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Hundreds pay respect to Seymour community leader, teacher

March 14, 2019 GMT

She was a wife, mother, teacher and community leader.

But above all Karen Stanek was a Seymourite. She’d proudly tell everyone “Once a Wildcat, Always a Wildcat”—invoking the High School’s nickname as her commitment to her community.

“To Karen this wasn’t a slogan or a catch phrase you put on the back of a t-shirt,” said John McCasland, who spent 14 years teaching in Stanek’s Social Studies department at Seymour High School. “It was a pledge, it was a commitment to your community...these were words to live by. She lived by these words.”.

Stanek, who with her husband, Fred, have long served on town boards, commissions and committees as well as the Valley Community Foundation, died March 8 at Yale-New Haven Hospital. At the time of her death, Stanek was a member of the Board of Selectman. Her husband is a member of the town’s Board of Education.

Over the last two days hundreds turned out to pay their final respects appearing first on Wednesday night at the Ralph Hull Funeral Home in Seymour and then at her Mass of Christian Burial Thursday morning in Ansonia’s Church of the Assumption.

Among the mourners was Eugene Skowronski, an Ansonia lawyer and former state senator.

“What a great lady,” said Skowronski. “What she accomplished with her life is extraordinary. Her commitment to Seymour and the Valley is unbelievable. She’s a role model.”

It was during one of Skowronski’s campaign runs that Stanek met her husband.

“Fred was handing out campaign brochures for me at a Seymour High football game,” Skowronski recalled. “Karen was sitting in the stands and came down. They started talking and she convinced him to help her with the Seymour High Mock Trial team’s preparation. He asked her out and the rest is history.”

“If my political career did any good for the Valley that was it,” he quipped.

One of Stanek’s students during her 35 year Seymour High teaching career was Stephan Behuniak..She retired in 2011,

“Her passion for public service inspired me and many others,” said Behuniak, now the town’s Democratic chairman and a member of the Board of Selectmen. “I loved serving with her on the Board.’”

Stanek, who died on International Women’s Day, had been pushing the Board to de-gender its Selectmen’s title. She preferred Selectpersons.

“That was her pet project,” Behuniak said. “I’m going to make sure we take a look at it.”

The town charter requires a Democrat be appointed to the Board of Selectman as her replacement within 30 days.

Thursday’s Mass marked the second time in a month that the Rev. Jeffrey Gubbiotti presided over the funeral of a Valley legislator. In February, it was Ansonia Alderman Frank DeLibero.

Gubbiotti listened as first Courtenay Fisher, Stanek’s daughter and later McCasland eulogized Stanek.

“This is the story of a devoted educator, a proud American with a reverence for those who sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy and the principles that have always made our country great,” Fisher told the parishioners. Stanek often invited veterans to speak to her U.S. history class and both she and her husband served on Seymour’s Memorial Day Parade committees..

“In the course of her 35-year career she imparted her knowledge on hundreds probably thousands of students,” her daughter continued, “teaching not what to think, but how to think...if mom ever taught you in class, coached you on Mock Trial team, worked with you on Student Council or helped you in one of the countless other things she was involved with you were her kid and she loved you.”

McCasland recalled Stanek’s passion for Teddy Roosevelt and how she carried a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution everywhere.

But three things McCasland said he’ll never forget is “the look, the smirk and the walk.”

“If any of us said or did anything she disagreed with we got the look,” he explained.

The smirk came if she agreed with what you were saying “or better yet if we agreed with what she was saying,”” McCasland said. Finally there was the freight train walk “you knew she was on a mission and you knew you need to get out of her way.”

Now McCasland believes “Heaven just got a little more interesting. I hope Teddy Roosevelt is aware his biggest fan will find him. I hope he’s ready for the look, the smirk and the walk.”