The Life and Legacy of Kimberly Kozian
By guest writer James Coller, LCHS-N ‘13
When I graduated, Koz told me to never stop writing. So here I am, writing to honor her.
Kimberly Kozian, affectionately called simply “Koz” by most who knew her, was my mentor, my inspiration, and my grounding force. Koz inspired me to begin writing when I took her journalism class my sophomore year at L’Anse Creuse High School — North. I quickly joined The North Star newspaper staff and became editor-in-chief for my junior and senior years. It was in this role that Koz and I became especially close. If I was ever having a bad day, I knew that I could walk through the doors of room 213 to find support and decompress. Koz wasn’t just my teacher, but a part of my family. She became a second mother to me.
When Koz was undergoing chemotherapy treatments, she would miss school for a few weeks, but she never stopped teaching and leading during those times. I would call her in the evenings to discuss story ideas and to get advice on the next issue of The North Star. There were a few times when Koz would come meet me after school and we would work together because she wanted to ensure that the next month’s issue of the paper would make it out on time. Her dedication and commitment to us, her students, was unwavering.
Kozian had her life cut short on August 28, 2017 after a long fight with cancer. Her life may have ended early, but it was certainly full of meaning as she left behind a profound impact on every person who met her.
Kozian’s impact at LCHS-N began well before she started teaching in the English department. Kozian also attended high school at North from 1980-1984. Former LCHS-N principal Tom Denewith recalls Kozian as a student who was always eager to lend a helping hand and heavily involved in the school, he added that “she was always [thinking about] what can I do for you, not thinking about herself.”
After Kozian attended Central Michigan University and Fordham University, receiving degrees in English Education, she moved back to Michigan and began teaching at Mount Clemens High School, where Rosa Hough, now a LCHS-N teacher herself, first encountered Kozian as one of her students.
Hough described Kozian as a constant presence throughout her tenure as a teacher. “She connected with her students and could relate to them and we all adored he. She believed in me and my passion for writing and I formed a bond with her that lasted past just high school. She was my role model and is one of the reasons I became a teacher.”
When Kozian returned to the halls of LCHS-N in 1999, her presence was well-received. Denewith recalled Kozian “doing a tremendous job from day one.” She taught multiple English and journalism classes, and advised both the newspaper and yearbook.
In Kozian’s classroom, lessons extended beyond grammar and style. Kozian taught her students to challenge the status quo and to make a broader impact. She did not shy away from allowing student reporters to take on issues facing the community.
“She taught her kids about being a person, about always doing your best, about always looking out for the other person,” said Tom Denewith, former LCHS-N principal. “Her classroom was always open and that was her way of life.”
Kozian was also heavily involved in the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA). She believed in educating students to appreciate the freedom of the press and understand the importance of journalism in the world. Kozian led sessions at conferences, served as board secretary, volunteered summer breaks to teach at workshops and frequently judged the annual student awards.
“Kim was an amazing friend to MIPA for many years,” said Jeremy Steele, Executive Director of MIPA. “Many of our member teachers have stories about how Kim was one of the first people who came up to them when they were new to our organization. She rarely missed an opportunity to help new student media advisers feel welcome, and she always had a smile and hug for the folks she already knew.”
In 2011, Kozian was honored by MIPA with the prestigious Golden Pen Award, which honors the journalism advisor of the year in the state. Kozian was blown away when she received the award, as she was always humble in her own successes.
During her time as advisor of The North Star newspaper and The Quest yearbook, both publications received annual awards from MIPA recognizing their excellence, including numerous “Spartan” awards, the top student publication award. Kozian’s students regularly received top student journalist honors, and numerous students went on to pursue careers in journalism.
Nicole (Hale) Krawcke, currently an editor at ACHRNews, wrote that “It is because of [Kozian] that I am where I am today, doing what I love – writing. Every time I see my name published in a byline, I think of her. I will never forget Kim Kozian and the lessons she taught me. I am forever grateful for her guidance and support.”
Kozian’s laugh and smile were always present. Not a day went by, regardless of the circumstances, where her signature smile and laughter didn’t fill the room. Kathleen Reifert, Kozian’s “next-door neighbor” in the halls of LCHS-N, noted that Kozian would want to be remembered with “laughter and happy times. Remember her smile and her generosity and her goodness.”
The LCHS-N community rallied around Kozian’s diagnosis. Students, staff, parents, and friends all came together to show support. Hough, who is the advisor for the Student Council, helped to coordinate some of the efforts to support Kozian.
“The first time I and a few other staff members collected money and we made a huge care package for her,” said Hough. “The second time [we] coordinated care baskets to be given each month with the departments – trying to keep her spirits up. The staff was so giving both times because our beloved Koz was fighting for her life, and [we] wanted to show our support to her. Everybody loved Koz – she just connected with both staff and students.”
Kozian was always LCHS-N’s number one supporter, and in the wake of her death, the community rallied together to honor her life and to cement her legacy. LCHS-N Student Council launched its inaugural charity week during the 2017-2018 school year. The proceeds would benefit cancer research and the Humane Society in honor of Kozian’s fight and her love of animals.
The outcome was an incredible showing of support and the community rallying around the memory of a hero. The $1,500 goal was surpassed many times over with the final tally being over $7,000. An additional $4,000 was raised during homecoming to support the Kimberly Marie Kozian Memorial Scholarship Fund.
“There was a difference in the atmosphere around [the school] during the week,” said Tori Kuzmanovski, one of the student organizers of Charity Week. “People were supporting others and helping out or going to events they normally wouldn’t. It was time for us to give back, just like she had for our school throughout all her years.”
Kozian left a lasting legacy. “She’s just one of those very special people. Your life is richer because you could cross paths with Kim Kozian,” said Reifert. Her character was unmatched, and her heart was always full of love for those around her.
“I wish every one of my kids in high school and every one of my teachers [could] be Kim Kozian. She was the epitome of what a good person, a good educator, and a good human being is,” said Denewith.
While future students of L’Anse Creuse High School — North will not have the opportunity to learn from Kozian herself, they will be able to learn the same messages that she imparted. Kozian would not want to be remembered for the things she did, but for the values she stood for. Love, honor, respect, friendship, journalistic integrity, and compassion will always have their place in the halls of LCHS-N.
A teacher is often more than just an educator. They are a mentor, a role model, a colleague, and more importantly, a friend. Kimberly Kozian embodied the essence of all of these and more. She was more than a teacher and at the end of the day, I will never forget her. She inspired me to challenge the status quo and to discover myself and the importance of journalism.
“She’s just one of those very special people. Your life is richer because you could cross paths with Kim Kozian.”