Jon Lesnjak ’67 remembered

Racine – Jon Michael Lesnjak, age 68, passed away on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2013, from complications of aggressive cancer. After a heroic, hard-fought battle of almost two years, he conquered his cancer and destroyed it by taking it with him into death.

Jon was born March 1, 1945, in Racine, Wisconsin, to John and Mary Lesnjak (now deceased), and lived here all his life. He was the all-American boy in many ways, growing up with close cousins and friends in the Springvale neighborhood, exploring and adventuring along the Root River and in area parks. Jon attended Jefferson and McKinley Schools, and graduated from Park High School in 1963. During high school and college summers Jon worked at Johnson Golf Course and Horlick Field, and also worked at Hamilton Beach. He was a scratch golfer for many years and loved the sport of baseball, playing summer softball for many years for two teams at a time.

He attended Dominican College to become an English teacher, receiving his degree in the winter of 1967-68. It was at college that he met his wife Diana (nee: Wagner), and they were married in June, 1968. Jon taught for a semester at Bradford HS in Kenosha, and then began his 45 year career at JI Case High School. He educated generations of Case students in literature, grammar, and usage, and they loved and respected Mr. Lesnjak as a teacher who truly understood the needs of high school students for three things: a light touch of weird humor, a challenge to learn, and a truly useful preparation for test-taking and writing. Many returned to tell him how much his teaching and teaching style meant to them.

Jon’s sons, Sean and Ryan, were his heart and soul. He coached their peewee ball teams, taught them to be great outdoorsmen, and imparted his wry sense of humor. The three of them constantly quoted funny movie line sequences to one another and dared each other in Star Trek trivia. The family’s humor-fests are legendary. Jon raised his sons to be loyal, quick-thinking, and caring, just as he was. They are a credit to him. Jon adored Ryan’s wife, Misty, who was the daughter he never had. He loved his three grandsons, Daniel, Jon, and Thomas, and never tired of playing pranks on them and with them. Diana was Jon’s soul-mate; they were kindred spirits from the start.

After years of tent camping with Diana and the boys, Jon ultimately made the jump to owning a lake home “up north” in Vilas County. He took tremendous pleasure in working tirelessly around the place in Presque Isle, creating a wonderful retreat for the family’s vacation times. He taught himself to be a talented carpenter, drywaller, electrician, and tiler. He always said he would do anything but plumbing. He thought of his paradise up north as his best legacy to his sons, and he was at his very best and happiest in the woods and on the waters of northern Wisconsin.

In his 30s he discovered a talent for painting and became an accomplished amateur artist in oils over the years, and even sold many of his landscapes and house-portraits. It was a hobby that gave him a lot of pleasure and occasionally a little frustration; he loved to post his finished work on his Facebook page where he had many friends and connections. His page will be left up for now so others can see and share thoughts.

Some of his best paintings are of his portraits of his beloved dog Jenna Marie; he was a dog lover all his life and considered Jenna, his final companion, to be a best friend. She misses Jon greatly.

When asked how Jon was doing, his standard answer, up to his final months, was “I’m Living the Dream.” It was true in Jon’s case. He was strong and able, all his life, to use his mind and his hands to create a wonderful life for himself and his family, even with the modest income of a public school teacher. This ability was something in which he took great and justifiable pride. He was a quiet force of nature to all who knew him.

Jon was always at his best and happiest at family gatherings, and considered his sons and his wife his best friends. He lives on in fond memory of his wife of 45 years, Diana; his son Sean and grandsons Jon and Tommy Lesnjak; his son and daughter-in-law Ryan and Misty Lesnjak and grandson Daniel Kaprelian; his brother and sister-in-law Jim and Amy Lesnjak and nephew Greg (Aura) Lesnjak. Jon also is remembered by close cousins Ken and Ron (Jan) Mazmanian, and Carol (Gary) Boehlke. Jon was very close to his wife’s family, and he spent many happy times with Diana’s siblings Jeannie (Harold) Atkins, Lori (David) Huff, and Rich (Susan) Wagner over holidays, camping vacations, and Packer games, and in younger days, over endless pot roast Sunday dinners (much teased-about) at the Wagner house. Jon was also very close to his own family and had a wonderful relationship with his “much younger” baby brother Jim. Jon was so very grateful to have Jimmy visit often in his last months, bringing Jon homemade childhood food favorites to encourage him to eat. Jon also enjoyed a true brotherly relationship with his brother-in-law David Huff, working through many needed up-north projects for the “J and D Construction Company.” He cherished his literate and humorous relationships with his many colleagues at Case High School and developed a shared dog-loving special friendship with Don and Jill Schwartz.

Visitation and remembrance with the family will be Sunday, December 29, noon to 3pm at the Purath-Strand Funeral Home, 3915 Douglas Avenue in Racine. It is the family’s hope that all attending will wear jeans or other casual attire to honor this very laid-back, outdoors-loving man who shunned suits and ties as much as humanly possible. It was Jon’s wish to be cremated and his remains will be interred at a later date.

The Lesnjak family salutes the nursing staffs at WF All Saints 3-B Oncology wing, and at Ridgewood 1-East rehabilitation wing, for their support and gentle professional care of Jon during his last weeks; they are superb teams. Drs. Mullane and DeCheck became Jon’s mentors to navigate his disease, and their medical treatment and caring personalized manner made a positive difference in his last years of life. The support of many relatives, friends, and neighbors was important and appreciated all through this tough time.

In lieu of plants or flowers, memorials may be made to the family to defray the purchase of a memorial stone for Jon to be placed in his beloved woods up north.