2000: R-H Loses ‘Wonderful Mentor’

  • When someone beloved dies without warning, the shock can be overwhelming. That’s what happened in August 2000, when Rush-Henrietta was rocked by the sudden loss of Senior High School Principal Chris Tanski. Tanski, who led the high school for six years, died of a heart attack while attending a family reunion in Syracuse.

    Just 52, he was well known for his student-centered approach that is remembered even today.

    “Chris had a strong desire for all students to be recognized,” says Brian Usselman, high school math teacher. “During the 1999-2000 school year, he announced the names of all students who increased their quarterly GPA from the first quarter to the second, handing balloons to each one. Rumor has it that about 1,000 balloons were inflated for this event. They were everywhere in the Senior High School! Chris accomplished his goal of recognizing students for their academic achievement. For some, this may have been the only recognition they received.”

    Jennifer Roe, who graduated weeks before Tanski died, sent a letter to the editor that was published in the August 31, 2000, Democrat and Chronicle. She wrote of her principal: “He was the most dedicated, sincere, no-nonsense, involved, and respected man there ever was. … He tried to find the good in everyone.” She continued, writing that, “Mr. Tanski is survived not only by his wife and son, but also by every student, teacher, administrator, school board member, and person he ever met. He will be greatly missed. The world has lost a wonderful mentor and an even greater person.”

    More than 850 people attended a memorial service held at Good Shepherd Church. Many took the opportunity to share stories about the personal impact Tanski had on them. His legacy lives on at the Senior High School in tangible ways, recalls Usselman, who was hired by Tanski nearly 25 years ago.

    “Chris was my principal for my first two years of teaching,” Usselman says. “He asked me at my interview in 1998, ‘If we hire you, is there anything else you would like to do for R-H?’ I told him I wanted to start a varsity bowling program. After giving me a quizzical facial expression, Chris remembered that answer. The next year, he pulled me aside and said the Board of Education had approved bowling. Twenty-four years after that conversation, R-H has a storied bowling program with nine Section V titles and a state championship. His impact on our school community was significant and remains so today.”

    So beloved is Tanski that he is memorialized through artwork in two locations at the Senior High School. His portrait hangs in the library and he appears in the mural that is on display in the cafeteria. His likeness was added to that painting after his death at the insistence of those who understood his vast contributions.

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