'Popcorn Friday' proceeds aid retired Milton teacher

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Anna Marie Lux
Saturday, May 18, 2013

When Jim Rotar taught eighth-grade science at Milton Middle School, he was legendary for making popcorn.

Today, the retired teacher can no longer eat popcorn because Parkinson's disease has left the muscles in his mouth and throat too weak to swallow it.

But Rotar's love of popcorn is not forgotten.

In May, middle school students are helping the longtime teacher with "popcorn Fridays." They are popping and selling popcorn to raise money to buy Rotar a device to help him communicate.

"The muscles in his tongue are weak," explained teacher Janice Delo, who taught with Rotar before he retired. "He has a difficult time communicating. It is a challenge for both him and the listener, and it will deteriorate more because of his disease."

Earlier this year, Delo told her students about Rotar and Parkinson's disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement.

"I could see his story had an effect on them," she said. "They were listening, and I could see empathy."

Students regularly perform public service projects. Seventh-grader Andrew Wells suggested students raise money to buy Rotar some kind of device to help him communicate.

"I did some research about Parkinson's disease," Andrew said. "I knew he had a problem speaking and would need something to make it easier."

The idea blossomed.

Two students—Lydia Bakke and Malinda Furgason—went with Delo to visit Rotar at an assisted living facility in Milton. They took still shots and a video to create a presentation about him.

Delo's advisory group led a school assembly, where students saw the video of Rotar and heard his story.

"I'm glad we can be helping him," Lydia said. "I really like him. The other students got to see how Parkinson's disease affects his talking and walking."

The group set in motion plans to raise money, which includes selling ribbons, setting out a jar for change in the office and selling popcorn on Fridays in May. In addition, former students can donate to the cause by sending checks to the school. So far, the effort has raised more than $2,000.

Rotar retired from the Milton School District in 2001 after 37 years of teaching.

"As Mr. Rotar's story has spread, more people have responded with notes saying they had him as a teacher," Delo said. "Many of his former students still live in the Milton and Janesville areas. He touched so many lives."

Initially, students and teachers thought they would spend the money to buy a laptop computer with a big keyboard. But Rotar will be evaluated soon by medical professionals to fit him with a communication device that best suits his needs.

"We really don't know what that is, yet," Delo said. "But our donation will give him a good start to cover the cost. If money is left over, we will donate it to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation."

The school is taking donations until Friday, May 24.

Rotar will be visiting students during the last week of school. He was moved when he learned about the effort to help him.

"He was kind of overwhelmed and got happy tears," Delo said. "He is pleased that people care enough about him to do this."

Last updated: 10:35 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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