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Teacher's favorite spot becomes memorial

John Sillick often could be seen in the reading lounge of the library at Royalton-Hartland High School in Middleport.

"A lot of the students remember him sitting there in his favorite attire, an old gray woolen sweater," said Douglas Meyer, physics teacher and Student Council adviser. "He was a great guy, always very calm and relaxed."

Sillick, whose Alps Road Journal columns appeared in The Buffalo News for more than 10 years, now has a permanent place in the library of the high school where he taught English for more than 25 years. The section where he once sat will be known as the John S. Sillick Lounge.

Sillick, 57, died Sept. 19, 2003, in Erie County Medical Center of complications from injuries he suffered several weeks earlier when he was thrown from a tractor, which then ran over him on his farm in Lyndonville.

"I was inspired by him," said Alexandra Krzemien, a 2004 Roy-Hart graduate who is majoring in English education at Canisius College. "His love of literature steered me in this direction. I still feel his influence, especially in creative writing."

A ceremony dedicating the section of the library to Sillick had been scheduled for Thursday, but was canceled because of bad weather. No new date has been set.

"John was a man who had a genuine respect for the students," said Kevin Shanley, the high school principal who knew Sillick for 20 years. "He loved to read, and he expressed that to the students."

Krzemien and two other former students -- Nicole Coleman, now a junior at University at Buffalo, and Stephanie Pierce, who attends Niagara County Community College -- spearheaded efforts to name a reading lounge for Sillick.

"So many people respected him as a teacher and loved his writing," said Krzemien, who was in Sillick's ninth-grade English class and 11th-grade creative writing class. "People who went to Roy-Hart years ago remember him. The library was a group effort. It seemed the obvious place to create a permanent memorial."

The lounge occupies a corner cordoned off from the rest of the library by book shelves. Over the entryway large letters say "John S. Sillick Lounge;" opposite that is a quote from one of his writings: "Bliss is where you find it. The sky may be exploding on the horizon, but the rumble of the belly is closer to home."

Among the works in the bookshelves are three binders filled with Sillick's columns, compiled by librarian Penny Baize.

"He would show me different passages from his favorite books," recalled Baize, who first met Sillick in 2002 when she was the library clerk. "I looked forward to him being my mentor, but when I became the librarian, the accident had occurred."

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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