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Obituaries

Teacher Michael Warcola had gift for clarifying math concepts

| Monday, March 7, 2011

With a natural gift for teaching, Michael Warcola knew how to engage his elementary school students over a 30-year career in Clairton.

"He was phenomenal. A fantastic math teacher," said close friend Mary Petkovich, who taught with him in the Clairton School District for about 25 of those years.

Michael J. Warcola of Jefferson Hills died of cancer on Saturday, March 5, 2011, in Jefferson Regional Medical Center. He was 66.

"He could make the most difficult math concepts into something that the kids could run with," said Petkovich of Clairton, who retired two years ago.

"He could bring it down to their level," she said. "You could almost see the light bulbs go off in their heads."

Mr. Warcola taught fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade math in the Clairton school system. Ms. Petkovich called him "a born teacher" who connected with students and their families.

One of his students was Mary Ann Ward, who attended the former Walnut Avenue Elementary School in Clairton in 1966. That was Mr. Warcola's first teaching job after receiving his bachelor's of education degree from California University of Pennsylvania that year.

"He taught me when I was in sixth grade in 1966. Then, I didn't run into him again for 30 years," she said, recalling him to be "definitely a disciplinarian" but well liked by his students.

Mr. Warcola incorporated "learning games" into his teaching regimen, she said, and would bring in treats on special occasions.

Ward and Mr. Warcola met again in 1996, "and he remembered me all the way back from sixth grade," she said. After dating several years, the couple married in February.

Outside the classroom, Mr. Warcola's interests ranged from hunting to hot cars -- sometimes at the same time.

"He loved his Corvettes. He had seven of them during his lifetime," Mary Ann Warcola said. "He would even take them deer hunting up to Punxsutawney."

Born in McKeesport in 1944, Mr. Warcola graduated from Glassport High School in 1962.

Besides his wife, survivors include an uncle, Joseph Harchar of Jefferson Hills; mother-in-law Joann Ward of Clairton; brother-in-law James Ward of Clairton; and several cousins.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. today in S.M. Finney Funeral Home Inc., 432 N. Sixth St., Clairton.

Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday in St. Joseph Church in Clairton, with the Rev. Rich Zelik officiating. Burial will follow at St. Clare Cemetery, Clairton.

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