Outstanding Educator or Staff Member
First Grade Teacher 1984 - 2006
“To broaden a student’s mind, you must first touch their heart”
Judith Byrum hails from Euclid, Ohio, the daughter of Kenneth and Ella G. Sims. Her father was Euclid’s mayor for 34 years. After graduating in 1958 from Euclid High School’s largest class she attended Hillsdale College for two years. During that time she met her future husband of 48 years, John K. Byrum, and in 1960 was married at age 19. After marrying, Judie finished her college studies at Kent State University graduating in 1962 with a degree in Early Childhood Education. She taught for one year at Jefferson Elementary School in Euclid before starting her family.
John and Judie’s children are son John K Byrum, Jr., born in 1963, who is an attorney in Richmond, Virginia, son Jeffrey, born in 1965 who works for the 3M Corporation in Nashville, Tennessee, and daughter Jayme (Sabulsky), born in 1976 who has been a kindergarten teacher in the Aurora Schools for nearly 20 years. The Byrum’s were blessed with seven grandchildren.
The Byrums moved to Aurora in 1968 upon the encouragement of her brother who was an Aurora high school teacher and basketball coach. Judie began her teaching career in Aurora in 1984 teaching first grade (with the exception of one year) until her retirement in 2006. Since retirement she remained active as a substitute teacher for ten years.
Since her husband passed in 2009 Judy has remained active in the community and the Church in Aurora as a deacon and a member of the Guild Circle. She also spends time with her family and grandchildren. However, she finds among her greatest rewards watching her First Graders grow up, graduate, get married, and start families of their own. She stays in touch with many of her former students and had a number of their children in her classroom. Especially gratifying is watching several of her own grandchildren begin their academic careers in the Aurora Schools.
Aurora City Schools Kindergarten Teacher
1966 - 1996
Shirley Duval was born in Detroit, Michigan and moved to the suburb of Grosse Pointe at eight years old. She lived in Grosse Pointe in the winter and spent summers with her grandparents in Algonac on the St. Clair River. Her father was a surgeon and her mother was a housewife. She had one sister, as well as two orphaned cousins who lived with them. Shirley graduated from Grosse Pointe High School in 1942. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 1946 with a degree in Geography, majoring in Cartography.
The Duvals moved to Aurora in 1954 where a neighbor, Sally Cook, was an Aurora kindergarten teacher. When Sally Cook’s health forced her retirement in the middle of the 1966-67 school year, Aurora quickly needed to find a kindergarten teacher. At the urging of friends and neighbors, Shirley applied and was hired despite the fact that she did not have an education degree. She started her education courses that fall and spent twelve years earning a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in Education from Kent State.
Shirley’s first twelve years of teaching kindergarten in Aurora were in the basement of the Catholic Church. Eventually the kindergarten classes were moved to Craddock, and then Miller school. In 1996, Shirley retired after thirty years of teaching in Aurora.
Shirley married her husband of 62 years, Len, upon graduation from the University of Michigan. They have four children: a daughter, Colleen, now in Clermont, Florida, and sons Lenny, in Ravenna, Ray, in Solon, and Patrick, in Denver, Colorado. They have four granddaughters, three grandsons, one great-granddaughter and four great-grandsons.
Shirley reflects that there was nothing better than when she could see the sparkle in a child’s eyes when they realized they had accomplished something - from being able to read, know all the letters and their sounds, or counting to 100. Her goal was “to help children like school because they had a long way to go.”
Aurora City School Librarian
Donna Jane (Unger) French was born in November 1931 in Youngstown, Ohio. She grew up in Poland, Ohio where she graduated from high school in 1949. Donna attended Hiram College before entering nurse’s training at Trumbull Memorial Hospital. She married Park French in September of 1952. In 1959, with four small children (and a 5th about to arrive) the family moved to Aurora and the town became their permanent home. A sixth child was born in 1961, and a seventh five years later.
In the early 1960s, despite the many demands of raising a large family, Donna devoted her energies to the task of creating libraries in Aurora’s two elementary schools. The 1964-65 Elementary School yearbook was dedicated to “Mrs. Park French for her volunteer efforts this year to organize and operate the first elementary school libraries in Aurora.” Donna continued to develop and run the libraries nearly full-time as a volunteer until the school district was able to hire her in 1968. Throughout her career, these welcoming libraries reflected her energetic commitment to the enrichment of all children through the limitless world found in books.
Hundreds of Aurora students remember Donna as a colorful, witty, engaging librarian who donned endless costumes for the seasons and various holidays. Her remarkable room decorations, special effects and treats created a fun, welcoming atmosphere that made her libraries a focal point for the students and the school. She retired from Aurora Schools 1998 after more than three decades of encouraging kids to imagine broadly, think creatively and pursue their dreams relentlessly.
