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Bernie Tomzak happy to help those who need a hand

We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give." This quote by Winston Churchill could have been written about Bernie Tomzak of Superior who has been "giving" his whole life. Before he retired, Tomzak taught American History a...

We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give."

This quote by Winston Churchill could have been written about Bernie Tomzak of Superior who has been "giving" his whole life.

Before he retired, Tomzak taught American History at Superior High School. For almost 30 years he gave his time and energy to his students, not only as a teacher but also as an athletic director. "Most young people are good people," Tomzak said. "You've got some that make the rest look bad because they do things that they shouldn't do. But I never had a problem with that. I always thought my students were special and I tried to teach them that they were special. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed my job immensely."

Tomzak retired in 1990 to spend more time with his family. So when his wife, Gerry, suggested he join her in her volunteer work, he agreed. It was a perfect way to do things together and to do some good.

"She was instrumental in getting me involved. She coaxed me into volunteering and I'm very happy she did," he said of his wife, who died 10 years ago.

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Today Tomzak volunteers every day. He continues to work with young people as a volunteer with Kids Plus Youth Leadership Academy, and he also volunteers at St. Mary's Hospital of Superior, Royalton Manor nursing home in Billings Park, and at his church, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in East End. And he considers his volunteer work a ministry.

But if anyone were to tell him he's a special person for all his volunteering, Tomzak would argue. "I'm not special," he says. "I try to help out other people, that's all."

While he's helping others, Tomzak says he's getting the help he needs from above. Holding both hands high in the air he says, "I've got one hand for God and one hand for my wife. That's how I get the help."

Tomzak carries on the volunteering lesson he learned from his wife, who he says is with him spiritually, every day. At the hospital he stands in the lobby and greets people, offering up a smile and a hello and maybe giving directions to a doctor's office.

"I like to talk to people and meet people and to help them. I say hello to them, smile at them, help them out and ask them how they're doing."

It may not seem like much but Tomzak says someone coming to a doctor's appointment may be nervous and having someone greet them or help push their wheelchair can make a big difference.

Since he grew up in Superior, Tomzak sees many familiar faces. Catching up with old acquaintances is a bonus of the job.

When he's not at the hospital, Tomzak may be found, along with his dog, Angel, at Royalton Manor nursing home in Billings Park. Tomzak pushes residents in their wheelchairs to Mass while Angel greets them with a wag and nuzzle, maybe even catching a free ride every now and then. After the service there's coffee and treats and then the duo returns the residents to their rooms.

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At daily mass at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Tomzak volunteers as a reader, a server or does "whatever is necessary to help out the priest."

When there ia a funeral, Tomzak's giving nature draws him to family members. "Of course, that's a sad time and I can be there for people going through that. It is the same thing at the hospital, people having health problems and they need someone to say hello to and to talk with or give them some help. That's my goal in life, I guess."

Bernie Tomzak says anyone can do what he does.

"I'm just here to help out people and listen to them," he said. "People appreciate that."

It is people like Tomzak and the hundreds of volunteers in Superior, who make it a great community.

"We can do no great things -- only small things with great love."

-- Mother Teresa

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