Ask nearly any docent at University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum, and they’ll likely tell you one of two things: they have a passion for books or they have a passion for children. They might even tell you they have both.
Mazza docent Deb Mihalik is no different. In fact, she confessed that she has always had a passion for reading, even before studying elementary education at The Ohio State University and supplementing her love of books with her work at the city library in her hometown of Martin’s Ferry, Ohio during those summers. Even in her young life, it seemed, she was gravitating toward pages.
Upon graduating from college, Mihalik taught for a year at her former grade school and then married Joe Mihalik, her high school sweetheart. After Joe graduated from then-Findlay College, the newlyweds made their way to Findlay for good, where Deb joined her new husband in teaching at Liberty Benton School in Benton Ridge, a village just outside of the city.
During that time, Mihalik said, she pursued her passion for reading even further, pursuing and earning a Master’s in Reading at Bowling Green State University, and taking part, along with her two young sons at the time, in activities at University of Findlay (oldest son, Drew, is a UF alumnus). “I was drawn to the art collection that was housed in the college library,” she said. “At the very beginning of the Mazza Collection [prior to the building of the Museum’s current structure on campus], I attended the Author Lectures, taking my boys along too.”
When the museum, as it’s known now, was finished being built, Mihalik said she got involved even further by attending summer conferences and doing the pull-out sessions where teachers demonstrate how to use books throughout the curriculum. She was enamored enough by the Museum to get Liberty-Benton school involved by having them become a Mazza School. “I brought my students to visit the Museum and some of them had the opportunity to be a part of Mazza Before Bedtime, a series of Bedtime stories with then director, Jerry Mallett,” she explained.
Before retiring from teaching, Mihalik was involved with the Funday Sunday Program and is still active with it today. After retiring, in 2010, she officially became a docent. “I finally could put to use all the things I learned about the Mazza artists on the 20-plus Mazza trips I had been on as well as all the lectures and workshops I attended,” she said.
Mihalik said that she enjoys doing Mazza tours for students and using her teaching skills and knowledge of the artists; a special bonuses, she said, come when she sees former students of hers bring their own children to the Museum.
Her biggest thrill, however, was meeting her favorite Artist, Marc Brown, best known for writing and illustrating the popular
“Arthur” book series, on one of the Mazza trips to Martha’s Vineyard. “And last year, when I got to meet him again, he welcomed the people from Mazza giving us recognition for what we do,” she said. “To meet him again, it was like meeting an old friend. I had used his books and videos for so long in the classroom and wanted him to know that what he was writing and producing was helpful to teachers.”
The beauty of one’s passions, including Mihalik’s, is that they can overlap and build upon one another. That love for books, for art, and for children can lead to an even greater recognition. And while she has many passions, Mihalik admits, “most of all, I love sharing Mazza with my grandchildren who love to attend activities at the Museum.”
It seems that it’s the passion for and from family and friends that helps to build Mazza, and it’s the passion for both that sustain it. Docent Deb Mihalik is living proof of that.