Elgin High athletics won't be same without Heidi
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Elgin High School athletic secretary Heidi Gorajczyk is retiring at the end of the school year after 30 years at the school, 26 of them in the athletic department.
Brian Hill | Staff Photographer
When most people retire from their jobs, their employer finds a replacement, or in today's workplace, finds someone else to perform those duties.
At Elgin High School, that isn't going to be such an easy task come June 13.
That's the day Heidi Gorajczyk will retire from her position as Elgin High's athletic secretary, a title that is far from describing what she has meant to the school and the Maroons' athletic department for the past 30 years.
Most people don't even know her last name, so from here on forward today she will be Heidi because, well, she's Heidi.
And now in my fifth decade of covering sports in the Fox Valley area, and dealing sometimes on a daily basis with the area's athletic secretaries, I can honestly tell you this: There is none better than Heidi.
Yes, we have some fine athletic secretaries in our area, no question about it. These ladies don't get nearly enough credit for the job they do.
But just as we have certain coaches who set the standard for their profession, Heidi has set the standard for hers.
"She's one of the nicest people and one of the easiest people I've worked with," said former Elgin High boys basketball coach and assistant AD Jim Harrington. "She's really quite the lady and she will be sorely missed at that building; sorely missed."
Heidi spent her first four years in the main office at Elgin. Then when another secretarial legend, Shirley Knickrehm, retired along with Bill Chesbrough, Heidi moved upstairs and became new AD Brian Burtch's new secretary.
Back in 1985, things were a little simpler. All the work was done with paper on a typewriter and eventually a fax machine and a computer.
"When I started we had a 6x6 Mac computer," Heidi recalled. "Eligibility sheets had to be run off and put in coaches mailboxes. You actually had to get kids' transcripts and look through them. The technology has been incredible. Now everything's streamlined."
Computers didn't replace the personality it takes to deal with an AD, assistant ADs, coaches, student-athletes and teachers all day. They also didn't change the way Heidi dealt with those people.
"I was there 20 years and she's like an assistant AD," Harrington said. "She's on top of things and the most organized person I've dealt with. She's the first one in and the last one to leave and she always has a smile on her face. She doesn't miss a beat."
A labor of love
For Heidi, who also is the secretary for the P.E., Driver's Education and Health departments, it's been a labor of love.
"I love it," she said. "There have been other opportunities over the years within the district but I've never had any interest in anything but here. I love the positive aspect of it. We have good kids who work hard doing something they want to do and it's fun. I like the variety of courses we offer and the variety of people I work with. I'm either everyone's mother or everyone's wife.
"Now I'm dealing with children of children I've dealt with in the past. It's nice that I've reached this point."
Heidi grew up in Bensenville, the daughter of a baker and the youngest of three children. She graduated from Fenton High School and attended some business school before going to work for Blue Cross/Blue Shield. She got married and had two children of her own — her son Dan lives in Pennsylvania and her daughter Holly in Sycamore and they are both Elgin High grads. Heidi lives with her significant other, Elgin High football coach Dave Bierman, on a 200-acre farm just west of Kaneland High School in Maple Park.
She's been through a multitude of ADs — Mike Rogowski followed Burtch, then Tim Heinrich and Melanie Meidel. Then, when Meidel was preparing to move to South Elgin, Wayne DeMaar came in for 6 months. He was followed by Art Rohlman and now, for the past two years, Heidi has called Gwen Poore her boss.
"For a long time most of the personnel stayed the same," Heidi said. "But the last 10 years there's been much more rollover. You don't have that core of people and you don't find the longevity anymore."
Poore was just happy to have someone on her game when she took over for Rohlman.
"Heidi is the backbone of Elgin High athletics and has been for years," said Poore, who will also leave in June to join her husband, Pat, who is now on Jerry Kill's football staff at the University of Minnesota.
"Heidi made the transition from Art Rohlman to myself seamless. She is a valuable and positive influence on everything we do. Her wealth of knowledge is immeasurable. It's amazing the number of people I run into on a daily basis who know her and work with her and hold her in the highest regard. I've been blessed to have someone who is such a joy to be around and we've made a good team."
Dr. Nick Bumbales is now in his 23rd year at Elgin High and as the athletic department's team doctor as well for many years, and now a multisport coach, has dealt with Heidi on a variety of levels.
"She's the root to the whole operation," Bumbales said. "She makes sure everything gets done from top to bottom for the AD, the coaches, the student-athletes and the teachers. It's going to be very difficult without her. She encompasses the jobs of several people. She's just a fantastic person and very special to everyone here. We'll find people to replace her but it's going to take a lot of people to step up and fill her shoes. She's been a very steadying influence."
The prototype for multi-tasking, Heidi doesn't take a lot of credit for what she does, she just does it. But she has great respect for the athletic directors she's worked for and with.
"I salute the ADs at all the schools," she said. "With downsizing, there's more on their plate and the ADs have to wear many hats. You have no clue all they do until you sit in their chair and walk in their shoes."
She's had great memories, too. She fondly remembers — as does most of Elgin — the great run of the Maroons' boys basketball teams from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s saying, "The Harrington era was great. He's just a wonderful person."
Harrington won't hesitate to tell you how Heidi made his life easier.
"You'd walk in and she had you day planned," he said. "It always made my day easier. To be with her was a pleasure. She was the best. It was her life and she ate, drank and slept Elgin High athletics. I'd call her Mrs. Elgin High School, that's for sure."
Heidi also has a special place in her heart for Bumbales.
"Working with Doc has been great," Heidi said. "Doc is just incredible with everything he gives to Elgin High."
One of the more special moments for Heidi came in the fall of 2008 when Bierman moved from Larkin to Elgin to take over the football program. Heidi had become Bierman's videographer over the years and it gave her an opportunity to finally video Elgin football games instead of Burlington Central, DeKalb or Larkin.
And the future
Now, as she heads into retirement, she'll spend more time around the farm she and Bierman share.
"I've gotten selfish with my time the last 10 years because I'm a grandma now," Heidi says. "Now I'm going to enjoy Dave's football games as a spectator. I don't even know how to do that anymore. And I'm looking forward to being a farm girl and having a garden and flowers. I'm looking forward to being a master of my own time."
And her advice to her successor on the Chesbrough Field House balcony is simple.
"Hopefully the person who replaces me gives as much as it takes," she said. "I chose to do that."
And the multitude of people who had the privilege of working with Heidi over the years, present company included, have been better off for it.
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