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MHS Musings: Remembering Fritz Jonach

MHS students, faculty and alumni share their memories of the beloved social studies teacher.

News that beloved teacher Frederick “Fritz” Jonach had died early Thursday  came as shock to Millburn High School students and faculty when it was announced  at school that morning.

The 43-year-old was the father of two young children, and, according to MHS principal William Miron, Jonach had intended to take a personal day on Thursday so he could spend time with his family.

A teacher at MHS since 1992, Jonach was a 1986 graduate of Millburn High School. He taught United States history, global issues, economics and film & society at MHS. He was also the advisor of many clubs (among them the Asian Cultural Club and the Interact Club), and coached the varsity bowling team. 

Hundreds of students signed a memorial poster set up in the main hallway, and a mural painted by AP Art Consortium student Jawon Kim intended for Jonach's classroom, that will instead be given to his family.

Jonach's funeral is set for Wednesday, June 1. Meanwhile, both students and faculty have taken time to reflect on his life. Some teachers, students and alumni shared stories of Jonach with Patch:

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A Poem for Mr. Jonach

He walked with a smile

He walked with ambition

He listened to others everyday

He never hurt a person

He was that perfect man among us

He never yelled; only spoke

He wanted to make a change

I never respected a man as much as I did him

This man was fair to us all

I hope the people that walked all over him understand

For yet he was a giant among us men

This man also wasn’t just a teacher, he also was a friend

This man basked in glory and was taken from us

He will never be lost in my train of thought

This man listened no matter what

I wish I could see him one last time

I wish I could tell those girls to be more nice

This man is an ideal god

Who is this man I respect so much?

His name is Mr. Jonach

The greatest man I’ve seen

-- Kai Rapelyea, Grade 10

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I have worked with and known Mr Joanch for 14 years.

He was part of the hiring committee that gave me an opportunity to become a part of the MHS family and he served as my mentor and a source of inspiration on how to combine being an educator with being an advocate for students in my classes.  

Mr. Jonach also became my friend and someone that I could talk to and rely upon.  Mr Jonach had a love and a passion for teaching, coaching and advising that was infectious and his genuine smile, wit and intellect were things that truly resonated with his students. He was real with them and I think all his students appreciated that he was always looking out for their best interests. 

Mr. Jonach was a giving colleague who everyone in the department knew that they had an ally in -- he gave of himself, whether it be advice, resources or just a kind listening ear.  His thoughtfulness will stay with me always as will his ability to make me the best in others. I know that his colleagues, students, friends and family saw that he was the epitome of an exceptional father, husband, friend, teacher, coach, advisor and man..words cannot truly express how much he will be missed but also how much he has left of himself with all of us at MHS and in the Millburn community.

-- Gina Santianna, Social Studies Department Chair

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There's so much I could say about Mr. Jonach.

I came into his Global Issues class this year naive and maybe a little ignorant of the world around me. After just a few weeks, I had already learned a vast amount of information about countries and cultures that I never knew existed.

More than that, it was clear that he was not just a fantastic teacher, but also a fantastic father and husband.

A moment that I will never forget is the day before Halloween this October, when he told my friends and I to "be safe, and be good." It became so apparent that he cared for his students as if they were his own children, which is a quality that is not always present in teachers.

I only wish that every student at MHS had been fortunate enough to learn from such a worldly and wise man. Mr. Jonach will be remembered and never forgotten.

-- Gabby Miller, Grade 12

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I am an MHS alum and I graduated in 2005. I had Mr. Jonach as a teacher for my Global Studies class, and he was also the advisor for the Interact Club when I was involved with it during my Junior and Senior years.

He was a really great teacher who taught things in a way that made them really stick with me. I still think of things from his class from time to time, like the movie we watched about what would happen if a nuclear bomb went off in the United States.

He was also a really great and enthusiastic club advisor. Even though our club was extremely small, he was really supportive and helped us do some interesting things. I'm sure he will be greatly missed by everyone at MHS and my thoughts go out to his family. 