Sadly, Donna died in 2013, two years after the death of her husband Park. However, all seven of their children: Linda Griffin, Jill French, Suzanne Spilsbury, Becky French Kalydosos, Annie French, Jodie French-Burr and Douglas, from five states, are with us today to honor their mother and her legacy in the Aurora Schools.
Aurora City Schools Art Teacher
1968 - 1985
"Andy Kmetz taught us about art and theater – but he also taught us so much about life. He taught us to believe in ourselves. He made all of us feel like we could achieve our dreams. He was our mentor, our leader, our cheerleader and our friend. " – Mike Fejes ‘85
Andrew Kmetz grew up in Akron, Ohio. As a youth he became an accomplished tap-dancer. When he was twelve years old he spent a year in Hollywood, California working on the set of MGM studios making short movies. After High School graduation he attended Illinois Benedictine Seminary where he earned a Degree in Philosophy and spent a year in the Benedictine Monastery. In 1953 he was drafted into the U.S. Army and spent two years in the Signal Corp at Fort Bennings, Georgia.
After the military Andy returned to college at Kent State and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech and English. Andy’s first teaching position was in the Ravenna, Ohio Schools where he taught High School Speech and English. While in Ravenna he returned to college and earned a Master’s Degree in Theater Arts with a minor in Art. These new interests and degrees led to new teaching areas in Ravenna and he began teaching Middle School art and High School Drama.
Andy came to the Aurora Schools in 1968 initially as a High School English teacher. However, he was soon persuaded by Middle School principal Mike Lenzo to join the staff at Harmon Middle School as an Art teacher, a position he held until his retirement. Soon after coming to Harmon School he began a long term collaboration in drama productions with Harmon English teacher Dan Dyer. They would produce countless shows together including the popular “Farewell to Harmon” productions. In the early 1980’s Andy also directed musicals at the High School and served as choreographer with the Aurora Community Theater. After his retirement in 1985 Andy taught art as a volunteer at St. Patrick School in Kent. Until recently he also served as a volunteer in the emergency room of Robinson Memorial Hospital.
Aurora City Schools Science Teacher
1965 – 1985
Aurora Teacher of the Year
Coleman Lifetime Achievement Award
"Eileen Kutinsky was one of the best teachers I ever had. She made science enjoyable for middle school kids, combining information with hands on experiences that were highly motivating. She was dedicated to education and science and always available to students."- Michelle Habbyshaw Dirda ‘86
Eileen Kutinsky earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Science from Mount Union College and her Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling from Kent State University. She began her teaching career in a one room school house in Lexington, Ohio followed by teaching third and fourth grade at Bolton School. Later she taught kindergarten and first grade in the Streetsboro schools.
Eileen began her illustrious and memorable career at Harmon Middle school in Aurora in 1965 as a sixth grade science teacher, a position she held for many years. She also taught some eighth grade science at Harmon. Eileen’s outgoing, challenging, and hands on approach endeared her as a student favorite for several generations of Harmon school students. She was a driving force in the establishment of the 6th grade annual sixth grade camp where her hands on approach to nature and scientific topics were integrated into the learning experiences. Certainly no one in the community or at Harmon school will forget the year they shared the experience of raising a cow at Harmon school.
In addition to her Harmon career, Eileen has taught Science and English at the college level and served as a Student Teaching Supervisor.
Ever the activist, Eileen has served on the Streetsboro Board of Education and as a Portage County Library Board member.
Eileen’s greatest memories: Kids! Camping! Amazing fellow teachers!
Mary Ann Balbach
Aurora City School Social Studies Teacher
1982 – 2007
1991 Aurora City School Outstanding Educator
2007 Aurora Rotary Club Educator of the Year
"Great teachers impart more than just knowledge. They make you feel welcome, develop you as a person, and instill curiosity to learn more beyond the boundaries of the classroom. Mrs. Balbach did all of these and more." – Erica Eckart ‘99
Mary Ann Balbach understood from the time she was in grade school in Long Island that she wanted to be a Social Studies teacher. She received her B.S. from Miami University and lunched her career in Kettering, Ohio where she also taught one of the area’s first Head Start Classes. After a professional leave of absence to rear her two children, Mary Ann joined an outstanding faculty at Harmon Middle School. Over the years she served as Department Chairperson; implemented a Mock Congress; reenacted the Constitutional Convention; created with Jerry Brodsky and Robert Luckay, the first multi-school Global Issues Seminar in northeast Ohio; led annual trips to Washington D.C. and advised the Natural History Club. Her greatest reward has been her interactions with students.
