Thornapple Kellogg School District

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Dedicated TK Volunteer Honored As Hometown Hero

  Thornapple Kellogg Schools Superintendent Tom Enslen said he was thrilled to see Janis get the award.

“You are an absolute saint. On behalf of countless kids, countless committees, countless colleagues, how could I possibly thank you enough?” said Enslen.

   He said Fitzgerald’s contributions to the district are enormous. She started the Battle of the Books program at Page Elementary School, was the district-wide Odyssey of the Mind coordinator, and was involved in countless committees and programs.

   And she’s doing even more.  Fitzgerald has established a foundation to assist students wanting to participate in Odyssey of the Mind and other enrichment and art programs. The foundation is set up through the Thornapple Area Enrichment Foundation.

   Fitzgerald moved to the Middleville community in 2003 and has been an active supporter of the schools and community ever since - even while battling cancer. Fitzgerald said she doesn’t consider herself a “hero.”

   “I’m just an ordinary person living under extraordinary conditions living with cancer. The joy I’ve received from giving to others is much more than I give. It lets me focus not on myself but on others,” she said.

   Mike Bremer introduced Fitzgerald. “Her selfless and important impact at TK Schools and in the community  sets a good example for the rest of us,” he said. “She has volunteered countless hours at TK. She’s always at every party, every event, every meet. She always puts others first.”

   Kelly Bearden spoke about how proud she is to have Fitzgerald as a lifelong friend. “She’s a fighter. She never stops and she always puts herself last on the list. There are so many reasons you are my hero,” said Bearden. “I feel grateful to call her my best friend - my hero.”

   Annie Halle continued the accolades. “She’s only been with us since 2003 and it’s amazing what she’s done for the community in such a short amount of time. We are blessed she calls Middleville home, “ she said.

   Fitzgerald was raised in East Grand Rapids and graduated from Forest Hills Northern High School. She received a degree in computer science and accounting from Davenport University then worked at Old Kent Bank for 16 years.

   She moved to Middleville in 2003 after landing a job at Hastings Mutual Insurance Company.

   In December 2004, Fitzgerald was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. Despite surgery, radiation and chemotherapy treatments, Fitzgerald continued to work and actively volunteer. Cancer spread to her bones and lungs and she entered a clinical trial in Detroit. The progression of cancer to her lungs forced her out of the trial and left a grim outlook. But Fitzgerald never gave up and continues today to battle the cancer she’s faced for nearly 11 years.

   Last year, after hosting the Odyssey of the Mind state finals at Thornapple Kellogg schools, Fitzgerald announced she would resign as the district coordinator. Fitzgerald said hosting the state finals was amazing. “I swelled with pride every time I watched a performance by TK kids,” she said. “People loved Thornapple Kellogg.”

   She has volunteered helping with scholarship reviews for the TAEF, worked with TK administrators importing Common Core standards into Google docs for use by the TK staff, started the Battle of the Books, and worked with the administration on computer donations of retired equipment from a local company.

   Fitzgerald ended the night with a quote from ESPN Sports Center anchor Stuart Scott she’s taken to heart. “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”