July 10, 2012

Friends of Wojciechowski, Deceased Lab Technician, Say She Brightened Up Their Days

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Karen Wojciechowski, a Cornell lab technician who died on May 26 after a nine-month battle with a rare form of cancer, brightened the lives of those around her, her friends said. She was 49.

After earning an associate degree in animal husbandry and a bachelor of science degree in biology, Wojciechowski came to Cornell to work with researchers in the lab of Prof. David Barbano Ph.D. ’76, food science. She later presented Cornell’s dairy science research in France and in the Netherlands.

Outside of the lab, Wojciechowski had a passion for animals that was shared by her coworkers.

Sean Schell, a lab technician, coworker and friend of Wojciechowski, said that he and his wife were caring for a dog named Maxi at the same time Wojciechowski was looking for a dog for her new house. Wojciechowski ultimately adopted Maxi — who, like Wojciechowski, was “full of energy.”

“[They] were a terrific match,” Schell said in an email.

Schell and his wife looked after Maxi following Wojciechowski’s death, as per her wishes.

“Maxi is a constant reminder of all the fun times we had with Karen,” Schell said.

Wojciechowski would also bring her liveliness to the lab, Schell said, adding, “It was always fun working with Karen. She was great to talk to and enjoyed the people she worked with, and that always showed.”

According to Schell, he and Wojciechowski would make small bets on trivial things at work — like the time it would take the two of them to finish a task — “just random things to keep it interesting and fun.”

The “loser usually had to buy drinks,” Schell added.

Michelle Bilotta, a fellow lab technician, echoed these sentiments, emphasizing Wojciechowski’s fun and playful nature.

“We always joked around with each other. We really are like a close family with everyone we work with. She was always positive, always had a good attitude,” said Bilotta, who was trained by Wojciechowski in the lab.

Another coworker and lab technician, Sara Bova, remembered when Wojciechowski traveled to France to present research and asked her to watch her cats.

“It was for two weeks, and before she left, she said, ‘Make yourself at home, save your quarters, use my washer and dryer,’” Bova said. “She was a really kind person. She had a bright spark in her.”

According to Bova, Wojciechowski was also a very active person, playing on the basketball and track teams in high school.

Schell agreed, noting that for a couple of semesters, he got Wojciechowski interested in joining the Cornell Bowling League.

“She and my wife bowled together, and I would have to admit that Karen was the better bowler of the two,” Schell said.

Schell added in an email, “She was the only person I knew besides myself to dance in the [lab …] It was a funny sight to see, especially since this is not the typical behavior you see in a research facility.”

Original Author: Lianne Bornfeld