WELLSBURG - Brooke County residents are mourning the death of Frank Ujcich, a member of the county's school board since 2006 and vocational director for the school district for many years.
Ujcich died Wednesday, following a lengthy battle against cancer, just four days before his 71st birthday.
Jim Piccirillo, president of the Brooke County Board of Education, said the board "is extremely sad to learn of the loss of our most senior member, Frank Ujcich. Frank was dedicated to our school system as both an administrator and later as a long-time board of education member. His experience, common sense solutions and wisdom were invaluable to us."
"Frank's goal was to always do what was best for our students and staff. He was a true family man and so proud of his entire family. The entire Brooke County Schools community offers our prayers and condolences to his wife and family," Piccirillo said.
Ujcich was building construction instructor at Brooke High School for 13 years, during which he applied his experience as owner of a small construction company to directing students in building several modular homes sold by the school district through public auctions.
"He did a good job teaching building construction," said Gene Cipoletti, who was then the school district's vocational director and Ujcich's supervisor.
Following Cipoletti's retirement, Ujcich served in the position for about 11 years before retiring in 2006, when he successfully ran for a seat on the school board.
He was re-elected to the board in 2010.
Cipoletti said he was called to fill in for Ujcich as vocational director while Ujcich was battling cancer but only for a month. Several past and present school board officials said despite recurring illness, Ujcich attended most school board meetings.
Former superintendent of schools Bill Harvey knew Ujcich both as an employee and fellow school board member. He said Ujcich worked with others to encourage public support for a levy and bond issue for the school district "and was always concerned about the students."
Mary K. DeGarmo, another former superintendent, agreed, saying, "I have the highest personal regard for him. I think he fought for what he felt was the right thing for the kids. He wanted the best education for them."
She added Ujcich drew upon his experience as a teacher and administrator to relate to staff in both groups and carefully weighed his opinion on various matters before the board.
Harvey said, "He was a good man, good friend, good board member and good employee - loyal to the school system."
Piccirillo added, "On a personal note I always enjoyed talking to Frank about his love of baseball and he had some amazing stories about his baseball career."
Harvey said Ujcich spoke of playing with fellow West Liberty State College ball player and future Houston Astro Joe Niekro and encounters on the ball field with future New York Met Tom Seaver.
Several who knew Ujcich recalled that after graduating in 1961 from Wellsburg High School, where he played baseball and football, he went on to have an outstanding baseball career at WLSC.
While at WLSC, Ujcich was a four-time all-conference selection and was named the most valuable player for the team's successful national championship bid after pitching 22 scoreless innings in the game.
For those and other accomplishments, he is honored with a plaque at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and was named to the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference All-Time Baseball Squad in 1974.
Ujcich's family noted he worked as night foreman for Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel while earning his teaching degree.
Following graduation, he played for the New York Mets' minor league affiliate in Mankato, Minn. for two seasons.
He also taught for a year at Wheeling Catholic Central High School and, as head coach, led the school's baseball team to the state championship.
A member of St. John Catholic Church, Ujcich is survived by his wife of 50 years, Mary Lou; three children, two brothers, four sisters and four grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday at Mullenbach Funeral Home, and a Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Monday at St. John Catholic Church.