Obituary: Melvin Vesely / Pittsburgh Public Schools math teacher instilled love of learning
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As a junior at Carrick High School in the late 1950s, Jim Lesko cared far more about football than math class, and it showed.
When math teacher Melvin N. Vesely demanded to know why he didn't put more effort into his schoolwork, Mr. Lesko became angry -- and then made the classroom his new gridiron.
"I think that was exactly the reaction he wanted. ... He sort of changed my life," Mr. Lesko said. "I was kind of on a path of not going very far and not thinking of getting beyond the next day."
Mr. Vesely, 86, credited with helping wayward students find their way and with promoting math education for girls long before it was popular to do so, died of lymphoma Nov. 23 in Sherwood Oaks in Cranberry.
He was born Dec. 7, 1925, on the North Side, a son of John and Agnes Vesely. He graduated from Oliver High School in 1943, was awarded a Purple Heart for his Army service in France during World War II and received bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Pittsburgh in the early 1950s.
Mr. Vesely met his wife, the late Nancy Perry Vesely, at an inter-church social. They married in 1951.
Mr. Vesely spent his career in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, teaching at Carrick and Herron Hill high schools, working in curriculum development for the district and serving as principal of Overbrook Elementary. He was known for using puzzles, competitive quizzes, a radio show and other novelties to get through to boys and girls alike.
"He truly believed girls could be as good in math as boys and should go on to college like boys," said Mr. Vesely's daughter, Carol Ann Vesely of Monrovia, Calif.
Carol Raupach Weber, a 1958 Carrick graduate, said her parents didn't believe in higher education for girls. But after an open house one night, she said, Mr. Vesely walked out to her father's car, sat with him and "talked him into letting a girl go to college."
"That was pretty important from my point of view," said Ms. Weber, who started college, stopped for a while and returned to complete her math degree. She taught in middle and high schools and now lives in Conroe, Texas.
Mr. Lesko, who became president of Carrick's math club, said Mr. Vesely also opened his eyes to philosophy by dropping a copy of "Crime and Punishment" on his desk one day.
"He never said a word. He just walked away. I was mystified by it," said Mr. Lesko, who retired in 2005 as head of art and design at University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and then taught at Dongseo University in South Korea. Although he did not go into the math field, he credits Mr. Vesely with steering him toward education.
Mr. Lesko visited Mr. Vesely each time he returned to Pittsburgh and considered him his best friend.
In 2008, Carrick's Class of 1958 held its 50-year reunion. The next day, a dozen class members held a brunch for Mr. Vesely to thank him and share memories. Among them were Mr. Lesko, Ms. Weber and Ron Wertel of Wayne, Delaware County.
"He made everything clear," Mr. Wertel, a retired search-firm executive, said of the teacher known as "Mr. V."
In retirement, Mr. Vesely arose at 5 a.m. to work out three times a week. He also took up jogging; he ran the Pittsburgh Marathon at age 63 and last ran the Great Race when he was 85. He also attended courses and lectures on science, music and other topics.
"He had a social calendar that would make a college student's head spin," his daughter said.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, Edward Vesely of Glenshaw, and three grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Dec. 15 at Sherwood Oaks. Memorials may be made to Sherwood Oaks Scholarship Fund or the American Cancer Society.
First Published December 7, 2012 4:39 pm