|Birth: ||Feb. 7, 1945|
|Death: ||May 31, 2001|
56 years 3 months 24 days
Susquehanna Twp. School District Superintendent Thomas W. Holtzman Jr. died Thursday night in his home, ending a four-year battle with cancer. He was 56.
Colleagues and students struggled yesterday to deal with the loss of their friend and leader of the past 13 years, with Holtzman's death coming less than a week before graduation.
The class of 2001 was the first for which Holtzman had been superintendent from pupils' first day of kindergarten through their graduation. In recognition of that milestone, he called the graduates his "coast-to-coast class."
"The graduation ceremony had been decided beforehand, and he did not know it was going to be dedicated to him," said Susquehanna Twp. School Board President Cynthia Goldsmith.
She said the senior class officers had decided to honor Holtzman during the graduation ceremony, and the entire district had planned a weeklong celebration in his honor to mark his tenure.
"We had to keep it a secret, because he would have never let us have Tom Holtzman Day," Goldsmith said. "We just wanted to have the chance to say 'Thank you.'"
Assistant Superintendent David Volkman said he last spoke with Holtzman Thursday morning, when Holtzman called him from his hospital bed to discuss various pieces of district business. Later that day, Holtzman made the decision with his family to return home.
"One of the last things we talked about was graduation, and he told me: 'I want it to be upbeat. It's not a memorial service for me. This is for the kids. This is for them,'" Volkman said. "My only regret was that he didn't get to see the dedication in his honor."
He said the graduation ceremony would be held as planned at 7: 30 p.m. Wednesday at The Forum in Harrisburg. Volkman will give a speech and deliver the diplomas in Holtzman's place.
The commencement program includes the following dedication to Holtzman: "This year's commencement is lovingly dedicated to our superintendent and our friend, Dr. Thomas W. Holtzman Jr. Many of us have spent the last 13 years of our lives growing, maturing and learning under your caring direction. We are forever grateful for all you have done for us. The Class of 2001."
Senior Lauren Pringle said she and the rest of her class felt a special connection to their superintendent. She said he made it a point to get to know all of the students, and he could frequently be seen at high school sporting events.
"He was very warm and friendly," Pringle said. "He was such a beautiful man. For him to come out and support us like that, it was an inspiration for me to become a better person."
Holtzman was superintendent in Susquehanna Twp. since December 14, 1987. Before that, he was assistant superintendent of the Washington, Pa., School District.
He was Susquehanna Twp. High School principal for 41/2 years and spent 14 years in the Harrisburg School District. His time in the city district was spent primarily in the area of alternative education, serving as a teacher, program coordinator and alternative school principal. He also had been a military policeman in the Army.
Holtzman earned his doctorate in educational administration from the University of Pittsburgh, and his master's and bachelor's degrees from Shippensburg University.
He was selected as the Outstanding Superintendent for the 1999 George M. Leader Excellence in Education Award, an honor his colleagues said he earned through his loving approach to his students.
"Dr. Holtzman is a visionary and the spirit of the school district, and he had the ability to carry out that vision and inspire people to be their best," said school board member and friend Patricia Garcia.
Word of Holtzman's death spread through the schools as teachers were giving final exams. Counselors from the Capital Area Intermediate Unit and the Susquenita School District were on-hand at the schools to help teachers, faculty and students through the grieving process.
Kelly Berry, a middle school teacher and president of the Susquehanna Twp. Education Association, said the loss of Holtzman is devastating for teachers.
"This is a man who was admired by virtually anybody with whom he came in contact. It's very hard for a lot of people," Berry said.
West Shore School District Superintendent Larry A. Sayre knew Holtzman for 20 years, and he is the only schools chief in the Capital Area Intermediate Unit to remain at the same district longer than Holtzman.
"Tom always has been a man of considerable substance, and fortunately he channeled that into serving students," Sayre said. "He made leadership an art, and from what I can tell, that is his legacy he leaves behind."
He joined others in praising Holtzman for his display of courage in battling cancer and in dealing with the untimely death of his only son, 19-year-old Zachary Thomas Holtzman.
Zachary Holtzman, a freshman at the University of Delaware, was struck and killed by a CSX freight train at the Apple Road Bridge in Newark, Del., on Nov. 1, 1999. Police said his death was an accident.
"I really have marveled at the level of courage he has displayed, especially at that time," Sayre said. "That did nothing more than enhance my admiration for him."
Surviving are his wife, Dorothy J. Holtzman; a daughter, Jessica A. Holtzman, at home; his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Holtzman Sr. of Paxtang; a brother, James A. of Paxtang; and a sister, Emily J. Ruckle of Bloomsburg.
Funeral services will be at the convenience of the family. Burial will be at the East Harrisburg Cemetery in Penbrook.
Hetrick Funeral Home, Susquehanna Twp., is handling arrangements.
Memorial donations may be made to the Zach Holtzman Memorial Fund-Hanna Education Foundation, care of Susquehanna Twp. School District, 3550 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg 17109, or to Hospice Preferred Choice, 4813 Jonestown Road, Suite 211, Harrisburg 17109.
[Patriot News - June 2, 2001]
Thomas W. Holtzman (1919 - 2011)
Jeannette Appleby Holtzman (1918 - 2013)
Zachary Thomas Holtzman (1980 - 1999)*
East Harrisburg Cemetery
Created by: Brenda & Pete
Record added: Dec 18, 2011
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