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McCullough Elementary School community mourns loss of Ms. Joschak

| Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, 3:36 p.m.
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Marilyn Joschak, left, died Aug. 28, 2013. A popular first-grade teacher at McCullough Elementary School in the Penn-Trafford School District, she is pictured with former McCullough PTO President Lisa Popovich and McCullough third-grade teacher Scott Mickey in this undated photo.

One of the biggest surprises of Nick Popovich's 16th birthday last November happened because of his old first-grade teacher at McCullough Elementary School.

Intimately aware of Nick's love of Pitt athletics, Marilyn Joschak and her fiancé, Ray Mlinarich, bombarded the Popoviches' front yard with Panthers balloons and streamers and other basketball decorations.

The episode is one of the many reasons Nick, his younger sister Natasha and his parents remained so close to Joschak years after he was a special-needs student in her class.

It's also why Nick's mother, Lisa, said she wanted to be the one who gave Nick and Natasha the shocking news that their vibrant, popular former teacher abruptly died on Aug. 28, two days after turning 57.

“Our family lost a special link, and I keep telling my kids, ‘Boy, are we lucky to have this beautiful angel who is on our side,'” Lisa Popovich said.

Joschak, of Manor, had just started her 20th year at McCullough on Aug. 22. She died from symptoms related to previously undetected heart disease, said Jessica Joschak, 24, the youngest of her three children.

Jessica Joschak said her brother, Ryan, reasoned in an online message to friends and family that their mother's heart had worn out from caring too much for others.

In recent weeks, Joschak had been busy prepping for her July 5 wedding at Greendance Winery in Mt. Pleasant, which was to be followed by a honeymoon in Italy, her daughter said.

The mother who once made wreaths for the front door of their home for every season had been perusing Pinterest, a social-media website, for various ideas for the nuptials, Jessica Joschak said. Her plan was to include a wine bottle and purple flowers among the centerpiece arrangement on each table.

Joschak's death hit some McCullough parents hard last week, especially because it happened just hours after parents and students welcomed the teachers back for the new school year with a cake.

“You couldn't not love her because she was just so personable, and she was a wonderful teacher,” said Susie Perrin, whose son had Joschak in class.

Teachers at McCullough also were coping with the sudden loss. Some called her “the queen of first grade” because she referred to her students as “little princes and princesses.”

District support staff was scheduled to help out at the school today, Thursday, so some McCullough faculty members could attend the funeral at Sacred Heart Church of Good Shepherd Parish in Braddock Hills.

Third-grade teacher Scott Mickey remembered the joy Joschak had for volunteering to help to teach the outdoor-life lessons each year during the annual fifth-grade trip to Deer Valley YMCA Family Camp in Somerset County.

Joschak also taught both of Mickey's sons.

“She made a difference in every student's life that she taught,” Mickey said. “When you were in her presence, her smile and her love for life were contagious.”

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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