Obituary for Paul B. Janeczko

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Writer Paul Bryan Janeczko, 73, died peacefully February 19 at his home in Brunswick, Maine, surrounded by close family and a good friend.  On the windowsill perched his upcoming poetry anthology, The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog, just before its March release. A collection of cards, pictures, and drawings from friends and family crowded the bedside tables. His favorite music, jazz, played softly.  It was lunchtime, cold and sunny.

Paul was diagnosed in spring 2018 with a recurrence of a rare cancer that he fought 25 years ago.  After many consultations, procedures, and treatments, both conventional and experimental, he and his family decided to accept hospice care as the best option for the end stage of a rich life.

Born on July 27, 1945, in Passaic, New Jersey, Paul was the second child and son of Francis John and Veronica (Smolak) Janeczko, both children of Polish immigrants.  For most of young Paul’s life, the family lived in Wood-Ridge, NJ. He attended Catholic schools, and though he later left the church, he embraced his Polish heritage, especially its hearty food and stereotypically dogged work ethic.  In the last week of his life, he enjoyed a family dinner of authentic pierogi and stuffed cabbage from Bogusha’s in Portland.

Paul was barely a postwar child—arriving just after Germany’s surrender but before Japan’s—and not quite a Baby Boomer.  He embodied much of the late-1940s spirit of middle-class suburban America, playing little league baseball (not well), enduring school, exploring early rock and roll, and finding his way amongst a large brood in a small brick house.

A self-described indifferent student, Paul discovered poetry as an undergraduate at St. Francis College (now the University of New England) in southern Maine, and furthered his studies at John Carroll University in suburban Cleveland.  He dedicated the next two decades to inspiring high school students as a language arts teacher in Ohio, Massachusetts, and Maine. After the birth of daughter Emma, Paul retired from teaching to devote more time to writing and share in her care.  This allowed him to combine his enthusiasm for teaching poetry with a more flexible schedule. As a sort of wandering poet/educator dubbed Poet Guy, he traveled throughout the U.S. and overseas, leading school workshops for kids ages 5 to 18. He had a special affection for “the County”—rural Aroostook County, Maine—and other remote, under-resourced areas in his adopted home state.  In these tailored seminars, Paul helped hundreds of students find just the right words to describe images and feelings, using examples of poems that had “reached” his high school charges, as well as fun challenges and word games to open their imaginations.

In the early 1990s, in his early 50s, Paul experienced his first bout with cancer, undergoing successful chemotherapy and radiation.  Although he never needed an outside force to maintain his strong work habits, this period of illness and recovery was followed by prolific, creative years, as if there was no time to waste.  He turned out more than 50 books altogether—poetry anthologies for all ages, young-adult fiction and nonfiction, instructional books for teachers, and his own poetry books-on a wide range of subjects such as cowboys, a Holocaust-era ghetto, a circus fire, and, of course, baseball.  (More about Paul’s writerly life may be found in his Publishers Weekly obituary at https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/79328-obituary-paul-b-janeczko.html)

Paul often proclaimed that he was never bored, that there was always something to research or start, edit or polish. He carried a small notebook in his pocket and would write down a song fragment, a character quirk, or a brilliant idea gleaned from an article he’d read. He was an avid reader and book collector, with an impressive home library that contains more books than most people could hope to read in their lifetime.

Paul loved a good football game and followed the New England Patriots loyally, but baseball reigned in his heart.  In 2012, he and daughter Emma took a rambling cross-country tour of several major- and minor-league baseball stadiums.  A childhood fan of the Chicago White Sox (because of a fixation with their star second baseman, Nellie Fox), Paul happily joined Red Sox Nation once he moved to New England.  He generally attended two or three games a season with his brother, Emma, or a friend. He was a reserved guy but never hid his childlike delight in a great game or even an average one. He was known for disliking long lines (or any lines) and crowds, but if there was a Sox game on the other end, it was okay.  At home, he counted down the days until spring training and listened to games on the radio, almost every summer night. An early-to-bed fan, he’d check the final score first thing upon awakening at his usual hour of 4:15 or so.

