By David J. Hill
The Tonawanda News
Two of Tonawanda High School’s finest who made a lasting impression through their life’s work before passing too soon were among the honorees Thursday night at the district’s Distinguished Alumni Awards.
Thomas Semanski ‘77 and Timothy Jaenecke ‘80 both were honored posthumously, with their families present to accept plaques on their behalf. Also inducted were Kimberly Ann Bart ‘94 and Robert E. Warner, DDS ‘73.
“It is glaringly apparent from the biographical vita for each of this year’s honorees that their very stature not just amongst their fellow Tonawandans, but even amongst their peers from their chosen professions is absolutely stellar,” Tonawanda City Schools Superintendent Whitney Vantine said in his opening remarks.
The ceremony took place in the high school’s Distinguished Alumni Auditorium, which features plaques of each of the inductees honored since the program began in 1995. The last induction class was 2007.
Guests Thursday were treated to dinner on the auditorium stage, complete with soft lighting and jazz music. The presentation featured remarks by THS Principal Kevin Kazmierczak and Mayor Ron Pilozzi.
“It just shows the talent that this community has to offer the world,” Pilozzi said.
Former Superintendent Jay Holler served as the evening’s emcee. Each of the four inductees was introduced by a Tonawanda High School student, who read a biography for each honoree.
Accepting the Distinguished Alumni Award for her son, Marilyn Semanski, who is more commonly known by her lounge singer stage name “Marilyn Mann,” said music played a vital role not only in her son’s life, but that of her entire family.
Thomas Semanski graduated from THS in 1977 and was known for being a gifted music student, crediting music teachers Eldon Francisco and Roger Mroz for encouraging him. Semanski attended Niagara County Community College and then the Crane School of Music, where he had the honor of playing the National Anthem for the gold medal winning U.S. men’s hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.
He also earned degrees from SUNY Potsdam, Fredonia and Baruch College. At Fredonia, Semanski composed his first ballet, “Dracula,” which was commissioned by the Columbia City Ballet in South Carolina in 1991. He also received a Popular Music Award in 1993 from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for the music he composed for the ballet.
Semanski served as a well-liked and highly respected middle school principal in New York City. In 2007, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Community Education Council of New York City. “Thomas Semanski packed enormous accomplishment and passion into his 48 years of life,” reads his program entry.
“When my son went out into the world, I never ever thought that it would come to such a wonderful finish of his life, because the legacy that he left behind with his music still is so great,” Marilyn Semanski said.
After graduating from THS in 1980, Jaenecke graduated summa cum laude from Alfred University, earning a bachelor’s degree in ceramic engineering. In addition, he was a two-time NCAA All America in swimming.
Jaenecke earned numerous awards for his achievements in the professional world. His career began at Delco Electronics, where he advanced to a management position. In 1989, Jaenecke accepted a position with Ferro Corporation, and again was quickly promoted to management.
Jaenecke achieved this success while battling ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which he was diagnosed with in 1994. He remained actively involved in the community, serving with the American Heart Association, United Way and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In 2004, the MDA presented him with the Personal Achievement Award.
He passed away in 2007 at age 44. “Tim lived life voraciously, enjoyed the people around him, always laughing and making them laugh,” states his entry in the Alumni Awards program. “It was stated in Tim’s eulogy that he helped us see that ‘Life is what it is.’”
“Tim would be so honored to receive this award,” said his wife, Kimberly. “We are just so proud of him, and he’d be so proud of us.”
Each of Jaenecke’s three daughters is attending college, and his son is a student at Williamsville East High School. “Tim definitely was a distinguished alumni and a distinguished person. This is well deserved and I am very proud to accept this on his behalf,” Kimberly said.
The evening’s first inductee was Kimberly Ann Bart, a 1994 graduate who was selected to attend Girls State and also was a Quality Student. She graduated summa cum laude from Syracuse University in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and public relations, and a minor in anthropology. She earned a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse in 1999. While attending Syracuse, Bart organized “Remembrance Week” to recognize 35 students who died in the Pan Am 103 plane crash.
Bart received a graduate degree in 2002 from Duke University Law School. In 2006, she received a master of laws and advocacy LLM from Georgetown University.
She became director of the Domestic Violence Law Clinic at the University of Alabama in 2006, and also was an assistant professor. Bart is currently the assistant dean for public interest and pro bono at Duke Law School. She’s a member of the Bar Association of New York State, the District of Columbia, and Alabama.
“This is a huge honor. I feel so privileged to be a graduate of this school,” Bart said. “The seeds of my aspirations, my dreams, they were all born here. This was definitely a place where dreams were discovered, were nurtured and were launched.”
Robert E. Warner, DDS, fondly recalls his participation in concert and marching band before graduating from Tonawanda in 1973. He thanked his teachers — Eldon Francisco, Bert Sellers, Paul Holway and John Percy — for inspiring him. “These teachers were the epitome of professionalism and knowledge, and prepared me well for the challenges of college and graduate school,” he said.
Warner received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Buffalo in 1977 and a doctor of dental surgery degree in 1981. He’s been a member of several professional dental organizations since 1981.
In addition, Warner has served as both president and vice president of the Tonawanda Board of Education, and is a lifetime member of Niagara Hose Co. Engine 3. Warner has sponsored National Little League teams and the Tonawanda Football Clinic, and has coached in the Wheatfield Blades hockey organization.