“I bought my motorcycle a ring.”
So begins one of the best and wildest rides of a conversation with John Bartoszak, one of VLACS’s Instructional Design Program Managers, Freemason, guitarist, photographer, cook, loving husband, and father, resident Mad Hatter, and all-around nice guy.
“I’m sorry, you what?” I ask over Zoom.
“I bought my motorcycle a ring,” he laughs. “I have a Harley Electra Glide, a Triumph America, and a 1971 Triumph Bonneville, which I’m currently restoring. I call the Triumph America ‘the Princess’ because it’s just a very pretty bike. It’s also a British bike. A British bike here in the US.”
“But before I called her ‘the Princess,’ I called her Meghan.”
“Oh.” John’s eyes twinkle.
“For Meghan Markle, whom my wife and I admire.”
Ah. The British Triumph is a royal in the US as the American Markle is royal in the UK. Now I get it.
“Anyway, last year, we were on a cruise to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and we learned that Meghan Markle had jewels made that are blue tanzanite. So to celebrate our anniversary, I bought a tanzanite ring for my bike,” he says.
“Mounted it right on the headlight cowl,” he chuckles.
John is not afraid to show his dedication to the people and ideas in which he believes. The ring is fun, he acknowledges, but it’s part of a larger story. It’s a story of caring and community and family. Oh, and computers, too.
John made his way to New Hampshire from Florida in the early 1980s. “I was born in Miami,” he says, “which is definitely not like Rochester, where we’ve lived for a long time,” he says.
Before VLACS, he says, “I had the worst job known to man.”
Oh dear, I think. I’m talking to the cable guy.
“I worked for the cable company.”
“I was helpdesk. That means you clock in and you get screamed at for 8 hours. Then you turn your phone off.”
I shake my head.
“I did that for three years before I found VLACS.”
“How did you find VLACS?” I ask. He smiles. He tells me a story.
“For 17 years,” he says, “I was a machinist. It’s tiring, backbreaking work and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it forever. Lucky for me, I was a machinist who dabbled in computers. I got my first helpdesk job for a software company that wrote applications for manufacturers.
The company wanted folks who knew manufacturing and had some understanding of computers, so they brought me in.
Going from a machine shop to software was a completely different culture. After that company got sold, I did some other jobs before I worked at the cable company’s helpdesk. During that time, I learned things, like well, helpdesk customer service for one, but also HTML, database management, and basic coding.”
That’s when he found VLACS. He was familiar with it because his daughters had taken VLACS courses before, so when he saw the ad for helpdesk in 2014, he applied immediately.
“I think they hired me for my voice,” he laughs. “I have a very calming voice.”
John’s not on helpdesk now, though. About three years after he started, the instructional design team needed help. With his background in technology, John had no problem stepping into a new role. Since 2018, he’s been changing all the course packages -- from eDynamics Learning, from FLVS, from VLACS -- from backend code to user-friendly content, among many other things.
“I learned the backend of HTML pretty fast then got into Dreamweaver. What I do, essentially, is transform our content to make it readable. There’s never a dull moment.”
He likens his work with VLACS to working with motorcycles. “I never rebuilt a Harley transmission until my Harley transmission died,” he laughs. “In the beginning, there’s a lot of trial and error. If I don’t know something, I figure it out. Google,” he adds, “is a helpful place.”
He’s been figuring it out for a while now, and not only at VLACS or with motorcycles.
John’s the Worshipful Master of his Freemason lodge and has been part of the Freemasons for about a decade. “It’s a charitable organization,” he says. “In lodge, you can sit with a Fortune 500 CEO on one side and maintenance mechanic on the other side, and we are all on the same level. We are all there to be better than we are, not better than anybody else.”
The Freemasons donate approximately $10 million per day around the world in some capacity. “Charity,” says John, “is love. I don’t think I fully understood that until I became a Mason.”
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, there was a call in his community for homemade masks. “My wife Andrea, who belongs to the Order of the Eastern Star (a branch of the Freemasons), started sewing masks. We made about 40 per week and brought them to the local hospitals.”
Then they realized that there were civilians looking for masks. “I said to my wife,’ hey, let’s set up a day when we can stand in front of the Masonic temple and just hand them out. What do you think?’” They sewed more, made a Facebook announcement, and did a curbside distribution. It was a smashing success.
“Then,” says John, “the brothers from the lodge started asking for masks. Friends. Friends of friends. Friends of friends of friends. For weeks, we’ve been leaving masks on our porch for anyone who needs them.”
John’s love -- for his family, his job, the Freemasons, and yes, his motorcycle -- radiates from him. If you get a chance to talk to him, ask him to tell you his Mad Hatter story. It is, like everything else about John Bartoszak, wonderful.
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