-- Kelly Gilsenan, MHS Class of 2005

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His colleagues knew him as Fritz, and he was a true professional and a stand up guy. Students knew him as Mr. Jonach and many in the last few days have shared stories with me about their experience in his class, clubs and on the bowling team. Every word is positive and it's no surprise. I've seen tears shed by students who really cared about this man, a man who knew the importance of connecting with kids and laughing at life.  

He was also a dedicated, loving dad and sometimes in such a competitive, demanding environment, it's easy to forget what's truly important. But those who knew him, could always expect a down to earth, grounded human being talking about his wife and kids and he loved them dearly.  

He always stood at the door of his classroom, greeting his students before class. "Hey, how's it going?" when they entered and "Okay guys, you can head on out" when they left.  Every so often before the bell, he'd signal to me, diagonally at my door, and we'd meet halfway in the hall to share a funny moment in our day. He'd share his plans going on vacation or a weekend trip to Atlantic City.

I loved the realness about Fritz. I will truly miss "one of the good ones." 

-- Suzanne Snyder, English Department

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I'm a freshman in college, well sophomore now. I graduated MHS last year (2010). 

My senior year I had Mr. Jonach for Global Issues, and I remember one random day when he brought in doughnuts and coffee for my class. It was just a random day and for me personally it couldn't have come at a better time.

Since I had him first semester I was dealing with a lot of college stress, writing essays, filling out applications and anxiously waiting for the mail to come each day. I remember this particular day I was feeling really stressed. I was expecting to hear back from a few schools around that time and my nerves were getting the best of me. I remember around this time my school work was starting to pile up a bit (senioritis was beginning to kick in a little).

So this one day I get to class and Mr. Jonach walks in with two big boxes filled with doughnuts, not munchkins, doughnuts. He also brought coffee and had milk and sugar ready for our use.

It was the sweetest thing and his reason was that we were a great class and he wanted to treat us. It amazed me. He didn't lose a bet and have to bring us doughnuts, he didn't promise us a party, he simply wanted to treat us because he thought we were such a great class. That was just the type of person he was, he wanted to make his students happy. He was one of the most genuine people and I'll never forget his smiling face. Something it seems no one will forget.

-- Brigid Cunningham, MHS Class of 2010

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My office is right around the corner from Mr. Jonach's room and office.  Every morning he would stop in to chat with Mrs. Minkow (his in-class support teacher for ten years), Mrs. Dewoski and myself.   

He was warm, and exuded an ease and comfort that was contagious to those around him.

As a new teacher to the high school this year, moving from the middle school, Mr. Jonach greeted me EVERY time he saw me walking by his room as he stood by the door, waiting for students.  He would say "How are you today?" not just "Hi."  More than anything, his simple, friendly greeting, made me feel accepted and welcomed at the high school. 

I, as many, will miss his friendship, warm presence, and daily greeting.

-- Amy Levy, Resource Room

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I first met Mr. Jonach when he worked at "The Station Stop," long before he graced the halls as M.H.S Faculty. I was a chubby little rugrat with problems at home who went to the Station Stop with the neighborhood kids all the time. My friends always had money but I rarely did. Mr. J asked me one day about what was going on at home & from then on, would surprise me with my most favorite candies (paid for by him).

Mr. Jonach always told me to "Cheer Up... and Smile!!" and to do a good deed for someone else, as pay back for his kindness. 

Many years later, I made the transition to Millburn High from Saint Rose of Lima. I was riddled with anxiety and stress over the switch from private to public school and even more scared of the terrifying seniors, their hazing threats/reality, and not knowing anyone in my grade, other than the people I met through playing traveling sports over the years (my twin brother transferred to M.H.S my sophomore year).

I was blessed to have Mr. J, "My Candy Angel," and pseudo-big brother as one of my teachers.

Mr. Jonach obviously recognized my frazzled nerves and surprised me a few days after school began. After class, "My Candy Angel" told me to wait a minute so he could talk to me. I was told to not worry so much about making friends quickly and to "Cheer up ... and Smile!" Mr. J then proceeded to give me my old-school favorite sweet indulgence, Twizzlers, and assured me that I wasn't alone because he would watch out for me as best he could. 

