after them will undoubtedly have very large shoesto fill. But as is the case for many of us, WoodberryForest will forever be a part of their souls, and weshould be thankful that we were blessed to havethe Firmans for as long as we did. So . . . what arewe going to do without the Firmans? We are goingto honor them and do what they would want us todo: work hard without making excuses, step upand volunteer to do something before being asked,selflessly put others before ourselves, and leave theplace better than we found it.
— DRE W COLLIER ’03
On almost any day duringMike Szydlowski’s thirty-seven years at Woodberry,you could walk by hisclassroom or office and overhear him say, “Stank!”The word appears on many a senior page of TheFir Tree. But why is it such a signature phrase?
Miller King ’ 20 recalls hearing the word in oneof his first classes with Mr. Szydlowski.
“He was trying to find his calculator, and after
searching for a few minutes he let out a ‘STANK!’”
Miller recalls. “We all asked him what he meant,
and he told us that he would never curse in the
classroom and that his substitute word was
‘stank.’ He was probably better off using ‘stank’
considering he used it every class; and every time
he said it, the class got a chuckle.”
Colin Kovacs ’ 20 says he appreciated that Ski
would hand out newspaper articles on the news of
the day, especially on politics.
“He always had a direct and to-the-point
attitude, which made him such a great teacher and
mentor,” Colin says. “If you were being an idiot or
obnoxious in class, he would tell you that to your
face. He is one of my favorite teachers, and I will
miss him very much.”
To boys he was universally known as “Mr. Ski”
or “Ski.” Even his colleagues on the faculty called
him Ski almost as often as they called him Mike.
Ski, who holds the Orin E. Atkins Mastership,taught math and for many years single-handedlyran the school’s tuition assistance program(previously known as financial aid). During hisyears overseeing tuition assistance, he maintainedan office in the Walker Building lobby, acrossfrom the switchboard and just off the front door.Passersby would hear a radio playing and papersrustling as Mike read through tuition assistanceapplications. His tireless work and keen eye fordetail were critical as Woodberry dramaticallyexpanded the program over the past twenty years.
He is nationally recognized for his knowledgeof tax law and family finances. He wrote the taxmanual distributed by the National Association ofIndependent Schools and for many years helpedprepare the family tax profiles used in workshopsby NAIS and the financial aid service used by itsmember schools.
Mike loved sharing tax and investment wisdomat the breakfast or lunch table in the dining hall.