Sally Michalko loved to explore, even her license plate read "XPLOR-R." She visited 63 countries and enjoyed learning different cultures. Michalko died at AngelsGrace Hospice on Sunday, Nov. 20, a result of a recently diagnosed brain tumor.
The former president of Plowshare, co-chairwoman of the Waukesha Education Foundation and retired Waukesha teacher's philosophy of life was to explore. According to the Plowshare website, her “exploring” stretched to education, peace and social justice as well.
Superintendent of the School District of Waukesha Todd Gray said in a written statement, "Sally was a wonderful educator, role model, and great friend to the district. Her work with the Waukesha Education Foundation and other community organizations speaks volumes about the commitment to our schools and the community."
Michalko touched thousands of students’ lives; thousands of adult lives through all her volunteerism and work; social studies elementary department chair for years. From her travels she created ‘discovery boxes’ which included cultural artifacts and lessons for so many countries.
A lifelong friend to many
Waukesha County Supervisor Larry Nelson has known Michalko for 35 years. Both were active in the Education Association of Waukesha, a local teachers union. Nelson said his friend and colleague was a beloved elementary schoolteacher. She dedicated 35 years to teaching first grade and seven years as the elementary social studies department chairwoman in Waukesha.
It was Michalko who recruited him to join the Plowshare Board of Directors. After joining the Plowshare’s education committee over nine years ago, Michalko realized her life skills and interests were a perfect match for the goals of Plowshare, Nelson said.
"Sally was a person who made the world a better place every single day of her life," he said.
Nelson added that anyone who knew her was lucky.
"There was a constant presence of joy and determined optimism to make Waukesha and the larger community a better place," Nelson said.
Nelson described Michalko as someone who never gave up, even after being diagnosed with brain tumors over the summer. She continued to be involved and trying to solve problems.
"A month ago, she came to a board meeting and ran it still as president, even though she was going through chemo," Nelson said.
After losing her hair during treatments, she wore Plowshare headscarves and was always promoting Plowshare.
On the Plowshare website, Michalko said that when she wasn't promoting Plowshare, she enjoyed playing in the bell choir at her church, gardening, planning her next trip and spoiling her cat.
Nelson said Michalko also loved to promote local theater. She volunteered as an usher at the Milwaukee Rep and Waukesha Civic Theatre. She named her cat Scout from "To Kill a Mockingbird," which she recently watched at the Waukesha Civic Theatre.
Diane Voit has been friends with Michalko since college, and their lives have intertwined ever since. They lived down the street from each other when Voit bought her first home in Waukesha.
"She was always actively recruiting me in the things she loved,"Voit said.
Voit described her longtime friend as someone who had the greatest laugh and best personality.
"Right up to the end, she was concerned about other people," she said.
Longtime friend Bev Bradford described her as a ‘Servant Soul.'
Bradford remarked Michalko was an ambassador and advocate for Waukesha and so many social justice causes.
"She infected others with her positive attitude and excitement for her causes, said Bradford.
Sally believed in fostering, building relationships and being positive in all aspects of her life. According to Bradford, when Sally couldn’t drive, the positive was that she had more time with a variety of friends who drove her to radiation treatments. Michalko believed the long construction in town had provided an opportunity to see new parts of Waukesha.
"When making the decision on additional treatments, she chose not to so she could spend remaining time maintaining her friendships," Bradford said.
Bradford found so many accolades from students in her home. She kept them all – Christmas ornaments, journals with a student’s picture on it, students’ pictures, cards. She kept friendships alive through decades and valued all the interactions she had with people.
Michalko shared her belief with others that God's will is going to happen, and everything would work out fine.
A visitation is planned for Saturday, Dec. 3 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Community United Methodist Church,14700 Watertown Plank Road. The visitation is followed by a celebration of life at 3 p.m. at the church. For more information visit http://www.haaselockwoodfhs.com/notices/Sally-Michalko/services.