For anyone who has attended Whitefish Bay High School in the past 30 years, Gerry Kasik hardly needs an introduction.
Ms. K, as she’s known at the school, is a living legend around these parts, renown for her strictness as a study hall monitor and her fanaticism for Blue Dukes athletics.
And though she’s retired these days, she rarely misses a sporting event, and on occasion, she’s called in as a substitute teacher. She continues to love every moment.
“Other than raising my two sons, it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” she said with a smile in the cozy confines of her 130-year-old Whitefish Bay home. “It’s been a hoot.”
Kasik first got involved at the high school as a music parent in 1977 when her son Chris started singing with the choir program. He graduated in 1981, and his brother Andy finished in 1984.
Gerry had been working as an office employee at nearby Treat All Metals, Inc., but she needed a new job. The high school was looking for a study hall monitor, and Gerry thought she fit the bill.
She was hired and immediately made her mark on the students, monitoring seven study hall periods of 60 to 85 kids each day in a huge room on the third floor. Ms. K made sure everyone was productive and well behaved in her presence.
She said she told students, “Your main focus is to get your work done.” When kids came unprepared, expecting to snooze, she ordered them into action.
“Don’t you ever come into my study hall again with nothing to do!” she said, seemingly reliving an encounter from the past.
Indeed, Kasik takes pride in her reputation as an enforcer. She recalled an exchange with one young man who she said went on to play Big 10 football.
When he refused to follow her rules, she said, “I’m going to be here for the next 2 1/2 weeks. While I’m here, this is my house, my rules.”
Amy Levek, associate principal at Bay, said she was introduced to Gerry right away when she arrived at the school four years ago.
“She’s a tough cookie,” Levek said. “I know it’s always in good hands with Gerry.”
But for all of her toughness, Kasik has a soft spot in her heart for the students of Whitefish Bay.
“I’ve met some wonderful young people,” she said. “I wish more people in my age group knew more teenagers.”
She said her disciplined ways are the result of her own upbringing and the way she raised her own family. Helping students be their best is always her goal, she said.
“The kids know she genuinely cares about them,” Levek said.
One trademark of her study halls was a big pretzel jar she used for charitable collections. A particularly courageous boy once asked her if she would dance if he put a $5 bill in the jar.
At the end of the year, she brought in a radio and danced to Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.”
“They understood where I was coming from, but also understood there were times we could have fun,” Kasik said.
These days, Gerry is perhaps most visible along the sidelines at Whitefish Bay athletic events. She worked for the athletic department for years, monitoring student behavior in the stands. Today, she goes as a fan.
“We’ve been very lucky this year,” she said in reference to Bay’s state titles in boys basketball and girls gymnastics. “I’m a sports nut anyway.”
Kasik said her favorite sports are football, basketball and baseball. During the interview, she checked over a printed Blue Dukes baseball schedule and rattled off records and statistics.
“She’s one of the biggest Blue Dukes fans you’ll find,” Levek said. “When we’re at a basketball game, she can give me a play by play of year’s past.”
Gerry also chooses an annual recipient for her “Ms. K Award,” a $500 prize that “gives people who would never be recognized an opportunity,” she said. The winner must have a good sense of humor and be involved with extracurricular activities. There is no scholastic requirement, Kasik said.
Living in the Bay, Gerry regularly runs into former students. She said seeing them grown up and successful makes all of her years at the school worthwhile.
“Those are my perks,” she said with a big smile.
Kasik grew up on Milwaukee’s near north side and attended North Division High School. She has been involved with The Bay Players theater group for more than 40 years.
During the Blue Dukes run to state basketball this year, Gerry traveled along, cheering and keeping an eye on the kids.
“I think I only had to holler at them once,” she said.