Knowing that I could see a friendly face every day in class broke up the agony of being lost in a new school as a nerdy St. Rose girl. 

Mr. Jonach instilled multitudes of life lessons in his students, the majority of which weren't part of the curriculum. I am forever grateful to him for giving me hope, above all things. 

They say, "to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived - that is to have succeeded." Mr. Jonach managed to touch more lives than most in his short time on earth. By keeping his memory alive, this great man will never truly be gone. So, next time you eat your favorite candy, remember Mr. Jonach and his ability to brighten up people's worlds with his kind words and warm smile. Perhaps we should all brighten up someone else's world today in Mr. J's honor...

My thoughts and prayers are with Laurie, his children and his family. How blessed we all were to have had an angel in our midst ♥ ♥

-- Amanda Sullivan, MHS Class of 1996

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Fritz Jonach was a truly wonderful person. He was a class act.  Nothing seemed to rattle him. You will not find a better teacher, coach or person in our profession. He loved the Kansas City Chiefs. He will be missed.  Go Chiefs, TD

-- Ted D'Alessio, Athletic Director

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Mr. Jonach was always passionate about Asian Club even though at first I did not expect him to be so involved and caring. I really learned a lot from him, and I will always remember him as the talkative, hearty and responsible advisor and counselor. May God bless his family.

-- Helen He, Grade 11 (Asian Club Vice President)

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I knew Fritz Jonach as a student when he attended Millburn Junior High School in 1980-1983.  

Even as an esteemed colleague, Fritz always was that earnest, bright, kind 9th grader I knew "back in the day!"  

He reflected the best that Millburn has to offer! My heart breaks at this loss.

-- John Rogers, Millburn Middle School Guidance

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I feel very lucky to have had Mr. Jonach as my Global Issues teacher for this past semester and to have gotten to know him. I always looked forward to period 3 every day.

Mr. Jonach, you really made the class so interesting and engaging and I loved all the films you showed us. I will never forget how you would always stand outside your room and greet everyone in the hall with a smile.

I know that going into your classroom for these last few weeks of my senior year will never be the same. My heart goes out to your friends and family. You will be greatly missed. ♥

-- Melissa Rosenberg, Grade 12

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When I came to this school this year everything was new for me. I was astonished and lost in this school.

But as soon as I came into my homeroom, I met Mr. Jonach. As always he was smiling, and drinking his favorite tea. And I remembered him as smiling teacher.

As soon as he found out I was new, he offered me his help. He showed me everything I needed. He answered my questions. He was helping me for almost three months. And he was always smiling.

I still can't believe and understand that he is dead... I hope he is in the best place he could possibly be. I will always miss him. RIP Mr Jonach. Thank you for your support and smile.

-- Andrew Izotov, Grade 10

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Students and classmates of Jonach have used Facebook to post memories of Jonach. On Thursday, a Facebook page was created called "In Memory of Fritz Jonach," which has more than 1,000 "likes" so far. There have been hundreds of wall posts remembering Jonach. Many have also taken to Twitter to remember him.

Jonach's wake will be held Tuesday, May 31, from 5 to 9 p.m. The funeral service is Wednesday, June 1, at 10 a.m. Both will take place at Higgins and Bonner Echo Lake Funeral Home at 582 Springfield Ave., Westfield. The funeral home can be reached at (908) 789-7400.

Barbara Russo May 30, 2011 at 05:49 PM
I think back to when Mr Jonach first came to Millburn High School when I was a student there in 1992. He was always a warm friendly face and had him for a substitute before beginning his teaching career. It's a sad loss for the Millburn school system and will be missed. So sad a life would be cut short like that. Thomas Russo, Millburn High School Class of 1993
my3sons June 02, 2011 at 02:53 PM
Very sorry to hear about Mr. Jonach. My sons had him and he was very well liked! A true loss for MHS community.

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