December 3, 2020

George Slusarz’s impact lasts with student

When Jordan Marks finished her night shift at Cyrano’s, she decided to sit at the bar with coworkers to relax. Suddenly, she fell from her barstool as a seizure ran through her body. Her manager rushed Marks, junior accounting major, to Barnes Jewish Hospital. She was diagnosed with epilepsy. A doctor told her a cyst was growing on the pineal gland of her brain, and that she may have to undergo surgery to remove the cyst.

BRITTANY RUESS / The Journal Jordan Marks, junior accounting major, speaks about the impact George Slusarz had on her life during Slusarz’s memorial in the Winifred-Moore Auditorium on Wednesday, April 18. Slusarz mentored Marks in accounting and supported her during her challenges with epilepsy.

After her mother lost her job in St. Louis last September, Marks said her family moved to Texas where her mother found employment. After her family left, Marks said she had one person in St. Louis she knew would support her: her accounting professor George Slusarz. Marks said she bonded with Slusarz her first day of class with him and knew he would help her.

“I came back a week later (after the seizure) and went straight to his office, and sat down, and told him everything. He jokingly said, ‘Are you going to shave your head? What’s going to happen to all of that long hair you have?’  He knew how to turn every negative into a positive,” Marks said. “It was strange. I’d be in there crying one day and he’d make me end up leaving there 30 minutes later laughing. He was probably the most amazing person I’ve ever met.”

Since her first seizure, Marks endured two more seizures. Slusarz supported her and acted as her own personal counselor. Marks said on days she didn’t have classes, she would walk to Slusarz’s office and simply talk. He constantly asked her if she took her medication and helped her with classes.

“He wanted everyone to be happy,” Marks said. “I think it hurt him to see someone so scared and lonely, and not know what to do.”

Marks said she and Slusarz had similar life experiences, which made him able to understand her situation more than others.

“I think he had a lot of experiences in his life that have been traumatizing and have been hurtful, and I think because of that he really (understood),” Marks said. “I think he was better at helping other people than he was at helping himself. Sometimes that’s how I feel. I can sit down and talk to someone, and tell them exactly what to do, but then when it comes to myself I don’t know. That’s why I looked up to him so much. He was so passionate and so caring, and I hope one day I can be just like that; be as helpful to people as he was to me.”

Aside from helping her personally, Marks said Slusarz made accounting fun. She said he made his lectures apply to real-life experiences his students may face.

“He prepared me. He made me feel comfortable leaving college and getting a job, and actually knowing what I’m doing,” Marks said. “A lot of other teachers don’t do that. You leave their class with an ‘A’ or a ‘B,’ and you still don’t really know what you’re talking about.”

Slusarz’s sudden death on April 6 took a hard toll on Marks. She was working her Saturday shift when she heard the news.

“I immediately stepped outside and sat there, and cried,” Marks said. “I didn’t know where to go or what to do. But I do what I do best, and went back to work, and just kept smiling. If anyone asked me what was wrong, I told them I was fine.”

Marks said since Slusarz is no longer here to help her, she is terrified, but knows she has to carry on.

“I stand up on my own two feet, and that was the one thing he (Slusarz) always told me (to do),” Marks said. “He said, ‘No matter how much they try and break you, just keeping standing on your two feet; just keep smiling.’ And that’s what I do. Even if I’m sad or even if I feel lonely or scared, I just keep smiling.”

During Slusarz’s memorial service on April 18 at Webster University, Marks said professors she hadn’t seen in a year gave her their condolences because they knew how close she and Slusarz were.

“It was weird at the memorial service having teachers come up to me and say, ‘When I found out he passed, you were the first person I thought of.’”
Marks said she is not the only one who is mourning Slusarz. On April 9, Marks said Slusarz’s classroom was eerie as students waited to hear how the class would be handled from that point.

“All of us just sat there and we joked that he was going to walk through those doors, and that this is just one of his pranks; like he’d been messing with us. As soon as Dean Akande started speaking, there was not a dry eye in the house. Everyone was crying,” Marks said. “We’ve had a teacher replace George, and he’s been great. He’s been really accommodating and understanding. Unfortunately, it’s just not the same.”

Taylor Frein, Marks’ close friend and student at St. Louis Community College at Meramec, said Marks talked of Slusarz often.

“He was really close to her,” Frein said. “She’d tell me stories about him in class. I know the memorial made her sad; she choked up a little bit.”

Marks will leave Webster after the semester is finished. She will move to Texas on May 12 to be with her family and, depending how large the cyst has grown, have surgery. She said she has applied to a community college there, but she does not want to make any serious commitments until she knows if she will undergo surgery. She hopes to finish her degree at the University of Texas Arlington.

“I owe him (Slusarz) everything I’ve become in the last year; everything I’ve been able to accomplish,” Marks said. “I hope that when I do get to finish college and I do get to go out there, that I’ll be just like him.”

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