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updated: 6/9/2014 6:21 PM

Metea mourns loss of science teacher with passion for learning

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  • Michael Wegrzyn was a Metea Valley High School teacher who urged his students to pursue learning with a passion -- whether they were in his science classes or on his lacrosse team.

      Michael Wegrzyn was a Metea Valley High School teacher who urged his students to pursue learning with a passion -- whether they were in his science classes or on his lacrosse team.
    Courtesy of Morgan Weinstock

By Safiya Merchant

Michael Riley Wegrzyn was the kind of teacher who wanted his students to find their passion in life -- and always was willing to help them pursue it.

A science teacher at Metea Valley High School in Aurora since it opened in 2009, he demanded a great deal from his students but was never afraid to laugh and help them discover the joy of learning, friends and colleagues say.

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Wegrzyn, 32, died Friday after suffering a stroke several days earlier. He most recently had been teaching biology and advanced environmental science at Metea and previously had taught at Neuqua Valley High School.

"Mike truly enjoyed having a great time and had a tremendous sense of humor," Metea Principal Jim Schmid said Monday. "He loved socializing with other teachers and students."

Schmid said Wegrzyn was "always willing to go the extra mile for his students."

"He was demanding in a very fair and equitable way," he said.

Jeff Schmela, another science teacher at Metea, said Wegrzyn was his best friend. They both taught AP Environmental Science and ate lunch together.

Schmela said they also would bike to school on some days and work on each other's houses during the summer.

"He was very excited about teaching," Schmela said. "He wanted the kids to not just study but to learn how to do their job as a person in addition to learning the material."

Wegrzyn also was head varsity coach for a women's lacrosse team dubbed the Tribe, made up of players from Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley high schools.

"He wanted nothing more than to help his students and his athletes to find their passion in life," said Morgan Weinstock, the team's junior varsity head coach.

Weinstock said Wegrzyn was her coach when she played lacrosse at Neuqua Valley. Along with lacrosse, Weinstock said, Wegrzyn helped her with biology.

Weinstock went on to play lacrosse for Carthage College and said Wegrzyn would attend some of her college games.

Wegrzyn and his wife, Chicago Tribune reporter Kate Thayer Wegrzyn, have twin daughters, Elle and Aubren, who are less than a year old, Weinstock said.

A GiveForward online fundraiser has been established to raise money for the girls. As of Monday afternoon, $26,555 had been collected.

"His love of education will be honored when this fund helps Elle and Aubren in their future educational endeavors," according to the GiveForward page.

Visitation was held Monday at Williams-Kampp Funeral Home in Wheaton. His funeral Mass will take place at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, 233 Church St. in Winfield.

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