Paying tribute to the ‘Ultimate Black Knight’

First Posted: 6/9/2014

Hundreds of people gathered in the Lake-Lehman Senior High School gym to honor and remember the man after whom the gym is named – John “Jay” Zaleskas.

Zaleskas died June 2 at Greenbriar Nursing Home at age 85.

Zaleskas worked in the Lake-Lehman School District from 1953 to his retirement in 1990 as principal, acting superintendent, teacher and coach – a 37-year career that earned him accolades, respect and friendship.

Jean Lipski, a high school teacher, said, “He was such a force, a boss and my friend and he was so vital, it’s hard to think that he is gone.”

“I’m heart-broken,” said former Lake-Lehman superintendent Robert O. Roberts, who considered Zaleskas a mentor and father figure. Roberts said Zaleskas created a family atmosphere among students, faculty and staff, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s when the district was coming into its own after the growing pains of consolidation in the 1960s.

Rich Gorgone, former athletic director of the school for 30 years, wrote in a newspaper article at the new Lake-Lehman gym dedication in 2004 that “He (Zaleskas) was like a big brother to everyone. He took care of us all.”

John Oliver, who succeeded Zaleskas as principal in 1990, said, “The most wonderful guy in the world. He taught me everything I know and could have written the book ‘How to be a Successful High School Principal,’” said Oliver.

George Curry, a friend and fellow coach, said if you wanted someone to prepare young people for the world that guy would be “Jay.” He called him an “impact player,” the person in sports who helps make everybody else look good.

Joseph “Red” Jones, a former Luzerne County commissioner, coach and former member of the Lake-Lehman School Board, remembered Zaleskas using all his wisdom, passion and commitment to do what was good for children. “He loved Lake-Lehman and the kids. He was the ‘Ultimate Black Knight.’”

Alison Sankey, Zaleskas’ granddaughter said, “You heard all the stories of what a great leader he was but he was fun-loving, a perfect teacher and a great grandfather to us.”

Zaleskas is survived by his wife of 62 years, Irene, and five children, Irene Sankey, Jo Ann Ralphs, Jayne Attardo, Jean Zaleskas and John Zaleskas and grandchildren, Christopher and Lauren Ralphs, Alison Sankey, Mike Attardo, Gabrielle Attardo, John, Daniel and Andrea Zaleskas and Zachary Zaleskas.

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