Walendzik helped make festival what it is today
May 25, 2011 - There will be an air of sadness at Leonard's Strawberry Festival this July because one of the ladies who was a driving force behind it left this world last week.
|Back in August 2009, Sandra Walendzik was made an “honorary resident” of the Village of Leonard for all the years she helped organize and improve the annual Strawberry Festival. Sadly, she passed away last week following an 11-year battle with cancer. She will be missed. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)|
Sandra Ann Walendzik, a 34-year resident of Addison Township, died on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 after fighting a valiant and inspiring 11-year battle with cancer. She was 62 years old.
"I don't know if there would be (a festival) without her," said Leonard Village Councilwoman Char Sutherby.
Walendzik, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, was a charter member of the Leonard Summer Festival Committee, which helped the Strawberry Festival evolve and grow in scope and popularity over the years.
For many years, the festival basically consisted of Addison firefighters dishing out strawberry sundaes to the public.
In the late 1980s, Walendzik approached the village council about expanding the event.
"It was her idea to get this festival going the way it is now," said Sutherby, who served on the festival committee with Walendzik. "She decided there could be more and she made it happen. She went to the village council and asked for permission to have a parade and put all this on. She was the motivating force." Thanks to Walendzik and other volunteers, the festival turned into a major community event that draws thousands of people to Leonard every July for children's games, craft vendors, musical entertainment, a parade and other fun activities.
Although her vision for the festival was grand, Walendzik never failed to keep a close eye on the event's budget so as to ensure what little funds the committee had were always spent wisely.
"She did whatever she could to make this festival happen and not spend a lot of money," Sutherby said.
Walendzik definitely wasn't afraid to pitch in wherever she was needed.
"Sandy always worked harder than everyone around her because she felt she had to," Sutherby said.
Despite her deteriorating physical condition, Walendzik was determined to see another festival.
"About a month ago, she told me, 'I'm going to be at the Strawberry Festival this summer. I'm going to work,'" Sutherby said.
Walendzik never sought any accolades for all her hard work and dedication, but she received them nonetheless.
In August 2009, the Leonard Village Council voted to make her an "honorary resident." To the best of anyone's knowledge, she was the only person to receive such a designation in the village's 127-year history.
At the time, village President Mike McDonald said, "Sandy is the first person to volunteer. She is the first person to show up and she's the last person to leave."
"She's never asked for any recognition, any special privileges or anything like that. She's always just been there," McDonald noted.
Walendzik is also being fondly remembered at Oxford Community Schools where she was both an employee and a volunteer.
She began working part-time for the school district in May 1994. In September 1997, she was hired full-time as an instructional paraprofessional. She moved over to technology support in August 1999 and remained there until her retirement in August 2010.
"Sandra was probably one of the hardest working, most selfless employees I've ever had the privilege of working with," said Tim Throne, the district's technology director. "She was always willing to help the students, always willing to try and make things better."
Walendzik was also a very active participant in the Oxford Band Boosters, which helps financially support the high school marching band. She continued to volunteer with the group long after her daughter, Wynne, graduated OHS in 2004.
"She was a force of nature," said Booster President Leanne Terry. "She was not one to sit around. She did everything. She was there for every football game. She volunteered to chaperon on the buses. She helped serve meals when the kids were competing. She organized the concessions for our first two band festivals. And she did the Tag Days (fund-raiser) for years and years. She was always there. She was always a presence with the marching band and she never missed a booster meeting."
"She was the backbone," said fellow Booster Nancy Pritchett. "She went above and beyond. Her kids were out of school and she still stayed with us."
"Even though she was sick for the 10 years that I've known her, she was still out there," said fellow Booster Karen Logan. "She organized all the fund-raisers that we ever participated in. She gave her all to everything that we did. She was always first in line to volunteer."
"She'll be sorely missed. It's a huge loss to the community," Logan added.
In addition to the boosters, Walendzik volunteered her time with the Friends of the Addison Township Public Library, Girl Scouts (20 years) and the Leonard Garden Club.
"A lot of people don't even know all the stuff she did," said Pritchett, who met Walendzik through Girl Scouts. "If there was something the community needed, she rolled up her sleeves and did it. She just thought that's the way it should be. You give everything you have. She didn't understand people who'd say, 'Oh, I'm too busy." Sandra was fighting cancer and she did it all."
Walendzik didn't believe in simply giving up and letting the cancer rule her life.
In 2009, she told the Leader, "You have to stay active. You have to want to do things. Otherwise, if you're sitting on the couch feeling sorry for yourself, you're not going to make it."
Walendzik is survived by her husband James; son Kalon; daughter Wynne; brother Christopher Komasara; sister Judith Komasara; and many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and in-laws. She was preceded in death by her father and mother Chester and Pauline Komasara (Mroz).
A funeral service for Walendzik was held on Saturday, May 21 at Lynch & Sons Funeral Directors Bossardet Chapel in Oxford.
The family requested that memorial donations be made to Seasons Hospice (Madison Heights) or the American Cancer Society.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.