By Lynn Schofer

The Woodbridge School District, family, colleagues, and friends celebrated the life of Walter P.J. Gilefski, aka “Mr. Woodbridge,” in the naming of the media center as the Walter P.J. Gilefski Media Center last week.

Former school board president and longtime friend Paul Breeding spoke of memories working together with Gilefski, “Walt always asked what the last book was you read for pleasure.” Breeding said it is only right to recognize a man who served Woodbridge School District as a coach, teacher, administrator, and school board member. 

The Gilefski family: Walter’s wife Ruth, granddaughter Ellie, daughter Amy, and son David stand in front of the newly named Walter P.J. Gilefski Media Center and read the dedication sign that was revealed by Superintendent Heath Chasanov (shown in the background) and School Board President David McCarron. Photo by Lynn Schofer

Breeding spoke of his mentorship and wisdom that he shared for over 15 years with him, “Walt spent hours in the library and believed in it and he was truly a Woodbridge Raider all the way.”   

Superintendent Heath Chasanov, who has known the Gilefski family his entire life, said this was the perfect fit to name the media center and when he approached the school board they agreed. 

“There isn’t anyone who has a greater involvement and influence on my life,” said Chasanov.

Gilefski was hired in 1971 as a teacher with Woodbridge School District and taught the young Chasanov in the fifth and seventh grades and again as a senior in high school.

“He instilled the love of numbers in me and enhanced it,” Chasanov said. “He was in charge of special education, and he met with me before I started as the assistant superintendent and wanted me to succeed.” 

Chasanov spoke of his passion for student learning, his presence in the classrooms, and how he was always an advocate for the Woodbridge School District. 

“He was ‘Mr. Woodbridge’ and he cared about students, staff, and community. He was the ultimate servant, and I cannot think of a more appropriate dedication than naming this media center,” said Chasanov.

Gilefski graduated from King’s College in Pennsylvania with a degree in mathematics and later earned master’s degrees in education and physics from the University of Delaware. In 1969, he moved to Delaware to join Woodbridge School District and drove back and forth on weekends to visit his future wife, Ruth. They married in 1971.

“At first, I said we are giving this place one year and we are moving back home. Bridgeville grew on us, and we made friends, and he loved the district, and it was a good place to raise a family,” Ruth said.   

Walter remained a teacher until 1991 when he moved to an administrator role. “He loved teaching. He never said he loved being an administrator and often said if the money was equal, he would never have changed to administration,” said Ruth.  

They raised both their children, David and Amy, and the higher pay made the pathway to college financially smoother for the Gilefski family. After his retirement in 2003, he was elected to the school board in 2005 and remained until the time of his death in 2020. Walter also served as mayor of the town of Bridgeville from 1980-1990.  

David Gilefski who spoke on behalf of his mother Ruth and sister Amy said of his father, “How do I say all the things that I think should be said about my dad?”  he said. “Teaching and community were a passion.” 

He also noted the numerous organizations to which Walter had volunteered. David said his father was dedicated to continuing his own education and although he was struck with an illness in 2005, he remained positive.

“Reading was part of his treatment as he went through dialysis,” David said of his father’s journey. “He got a transplant and continued to be dedicated to serving Woodbridge School District.”   

Walter passed away on April 7, 2020, during the time of the COVID shut down crisis. His son David said, “2020 was an awful time during lockdown. We did not have the sendoff that I always pictured having for him.” 

David also said his father would have been sad to see the closing of schools because of the disruption of so many lives but at the same time see the opportunity for people to learn online. David said his father made a good point of talking about the importance of reading and he passed on this love and made him want to be like his father.

“He taught us about treating people with decency, when to listen to others, a great deal about family, and when to stand up for what you believe in,” David said.  “Dad would be terribly embarrassed by all this fuss. He was a humble man and would be deeply honored.”   

The Woodbridge Walter P.J. Gilefski Media Center is a place for students to grow their love of reading, research, exploration, and knowledge. The relaxing atmosphere full of bean bag chairs and areas that promote reading enjoyment now has the perfect name with a history based on dedication and passion to all who have walked the halls of Woodbridge School District.