The Independence Junior High School community memorialized art teacher Mike Maholland by planting a memorial tree overlooking his art classroom. A moment of silence was held outside during the tree planting. (Supplied photos)

The Independence Junior High School community memorialized art teacher Mike Maholland by planting a memorial tree overlooking his art classroom. A moment of silence was held outside during the tree planting. (Supplied photos)

Memorial service honors longtime Independence art teacher

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Palos Heights School District 128 honored the life of Mike Maholland with a Memorial Service.

By Kelly White

Palos School District 128 honored the life of one of its beloved educators with a Memorial Service.

The service at Independence Jr. High School, 6610 W. Highland Dr., Palos Heights, May 24 honored the legacy of longtime art teacher, Mike Maholland, of Hickory Hills, who passed away on February 18.

“Mike Maholland was one of a kind,” District 128 Supt. Merryl Brownlow said. “His passion for his craft, appreciation of life, the world around him and compassion for others, particularly, students allowed him to connect with anyone who crossed his path. He was the reason some students came to school each day. Art lover, chess expert, nature nurturer, he had so much wisdom and experience to share with our students. He was a magnetic person who contributed so much more to the school environment than that of the role of art teacher. He will be forever missed by our District 128 family.”

Maholland was born in Blue Island, but spent his early childhood first in Manteno before moving to the northwest suburbs. The family moved to St. Charles when he was 10 years old. In St. Charles, he attended St. Charles High School, graduating in 1990.

Following his high school graduation, he spent a year (1990-91) as an exchange student in Belgium. Maholland’s year in Belgium helped form his world view and appreciation for different people and cultures.

When he returned from Belgium, Maholland attended and graduated from the University of Wisconsin Madison. Following graduation, he lived an authentic Bohemian life as an artist. His day jobs included bartending, frame shop worker, prep cook, personal caregiver, bike messenger, and Chicago cab driver. His wife, Becky, says will always be grateful for the cab driver job because that is how they met.

Eventually Maholland settled in Hickory Hills and found himself at Independence Junior High School in Palos Heights where all of his talents, skills, and inquisitiveness merged to make him a phenomenal art teacher for the past 12 years.

During this time, he also sponsored the Art Club and Chess Club, supported the Drama Club with set designs, and was a mentor and role model to thousands of students over his time in Palos Heights.

“I always had fun learning new art techniques from Mr. Maholland,” Alyssa Prohaska, 12, of Palos Heights, said. “He was always pushing me further to improve my work and that made me an even better artist. Mr. Maholland was an amazing person and teacher.”

Each year, one of the school’s eighth-graders is presented with the Independence Art Award.  This selected artwork is hung proudly in its halls. Over the past 10 years, Maholland has overseen this award and taken responsibility for showcasing this artwork throughout the school.

This year, as part of honoring Maholland’s legacy, the school renamed the award to The Mike Maholland Memorial Art Award and was proud to announce the first recipient was eighth-grader, Kiya Grady.

The Independence Junior High School community also memorialized Maholland by planting a memorial tree overlooking the art classroom. A moment of silence was held outside at the tree planting on Friday afternoon.

“Mr. Maholland broadened my perspective on the subject of art,” Kiya, 14, of Palos Heights, said. “He held a lantern to the unknown and guided me through the infinite tunnels of technique. He always stressed the importance of bettering myself and always exerting as much time into my work and it will reciprocate a beauty that is timeless.”

Maholland’s fellow employees spoke just as highly of him.

“Besides Mike’s creativity and passion for art that he shared with all students and what made him an exceptional teacher, Mike had a unique way of making all children feel like they belonged,” Kevin Kirk, Independence Junior High School principal, said. “Mike led our Art Club and Chess Club for years and it is no coincidence that these two clubs were our most popular.  While some joined because of an interest for continuing their own art or for learning chess, many joined because through Mike’s opportunities they found a group with whom they could connect.  Mike would often talk about these students fondly and how he was helping provide them these opportunities — so much so that his wife, Becky, would refer to this group as ‘Mike’s kids’.”

The loss of Maholland was devastating to not only the school, but also to the entire Palos Heights area.

“The tight knit community which is our district sees itself as a family and anytime one loses a family member, it comes as such a shock,” Kirk said. “In this situation, it was even more challenging to cope with as his passing came so unexpectedly.”

Having learned of Maholland’s passing over an extended weekend, the administrative team had the opportunity to coordinate a plan of return to school for students and staff as well as communicate the passing of a teacher to the entire Palos Heights community.

On the first day back to school, staff met prior to the start of school to just be together for each other and to review a plan of support that would be in place for all students and staff.

“We are very grateful to so many who helped us on that first day,” Kirk said.

In addition to all of the district social workers on site to support students, Independence Jr. High School had a grief counseling team from Shepard High School, and a team of therapy dogs from Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs Inc.

There was also a team of substitute teachers on hand to be available for staff and cover any classes for any teachers who needed to step away momentarily.

“Mike was accepting of all and made each student and staff member feel great about themselves,” Kirk said. “He was such a warm spirit, who gave students a creative outlet to express themselves, encouraged them to pursue their passions, and explore their artistic potential.  Additionally, Mike’s unique style and artwork will certainly be a lasting legacy.”

However, Maholland was much more than educator, he was also a passionate bike rider, potter, and lover of esoteric music and great food and he loved his family dearly, especially his children, Isaac, Ada and Emilia.

Stephen Moss, a retired CCSD 230 Art teacher, joined the team after Maholland’s passing to help district officials maintain continuity for its students with its art program.

Moss not only provided this experience to the students, but helped students and staff heal from the loss of a beloved friend, colleague, and teacher through art.

One of the ways in which he accomplished this was through helping design a memorial portrait surrounded in a mosaic tile frame. Moss has helped students through a guided painting lesson create this portrait of Maholland. Students and staff all have had an opportunity to create these tiles, which represent a memory of Maholland.

The memorial portrait was unveiled during Friday’s Memorial Service at Independence Jr. High School.

“Mike was an amazing colleague and teacher who truly loved this community and, in his tenure, contributed many ideas to continually improving this school to be a better place for all,” Kirk said. “His friendly face and gentle personality instantly brought a cool and calm aspect to any room he entered.  Most importantly, Mike made a difference by creating a space for all, so that no one person ever felt alone or left out.”

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