Just before spring break, Northview High School Principal Mark Thomas said he got to have a rare, unscheduled and unhurried conversation with head counselor David Witucki, who served the district for 28 years.
The following day, March 19, Witucki experienced a sudden medical emergency and died unexpectedly, Thomas said. He was 54.
He is being remembered by district administrators, teachers and students as a devoted high school counselor with a quick, dry sense of humor who “understood the culture of Northview,” Thomas said.
Guidance counselors see every aspect of their schools, Thomas explained, “and Dave had this really amazing emotional intelligence for people. He was a real social justice advocate: He hated seeing things that weren’t fair and he believed in doing the right thing. His heart for kids and his heart for people really motivated him.”
Northview senior Lauren Davis knows about Witucki’s heart for students, and called his voice “the most recognizable in school.” Lauren met him in eighth grade, when counselors from the high school visited her school.
“From our initial conversation, he made an immense effort to know my name and know who I am and what I love to do,” she recalled.
Lauren said Witucki researched early college opportunities for her and helped set up appointments with college admissions counselors. She said “it breaks my heart” she wasn’t able to share with him her decision to attend Ferris State University.
“Apart from being excellent at his job, he was an all-around good person,” she said. “He made Northview feel like home for everyone. He loved his job; he loved his students; he loved the Northview community, and we loved him back.”
Witucki grew up in Manistee. After earning a master’s degree from Central Michigan University, he served for 28 years as a middle and high school counselor at Northview. He was the head of the high school counseling department for the last 11 years, as well as the point person for the school’s exchange students.
Thomas called Witucki “a Picasso” at finessing the school’s master class schedule.
“The master schedule at any high school is a unique animal in the sense that you have to schedule hundreds if not thousands of students, and align them with teacher schedules, but also take into account how to put students with the right teachers,” Thomas said.
“He understood how to take the complex entity that is a high school and make it function and work together.”
In addition to his work at school, Witucki served on the executive board of West Michigan Counseling Association, the Michigan Counseling Association, and as a long-time member of Michigan Association of College Admissions Counselors.
A sports lover, Witucki also was part of the Northview athletic program: starter for the track and cross country programs, running the clock for the football and basketball teams, and as a long-time middle and high school basketball coach.
In 2003, Witucki fulfilled a dream by becoming a beer vendor for the Chicago Cubs. He also worked as a vendor for the Chicago Bears.
“He’d get an executive apartment and move to Chicago every summer. He’d work at Wrigley for the Cubs, he’d work the Bears games, and he’d also do some other international soccer events,” Thomas said. “Before spring training he would do (his own) spring training walking through all our lockers because of all the walking that goes on with his job.”
Middle School teacher Kathy Vogel and her husband, Brian, had been close friends of Witucki since he started at Northview, just a year after Kathy Vogel was hired. In short order, she said, they were a threesome.
“The last 27 years has just been the three of us together all the time,” Vogel said. And the man they called Chicago Dave “became part of our family. My dad loved his sense of humor and my mom loved playing poker with him.”
Like the Vogels, Witucki had no children, but “he always knew he wanted to go into education,” she said. “I think, for him, some people can give to kids all day long at school and then go home and give to their own kids. He gave everything to the kids he worked with during the day.
“He had the patience of a saint, he really did,” Vogel said with a laugh. “And when he started to lose it, the kids never really knew they were wearing thin on his patience.”
Vogel said it wasn’t until about four weeks ago, when she sat in while Witucki was scheduling classes for an incoming freshman, that she got to see his finesse as he worked to gently but deftly guide the student to better choices.
“It was so wonderful to see how he worked,” she said.
The Dave Witucki Memorial Scholarship has been established in his memory, and is intended for a scholarship to a graduating senior who demonstrates the intention “to use their passion for the benefit of others.”