In memory of James Dyko

January 29, 1947-- September 23, 2016


James Dyko (1947 - 2016)

James Dyko, a lifelong magician who taught deaf students in Toledo Public Schools for 30 years and taught sign language as a foreign language - mainly to hearing students - at Waite High School and the University of Toledo, died Friday in his Toledo home.

He was 69 and was diagnosed with a brain tumor a year ago, his wife, Cathy, said.

He took an interest in magic after seeing a show as a child and used his skills to win talent contests that paid for his tuition at Central Catholic High School. He paid his way through the University of Toledo by performing for parties and other events.

Mr. Dyko received his bachelor's degree in education with a specialization in German from UT in 1970 and intended to teach the language. But he found only seven job openings in the United States that year and there were 28 applicants for each position, including some who had master's and doctorate degrees. So he returned to UT to get a master's degree in special education, where he realized jobs would be more plentiful.

He was almost immediately drawn to the hearing-impaired children, his wife said, and started teaching in such programs in Toledo schools upon finishing his master's. Most of his time was at East Toledo Junior High School, where he typically had a class of about eight students.

"He was a master storyteller and he loved the kids," said Cheryl Schmidt, whose classroom was next to his until he retired in 2002.

Mr. Dyko taught the full range of subjects but his favorite was reading, which is often harder for deaf children because they haven't heard as much spoken language.

He often used magic tricks in the classroom - sometimes as a reward to the students, but more often as a teaching tool. He helped many of his students learn to do magic tricks so that as a class they could present a show for their school and raise money for field trips.

"I really believe that before a kid can learn he has to have a sense of worth - a good self- image," Mr. Dyko told The Blade in 1977. "I have to start where the kids are academically, show them that they can do something with the skills they have, then build from there. This year, after each kid learned one or two tricks, I let them put on a magic show for the other classes. The show was a great success. These kids went up in front of the whole school and did something that no one else could do. So there they were, building a little ego, building a better self-image."

When Mr. Dyko started teaching deaf students, he did not know sign language and TPS did not use it in its curriculum for the hearing-impaired. But he saw his students using it among themselves and decided to learn it. In the late 1970s he studied American Sign Language at what was then Gallaudet College in Washington and pushed TPS to include sign language in the curriculum for deaf students.

Later, he spent half his day teaching sign language as a foreign language at Waite High School after co-writing a grant to start the program there.

At UT, where he taught until 2013, he coordinated the sign language program and expanded it significantly. Sign language classes could fulfill the university's foreign language requirements and many of Mr. Dyko's students were speech therapy and nursing students.

Even though many of his UT students knew no sign language when they started, he taught without speaking a word - using only sign language and writing extensively on blackboards. Students tended to assume that he was deaf and were startled when he spoke as he handed out final exams.

"He used to get rave reviews from his students," his wife said.

He was born Jan. 29, 1947, to Sylvester and Genevieve Dyko and grew up in Toledo's Polish neighborhood.

He was a lifeguard at the Toledo Boys Club, the Toledo Club, and Brandywine Country Club in the 1960s and '70s. For 18 years, he was a union representative with the Toledo Federation of Teachers, negotiating contracts and representing junior high and substitute teachers. He was an intervention specialist for TPS, helping teachers improve their work. He was a Scout leader when his son was in troops and traveled with his wife to 49 states, missing only Hawaii.

"My husband has always had 17 hands in everything," Cathy Dyko said.

But magic was always his overwhelming passion and part-time job.

He used doves, handkerchiefs, rings, ropes, and live rabbits and stuck swords through his wife in stage shows and at festivals. He was a part-owner in magic shops, worked part-time at another one, and taught magic as well. Throughout his life, he typically worked with magic in some way at least once a week and he seldom left home without a few props for magic tricks in his pocket.

"Jim was really one of the premier magicians in Toledo for a long time," said Martin Jarret, who recalled Mr. Dyko's sleight of hand with coins and expansive portfolio that allowed him to perform in club shows for years without ever repeating a trick.

Surviving are his wife, Cathy; son, Andy; brother, Robert, and sister, Darlene Hargraves.

Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Friday in Sujkowski Funeral Home Northpointe where a memorial service, including a Broken Wand ceremony for magicians, will be at 11 a.m. Saturday.

The family suggests tributes to a charity of the donor's choice.

Published in: The Toledo Blade, November 4, 2010 by Jane Schmucker

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