Portage Township Schools Superintendent Amanda Alaniz was among the many people Wednesday to use the word mentor when reflecting on the life of E. Ric Frataccia, who died Tuesday night after a long illness.
He played a "key role in my professional life and I'd say, in the life of educators in Portage as a whole," Alaniz said.
Frataccia, who was 71, began working in education in Porter County in 1988 as a principal at Northview Elementary School in Valparaiso, his wife Kaye Frataccia said.
He went on to serve as superintendent for the Union Township School Corporation, as assistant superintendent and superintendent for Portage Township Schools, and found his way back to Valparaiso Community Schools where he served as superintendent until retiring July 1.
"Ric is the best man I ever knew," Kaye said of her husband of 45 years.
Kaye said her husband fought his way through his illness just like he fought on behalf of the students and communities he served.
He carried a personalized message of encouragement to each of the school districts he served and yet his decision-making was always based on what was best for the students.
"He gave his all no matter where he was," Kaye said.
A memorial service is being planned and details will be announced when they are complete, she said. The family asks in lieu of flowers, that donations be made to the Ric Frataccia Scholarship Fund through the Porter County Community Foundation.
"The ability to properly articulate the words to describe the loss of my father simply does not exist. His kindness, loyalty, devotion, are unmatched. His loss is a heartbreaking tragedy," said Frataccia's oldest son Ric Frataccia.
Alaniz said Frataccia mentored her all the way up through her post as superintendent and taught her to keep the focus on helping students flourish and live happy lives.
"Everything we did came back to that," she said. "Everyone felt they were 'Doc's' favorite."
Valparaiso Community Schools Superintendent Julie Lauck, who visited with Frataccia last week, said she left behind a superintendent position elsewhere four years ago when asked by Frataccia to join him in Valparaiso.
"Obviously Ric was a great friend, mentor and leader for me," Lauck said. "I was not going to pass up that opportunity for anything."
Frataccia went on to touch the lives of many others in Valparaiso and elsewhere, she said.
"There's a lot of sad people here today," Lauck said.
Union Township School Corporation Superintendent John Hunter said Frataccia served 10 years as the head of the school district and was instrumental in significant building projects at the high school and middle school.
"He was definitely an inspiration to all of us and will be sorely missed," Hunter said.
Kurt Gillins, who serves as vice president of programs and communications at the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, said he met Frataccia as a student at Wheeler High School and credited Frataccia with helping him create a local theater group and finding his way to an earlier job at the Porter County Memorial Opera House.
He too referred to Frataccia as a "mentor," as well as "a guide."
Frataccia also had an impact outside of education and served on the Porter County Redevelopment Commission.
"I knew Ric for more than 20 years. He was very community-minded and selflessly gave his time and experience toward many worthy causes over the years," said Porter County Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North. "He will be missed by many of us who appreciated his intelligence and kindness toward others."
"We have been so blessed to have Ric Frataccia's presence in our county. From saving the opera house in the 90’s to most recently steering the RDC, Ric has made a lasting and positive impression in our community," Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said. "He will be deeply missed."
Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas said in a prepared statement, "Words cannot express our sincere condolences to Ric’s dear wife, Kaye, and to his entire family. The Valparaiso community will forever remember this valued man with tremendous respect. We sought Ric’s counsel on many occasions and he was always a generous and genuine supporter of our community."
Costas said the city and Valparaiso Community Schools will fly flags at half-staff through Sunday.