Brooke County residents are mourning the death of Frank Ujcich, a member of the county Board of Education since 2006 and vocational director for the school district for years.
Ujcich died Wednesday following a lengthy battle against cancer, just four days before his 71st birthday.
Jim Piccirillo, Brooke County Board of Education president, said the board is extremely sad to learn of the loss of its most senior member.
"Frank was dedicated to our school system as both an administrator and later as a longtime Board of Education member. His experience, commonsense solutions and wisdom were invaluable to us. Frank's goal was to always do what was best for our students and staff.
"He was a true family man and so proud of his entire family. The entire Brooke County Schools community offers our prayers and condolences to his wife and family," Piccirillo said.
Ujcich was building construction instructor at Brooke High School for 13 years, during which he applied his experience as owner of a small construction company to directing students in building several modular homes sold by the school district through public auctions.
"He did a good job teaching building construction," said Gene Cipoletti, who was then the school district's vocational director and Ujcich's supervisor.
Following Cipoletti's retirement, Ujcich served in the position for about 11 years before retiring in 2006, when he successfully ran for a seat on the school board, winning re-election in 2010. Despite recurring illness, Ujcich attended most board meetings.
Former county school Superintendent Bill Harvey knew Ujcich as an employee and fellow board member. He said Ujcich worked with others to encourage public support for a levy and bond issue for the school district and was always concerned about the students.
Another former superintendent, Mary K. DeGarmo, agreed.
"I have the highest personal regard for him," she said. "I think he fought for what he felt was the right thing for the kids. He wanted the best education for them."
Ujcich will also be remembered for his stellar baseball career at Wellsburg High School and West Liberty State College, leading the New York Mets to select him as a pitcher in the 1967 Major League Baseball draft. He played two seasons for the Mets' minor league affiliate in Mankato, Minn.
"On a personal note I always enjoyed talking to Frank about his love of baseball and he had some amazing stories about his baseball career," Piccirillo said.
Harvey said Ujcich spoke of playing with fellow West Liberty player and future Houston Astro Joe Niekro as well as his encounters on the ball field with future New York Met great Tom Seaver.
A member of St. John Catholic Church, Ujcich is survived by his wife of 50 years, Mary Lou, and three children, two brothers, four sisters and four grandchildren. Visitation will be held from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday at Mullenbach Funeral Home in Follansbee with funeral services at 10:30 a.m. Monday at St. John Catholic Church.