Maybe one day Robert Czarniewski will sit down and figure how many lives he has impacted in a positive manner but that will have to wait until after he retires.

Robert "CZ" Czarniewski (Kevin Williams, Townsquare Media NJ)

As his 40th year of teaching physical education at Island Heights Grade School comes to a close “CZ” has no plans to retire because he still loves to teach, loves kids and simply is still having fun. Last night the school and community came out to show their love for him by dedicating the gym that’s been his second home for some four decades.

It’s now The Robert (CZ) Czarniewski Gymnasium but at the suggestion of one of the speakers I kind of like the “CZ Center” for short.

I was among those who spoke at the ceremony which included current and former students, many of whom are now parents whose children are being taught by the longtime Ocean Gate resident. When you listen to what many had to say about Czarniewski, who is called CZ, C or Mr. CZ you realize the impact he has had on students far exceeds teaching them how to play soccer or basketball in gym class.

Plaque dedicating the gym to Robert "CZ" Czarniewski (Kevin Williams, Townsquare Media NJ
(Left-right) CZ, School Board member Michael Tsucalas and Superintendent Loren Fuhring. (Kevin Williams, Townsquare Media NJ)

In a school of just over 100 students he is a teacher, friend, mentor, counselor and confident and one of only two male staff members.

Just how popular is CZ in the school and community? When the Board of Education voted unanimously to dedicate the gym after him they also said they could not use public funds to pay for a commemorative bronze plaque. So Michael Tsucalas sent out letters asking for donations and the response was overwhelming.

So much so that he had a problem: too much money. So after paying for the plaque in the gym and a plaque for CZ’s home they used the remaining $500 to give a scholarship to Danielle Gabriel, a former Island Heights Grade School student who will graduate from Toms River South this month. Like others she had funny stories to tell about her former teacher and current friend.

When it came time for CZ to speak he talked about how much fun he’s had and still has teaching students. He also read some of the cards he received after returning to school following his mother’s death many years ago.

At that time one of his students wrote, “Sorry your mother’s dead,  get another one” which made us all laugh and smile. That’s what he’s done for 40 years and hopefully will continue to do for as long as he wants.

Former Island Heights student Danielle Gabriel with Cz. She received a $500 college scholarship with extra money raised in the community for the commemorative plaque.(Kevin Williams, Townsquare Media NJ)