Paul and Nadine, his wife of 34 years, moved to Brunswick from Hebron, Maine, in 2015.  The number of book boxes that were moved from one house to another even after agonizing culling shall remain unreported. While leaving the tiny town and his familiar grooves was not Paul’s idea, he reluctantly agreed that civilization could be a good thing, and his three-plus years in the college town were happy and productive.  The neighbors proved smart and caring, the Broadway Deli nourishing, and the Bowdoin College campus invigorating for walks or a trip to the library.

Spiritual nourishment was a priority of Paul’s and came in the form of a regular Buddhist study, consistent meditation practice, daily yoga (before yoga was cool) and  about 40 morning minutes of journaling, Paul made time for daily walks with and without the family dog (first Ed, then Rosie, recently Nellie) along wooded paths in Hebron and Brunswick.  In bad weather, he used a treadmill and often watched English mystery series—what he called “Brit Dicks”—as he walked. Paul grocery-shopped on Saturday (before the crowds), cleaned the bathroom on Sunday (listening to twangy country tunes), and planned the week’s menus in advance, ensuring home-cooked meals on the table most nights.  He liked lists and checking things off them, something that runs in the family. He cultivated a semi-Luddite image but appreciated his iPad, from which friends would receive links to articles they might like, along with thoughtful notes. Paul amassed a large collection of fountain pens, which he used for journaling and note-taking. He felt that waiting for the ink to dry on a page allowed a pause—a moment to think—before the start of another.  A late adopter of the smartphone, he nevertheless became a devoted texter, not only to keep up with his millennial daughter but because it allowed him to avoid phone conversations (which he never liked anyway), as he lost some hearing over the past few years.

Every summer for the past 25 years, the Janeczko/Edris family with many of their friends spent a couple of weeks on the Isle of Springs, a small, no-cars island off Boothbay, Maine.  In the week before he died, Paul talked about the great fortune of finding such an “otherworldly” place so close to home. Although he was a bit of a landlubber who never learned how to swim, he adored the island—the rambling pathways, the salty smells of the rocky and grassy shores, the sureness of the tides, the glimpses of red squirrels and deer and ospreys from the screen porch, the hunt for sea glass, the clanging of the channel bells, and the big themed dinners with friends in the evenings.  Paul loved peach pie, peanut butter, slow-made oatmeal, and kielbasa. He was a hearty eater with a healthy appreciation for treats, and even came around to tolerating kale and arugula thanks to his veggie-obsessed wife and daughter.

This past Labor Day weekend, Paul walked Emma down the aisle arm-in-arm with Nadine, opened the ceremony with a Rumi poem and toasted the happy couple after a tender father-daughter dance.  This was his last big public appearance and a testament to his commitment to celebrating this joyous occasion. The fall and winter became an uneven rotation of visits to Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a Spaulding rehab facility in Boston, then back to Brunswick and frequent shuttling between Mid Coast Hospital and home with in-home care. During his time at home, he visited with many close friends, neighbors, and family members.  As the winner of the 2019 Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children from the National Council of Teachers of English, he participated in a wide-ranging bedside interview the week before he died, reflecting on his work habits and practices with typical humor and few regrets.

Paul volunteered for the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and taught courses at the MidCoast Senior College and Adult Education Programs.  He was a devoted supporter of many humanitarian, educational, political, and artistic organizations.

Paul leaves his wife, Nadine Edris of Brunswick; daughter Emma Janeczko and her husband Devin Perry of Westbrook, ME; three brothers and their wives:  Francis John, Jr. (Linda) of Ocala, FL, John R. (Patricia) of Haddon Heights, NJ, and Mark T. (Nancy) of Wood-Ridge, NJ; sister Mary Janeczko-Jezsik of Littleton, CO; ten nieces and nephews and many grand nieces and nephews.  The family is planning a memorial celebration of his life on June 8 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick, ME. Donations in Paul’s memory may be sent to Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, Curtis Memorial Library, Good Shepherd Food Bank, Amnesty International, your local library or a charity of your choosing.