John Brdecka, Maryville alumnus and Hancock County Library System executive director.
John Brdecka was 4 years old when he was first brought to Maryville’s intake facility on the North Side of Chicago. Not knowing much at that age, he said he remembered having to deal with a case worker who told him “to go here or go there” prompting him to move around frequently in the next four to five years.
He recalled having to go to different schools and getting evaluated for 30, 60 or 90 days to see where he was going to be placed and what foster homes he was going to go to.
Brdecka was finally “mainstreamed” when he was 8 years old and attended a regular school through Maryville until he was 12. It was also during this time that he realized that his life, or what he thought was normal wasn’t.
“One Saturday, I went over to my friend’s house to play for the day, and it blew my mind,” he said. “Cause my whole frame of reference of what life is at that time, I just thought everything was normal because this was my life and everyone around me kind of fits a similar life.”
While at his friend’s house, he realized what was missing in his life. “When I went over at his house, I was like ‘Who’s this? Who are these two people?’ It was his parents,” he said. “It was his house. He had his own room. It was like a family atmosphere.”
“I realized at that point in time that my life wasn’t what I thought it was — normal,” he said. “I figured out that my friend’s life was normal and my life wasn’t like that because I had a case worker and I was at Maryville.”
“It was a brutal realization,” he said. “I put two and two together and I realized I was not going to have that type of childhood.”
However, he remembers being told that if he does well in school while at Maryville, if he gets an education and graduates from high school, Maryville was willing to support him in college in order for him to do whatever job he wants to do in the future.
“That was when I realized that in order for me to have a wife and a family of my own, I need to go to school and get educated,” he said.
“Well, now I know that you don’t need to go to school to have a good job, but that was instilled in me at Maryville and through the opportunities of the scholarship program that Kathleen Samuelson (Jen School school counselor) ran for many years.” he added.
To get through his childhood, Brdecka said that he was determined to get a good education after high school.
Brdecka said Maryville taught him three things that shaped him to who is today: activities, staff and structure.
“There was always something to do at Maryville. There is the gym that we can play basketball, a roller rink, softball, soccer and volleyball in the field to occupy our minds. That was a huge deal.” he said.
He said that the many activities kept the children’s minds off the negative things in their lives. “All the kids – I am just one story out of the thousands that walked through the doors of Maryville – had gone through negative experiences and trauma in their lives and these activities helped us keep our minds off reality.” he said.
Brdecka is grateful to the Maryville staff who has had a lasting impact in his life. He said that a handful of them are still a part of his life to this day and he considers them family.
“The first 19 to 20 years of my life were hectic, chaotic and unstable,” he said. “Because of the staff at Maryville, I met people like Jim Quilter who instilled values and life skills in me, and gave my life direction.”
Brdecka credited the structure at Maryville for teaching him lifelong learning skills and for his success. “We were on points program and if you do something good, you get points. If you do something bad, you get negative points,” he said. “It was valuable in terms of getting to the real world.”
Brdecka completed his undergraduate degree in criminal justice at Illinois State and his master’s in library information at Dominican University.
Before starting his new position in September as executive director for the Hancock Library System in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, he worked for Northwestern University for 16 years and considered working there as “the most stable thing” in his life.
Brdecka and his wife, Brittni, have four children: Presli, Brody, Brandon and Berkli.
When asked what he would tell his 4-year-old self, he said he would tell him that it’s going to be okay. What about his 18-year-old self and the young man in his 30s? To trust the process.
“I have learned to take it a day at a time and to focus on what I can do today.” he said. ” I believe that it’s in all of us to succeed. Do not be afraid to fail.”