On his last day working at the SPARK Center, where he was coordinator of the special education program, Dennis J. Lucyniak was outside doing jumping jacks with a group of 4-year-olds.
“He was never happier than when he was with the kids,” said Martha Vibbert, executive director of SPARK at Boston Medical Center.
“He was absolutely gifted with children of all ages,” she added. “He gravitated toward children with special needs. He had a unique way of engaging children to help them experience joy, to help them with their learning issues, and to support the families in doing the best for their children and getting the best services for their children.”
Mr. Lucyniak, who formerly worked at Boston City Hospital, where he cofounded the family development center, died May 5 in Tufts Medical Center, a few days after going into cardiac arrest in his Reading home. He was 62.
“He was an absolutely marvelous, wonderful teacher,” said Dr. Robert Reece, who had worked with Mr. Lucyniak at Boston City Hospital. “He was an implementer of all things that needed to be done. If the driver or cook was sick, he would drive the van and cook the lunch. The kids loved him because he was always so good to them.”
Colleagues said Mr. Lucyniak was a child at heart, which helped make him a patient, caring, and beloved educator.
“I think he understood kids,” Reece said. “He respected children and respected their differences. He respected their needs and he was able to anticipate what they needed even before the kids knew it. He was one of those people who had a touch.”
Mr. Lucyniak was born in Auburn, where he lived with his parents and his grandmother.
Though he was an only child, several cousins lived down the street and he spent many hours at their house or fishing with them, said his wife, Carol.
A 1968 graduate of Auburn High School, Mr. Lucyniak attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester as a commuter student.
He graduated from Holy Cross in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in English, and went to Assumption College in Worcester, from which he graduated with a master’s degree in psychology and special education.
In 1977, Mr. Lucyniak began working at Boston City Hospital as director of the pediatric therapeutic play program.
While working there, he met Carol Nigro, a nurse.
“We all called him ‘the playboy,’ ” she recalled, laughing. “He would come to the pediatric floor and take the kids to the playroom.”
In 1981, Mr. Lucyniak cofounded the family development center at Boston City Hospital and became the center’s education director.
He worked closely at the center with Reece, helping care for children who had been neglected or abused.
Mr. Lucyniak worked at the family development center until several years ago, when it merged with another program to form SPARK, an acronym for supporting parents and resilient kids.
He helped direct SPARK’s early education and care program before coordinating the special education program.
“His favorite thing was working with the kids,” his wife said. “I think he taught the other teachers a lot about how to work with the kids.”
Away from work, Mr. Lucyniak was good at solving crossword puzzles, and he liked to read while watching the Red Sox on TV.
“He always had a book in his hands, and we watched pretty much every Red Sox game,” his wife said.
“He used to say, ‘That’s why I like baseball, because I can read my book and still watch the game.’ ”
When his two sons played Little League baseball, Mr. Lucyniak was a coach with Reading youth, his wife said.
After his sons grew older, she said, Mr. Lucyniak remained as commissioner for youth baseball in the town, and spent about a decade as a coach or commissioner.
Occasionally, work and recreation combined for Mr. Lucyniak, his wife said, such as the time his karate instructor asked if he would help teach a karate class for children.
Mr. Lucyniak also loved music and his tastes ranged widely.
His wife said he enjoyed going to concerts, and attended everything from My Morning Jacket shows with a son to Boston Pops concerts with her.
A service has been held for Mr. Lucyniak, who in addition to his wife leaves his two sons, Gregory, of Boston, and Nicholas, of Reading.
Recently, the Lucyniaks attended a performance by Hapa, a Hawaiian music troupe the couple tried to see whenever it performed in the area. The Lucyniaks had visited Hawaii in 2005.
“He really loved everything Hawaiian,” she said. “He would have loved to go back. He always loved the whole ‘hang loose’ way of life. He was so relaxed.”