Bourbeau who became a room mom when Groznik asked her to be one.

Bourbeau has never heard such a thing before and asked, “What does that mean?”

And Groznik said, “Well, help me out with activities, parties and this and that.”

“And I said, OK. So, I started maybe once a month, then once a week, then twice a week. But I loved every moment,” Bourbeau said.

Besides, being a room mom was also the perfect excuse to be near her son who, at that age, was just “so shy; you looked at him the wrong way and he’d just cry,” she said with a laugh.

That young boy is now 29 and helps his father farm their family vineyards around Collegeville and in Lodi. John Pierre works for Best Buy in Riverbank and is part of the company’s traveling team. Renee is a disc jockey for KWIN radio in Stockton and comes on the air from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday.

St. Anthony’s School longtime secretary, Pam Kelechenyi, also knew Groznik.

“My kids had her as a teacher and I was a parent volunteer. She was so kind-hearted. She had a genuine love for the students,” Kelechenyi said.

One of the newer staff members of the parish, development director Debbie Kapina, knew Groznik through the late principal’s daughter Kathianne Groznik Godfrey. They became fast friends when Godfrey’s daughter enrolled in preschool at St. Luke’s School in Stockton where Kapina was the development director.

“I would go over to the preschool to help them, and there was this cute little girl and I just fell in love with her. My daughter (Jill) said, ‘she’s the cutest little thing; I’d like to be her big sister,’” Kapina said.

When they became friends, Kapina said she did not even know that Godfrey’s mother was a former principal at St. Anthony’s School, much less the first lay principal at the parochial school.

But she had an opportunity to meet Groznik, Kapina said.

“I just thought she was a nice lady,” she said. Later on, Groznik also became “Jill’s grandma.”

Groznik and her late husband Anton moved to Manteca in 1966. He was one of many from the Midwest who came to work at the then-Libbey-Owens-Ford glass company in Lathrop. Groznik’s husband had a promotion when he went to work at the plant in Lathrop which is now Pilkington Glass.

Before their move to California, Groznik taught at a high school in Ottawa, Illinois.

She started out as a teacher at St. Anthony’s School. After the Precious Blood sisters left, Groznik was promoted to principal, becoming the first lay person to hold that position. She retired after a number of years of working at the school. But 10 years later, circumstances led her path back to being a school teacher at St. Anthony’s again and then retired for the second time in the 1990s.

In recent years, she moved to Bigfork, Montana, for health reasons and to live with her other daughter and son-in-law, Maureen and Gregory Harrah.

Besides her two daughters, Groznik also had a son, Kurt, who lives in Grand Bay, Alabama.

She is also survived by seven grandchildren: Michael and Jillian Godfrey, Anthony, Whitney and Thaddeus Harrah, Trylor and Alex Groznik, as well as two great-granddaughters, Carli and Lauren Harrah.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Maryellen Groznik Memorial Scholarship for St. Anthony’s School.