"You have an excellent day," was Joie Hertzfeld's heartfelt wish to his students and everyone he met. He saw excellence in everyone and everything.
Joie's upbeat personality, genuine words, and actions touched thousands of lives. After the
68-year-old retired art teacher's sudden death in the summer of 2015, stories poured in to his family describing the impact he had on others: He lifted the spirits of a student whose parents were going through a divorce, a boy's favorite toy today is a wooden truck that Joie made for the boy's mom 18 years ago when she was a child, a mom still cherishes the candlestick holders that her child made in Joie's class, friends still wear the wedding rings he designed.
"His generosity and his legacy live on," says his wife, Cindy Sesolak.
During his thirty-five years at Chippewa Falls Middle School, "Mr. H" who graduated from UW-Stout, taught more than 12,000 students, spanning 3 generations, in his art metals and ceramics classes. His art classes blended design with problem solving. Notes of condolence from former students and fellow teachers recalled his creativity, sense of humor, and his ability to inspire and connect with students.
"He loved the middle school group because it was such a transition time for kids. He treated everybody the same. It didn't matter if your dad was a banker, if you were being raised by a single parent, or if you were a nonacademic student who didn't excel in math and English. Joie would find that creative spark in every student and encourage them," Cindy says.
When they were out and about, Cindy recalls, people would come up to them. "They'd say things like, 'I looked forward to your class so much. You made me feel so much better about myself.'"
One young man told them that, after barely graduating from high school, he went to vocational school, keeping his creative talents active by carving wood on the side for a rewarding internet business. This young man credited his decision to continue his schooling to what Joie told students about the value of education.
When not teaching, Joie spent hours producing functional art like driftwood drawer handles for the family's kitchen, wedding rings, Aldo Leopold benches, wine cork trivets, sculpted metal bowls, wooden trains and trucks. Many were gifts to family and friends. "He loved the idea of art having a functional and usable purpose," Cindy recalls.
In his classes, Joie's message was "form follows function". Whether the assignment was jewelry, ceramics, a balsa wood structure, origami, or a paper airplane, its intended use should guide the design process.
His teaching legacy and deep appreciation of functional art will live on through the N. Joie Hertzfeld Endowment Fund that Cindy established through the Foundation with memorial and family donations. Earnings from the fund will provide scholarships to Chippewa Falls High School students wishing to pursue education in art and design. The Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District (CFAUSD) Foundation will receive the earnings and award the scholarships based on the parameters of the CFAUSD Foundation and family-set criteria.
"Recipients of the scholarships will be going into a field that allows them to expand their creativity." That list of fields is expansive: painting, drawing, metalworking, jewelry making, designing a building, fashion design, metal sculpture, welding, cabinet making, and landscaping design.
The Foundation's accreditation through the Community Foundations National Standards Board appealed to Cindy as she weighed options for establishing an endowment fund.
These scholarships will be the first offered through the high school focusing on creativity through art and design career fields.
"I want students to know that creativity has value," she says. "I want them to know they can receive support when they choose to go into a field that will help them to be creative and to problem-solve, while creating beautiful functional art for people to use in their everyday life, things that will endure through time."
Joie himself could spend hours pondering, sketching out, researching, and making prototype models before finishing a project. He would work on multiple projects at a time as ideas flew through his head. He poured love into beautiful handmade gifts for his children- Rory, Molly and Morgan- and grandson Oliver.
After retiring from teaching in 2005, he spent extra time on the lake pontooning at sunset, camping, travelling Wisconsin's rustic roads, and enjoying his family.
Each day of his life, he not only wished others an excellent day, but did little things to make their days excellent. Cindy remembers him breaking colored glass wine bottles and over several days tumbling the pieces smooth turning them into a "sea glass" treasure, and then dropping them on the beach for excited kids to find.
"That's just how much he loved surprising kids and giving them joy"
One thing is certain: students who receive the N. Joie Hertzfeld Scholarship will have an excellent day!
grants provide scholarships through the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District Foundation for students wishing to pursue an education in art and design.