In her retirements Mary Ann is active in her church, serves on the Board of her condo association, volunteers at the public library, attends the Aurora Study Club, and frequently visits her children and grandchildren in Michigan and North Carolina.
Aurora City Schools Language Arts Teacher
1966 – 1978 1982 – 1997
National Endowment for Humanities Teacher-Scholar Award 1992-93
Phi Beta Kappa – Hiram College
Phi Delta Kappa (Education)
"To those alumni who were his students, Dr. Dyer was more than an 8th grade English teacher – he was a true mentor, a role model, and a source of inspiration. Through a unique blend of humor, and relating stories to real life… he was able to instill a love of English in his students that would last a lifetime." – Brian Brookhart ‘98
Daniel Dyer began teaching seventh grade English at Aurora Middle School in 1966. In 1978 he left to try teaching undergraduates and high school students—but learned he preferred middle-schoolers. In 1982 he returned to Harmon School, where he taught eighth grade English until his retirement in January 1997. (Between 2001–2010 he taught English at Western Reserve Academy.) While at Harmon he directed more than thirty play productions (many he wrote for his students)—and two at AHS, Grease and The Merry Wives of Windsor, the first Shakespeare play in Aurora Schools’ history. He also coached, supervised school publications, student council, a writers’ club, student film productions, lunch-time tennis, and others. While in Aurora, he earned his Master’s and Doctorate from Kent State University and won several national awards, including the 1992 Teacher-Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. A freelance writer, he now has more than 1500 publications, including books, essays, and book reviews. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Delta Kappa, and the National Book Critics Circle. He is married to writer Joyce Dyer; their son, Steve, attended Harmon School; their two grandsons wish they could.
Aurora City Schools Social Science Teacher
1978 – 1998
1974 - Jaycees Outstanding Young Educator
1975-76 - Jennings Scholar
1996 Aurora City Schools Outstanding Educator
"Mr. Luckay made history, including our own special state history, come alive. He took the time to be caring, nurturing, and human at a time in my life when these characteristics were vital to my development." – Evan McCarthy ‘98
Robert (Bob) Luckay moved to Aurora in 1967 and graduated one year later with a Social Science Comprehensive B.A. degree from John Carroll University. Bob both taught and lived social studies. He applied the knowledge and skills of government by running for city council, serving several terms from 1976-79, 1982-85, and 2002-03. He also served as vice mayor for four years. In addition to chairing a number of city committees he also chaired the 1999 Heritage Festival, the Landmark Commission, and the 2001 bond issue campaign to acquire lands for parks and recreation. Bob also served as president of the Aurora Conservation Council. Former students recall that Bob Luckay’s teaching style was marked by a zeal for life and a comprehensive mentorship that changed the life of many. His wise words, caring jokes, and field trips are embedded in the memories of former Harmon Middle School students. For many, later life debates about the merits of ecological stewardship and environmentalism, hiking as a class in Mr. Luckay’s woods comes to mind.
Robert Luckay still lives in his home on the 54 acre family farm adjacent to Harmon School continuing a five generation family tradition of Aurora connection.
Aurora City Schools High School Art Teacher
1983 - 2008
"I started out with more desire than talent, but the principles John focused on pushed me to the next level. His most important lesson – FOCUS! Do what you say you are going to do. Don’t let someone else define you – Define yourself." - Jeff Champ ‘91
John Smolko taught secondary school art for 35 years. The final 25 years were at Aurora High School where he developed one of the finest art programs in the state of Ohio. He initiated the Advanced Placement Art Program in Aurora and achieved a one hundred percent passage rate. John was on the team that brought the International Baccalaureate Program to Aurora and his IB Art Program helped enhance the AP curriculum. His art students received awards and scholarships every year he taught and many of them are art professionals today. Parents, teachers, students, and the community all supported John’s art program and made it an integral part of a successful dynamic curriculum.
Today, John is creating art every day and exhibits all over the country. He is a member of the Group Ten Gallery in Kent, Ohio and his works hang in many public and private collections. He is also a signature member of the Colored Pencil Society of America and offers pencil workshops nationally. John lives with his wife, Gigi, in Kent and has two grown sons that are independent and a source of pride.
Nominate your favorite deserving administrator, teacher or staff member
Nomination form on this website – email or send in
You may fill out the form online or click the download the Hall of Fame NOMINATION FORM.
DEADLINE: July 1 2014
Forms may be submitted here or by mail to:
Aurora Alumni Association, P.O. Box 688, Aurora, Ohio 44202