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Werklund alumna Kristin Bala-Kosak's teaching legacy lives on through memorial bursary
April 27,2017

Mark Kosak and Kristin Bala-Kosak at their wedding in October 2000. Photos courtesy Mark Kosak

Kristin Bala-Kosak celebrates her graduation from the Education program with her grandmother Ethel.

Kristin Bala-Kosak was and will always be connected to the University of Calgary.

A decorated member of the UCalgary Dinos Track and Field and Cross Country Running teams, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies in 1991.

She tried her hand at a few different careers, but according to her husband, Mark Kosak, at the age of 30 she ultimately figured out where she belonged.

“She decided to go back to UCalgary to pursue a lifelong passion to become a school teacher,” he explains, “following in the footsteps of her grandmother Ethel, who was her inspiration and hero in life.”

Major shift in life fed passion for teaching and for children

Kristin loved children, says Kosak, and she was determined to make a difference in the world. So the logical step for her was to enrol in a teaching program. “It was a major shift in her life and a risk, but she was eager for a new start.”

After Kristin graduated, she went right into teaching. Her first assignment was to William Roper Hull School in 1999; she was there for two years before transferring into a similar role at Bowcroft Elementary School in 2001.

At 34 years old, it seemed as though Kristin had the world in her hands. And then, in the fall of 2001, Kristin was diagnosed with a rare, untreatable, aggressive cancer.  Within seven months, she was gone. 

“During her illness and upon her death, there were so many who reached out and wanted to do something, anything, to help Kristin and to help me,” says Kosak. “But there was really nothing anyone could do to change her destiny.”

Memorial bursary honours an inspirational life

In the months following her passing, he and Kristin's mother and sister agreed Kristin's illness and her premature death should not be in vain — that something good and positive needed to come from her passing. “We decided we would use her inspirational life and tragic death as a platform to help someone else.”

So the family created the Kristin Bala-Kosak Memorial Bursary, to support other mature students who were pursuing education degrees.  “The UCalgary student who annually benefits from the bursary would now be the person who would graduate to a teaching career and carry on Kristin's life ambition — to help the most challenged kids — since she no longer could.

 “A memorial bursary or scholarship allows family and friends to support an endeavour that preserves the memory of a loved one in perpetuity,” Kosak says. “It provides a degree of peace knowing that whatever else should happen in the lives of those who survive, there is some comfort in knowing that the person after whom we name this award will always remain a treasured memory and will not fade into obscurity.”

Kosak says this also gives him a sense that something good and positive can be achieved as an outcome from a loss. “This is the altruistic motive where the death of a loved one can act as the catalyst for supporting someone else, someone anonymous, to achieve a life dream.”

'Who doesn't want to contribute to someone else's success?' 

Kosak is aware many students today are forced to cope with rising student costs and some level of financial challenge. He believes contributing toward a selected post-secondary student's educational costs creates a positive benefit. And he sees giving as a way to invest in the future of the community.  

“As a donor, I appreciate the opportunity to witness an ambitious young student making progress toward their university credential,” says Kosak. “There's a sense of satisfaction, as any charitable donor must feel, that we have used our personal resources, time, energy and financial success to assist someone else, in some small way, in pursuit of their own goals.

“Who doesn't want to contribute to someone else's success?” 

That’s a sentiment with which Mark Kosak knows Kristin would agree.

The University of Calgary's first-ever Giving Day takes place April 27-29, 2017. We'll be working non-stop to create 50 scholarships in 50 hours, in celebration of our 50th anniversary. Visit ucalgary.ca/givingday to get involved.