On Thursday, February 23, 2023 I had the honor of being named “Entrepreneur of the Year” by the Envision Greater Fond du Lac (Wisconsin). Envision is the Chamber of Commerce for the area that includes the small town of Waupun, WI. Our store is located in Waupun.
Let me set the record straight, I don’t see myself as an Entrepreneur. This is another topic for another day. From all accounts and all definitions of what an Entrepreneur is, I am one. So I guess I’ll just have to get use to this label. Like a lot of things, I’ll do it kicking and screaming. I’m assuming doing something you don’t want to do, but making a fuss about it, is another Entrepreneur trait. I started my “Entrepreneur” journey, for the sake of this award, in 2016.
Back to the award. I had the opportunity to give a speech to this audience of around 400 people. The crowd is an intimidating one. A crowd of politicians (not intimidating), many great local leaders (somewhat intimidating), business owners (intimidating), Entrepreneurs (very intimidating), and three of my children (very very intimidating). I’m sure there were some haters scattered in there too (not at all intimidating).
I’ve spoke in front of many different audiences. I’ve guest spoke to classes, taught college classes, spoke at a funeral, school board meetings, in front of Senate and Assembly committees at the Capital, etc etc. Most every time I’ve spoken in front of a crowd I prepared some notes and it was very easy for me to use my notes that I made to speak. In fact, most times I do it the day before and never change my speech from the time I thought of it. This speech had a much different approach.
My first idea for this speech would likely lead to a few people hating me, most people thinking I’m a jerk, but a few people (very few) thinking I was awesome.
I’ll try to break down the speech that never was.
Thank my family, Envision. Congratulate others that received recognition that night. But most of all, thank the many businesses in the room. Simple and off to a great start. We’ll that is when it would take a turn.
Explain why I wanted to thank the many businesses in the room. Go over the top about thanking the big business in the room. One’s that have been around a long time and have hundreds of employees. Maybe even call out a couple of them.
I want to these businesses in the room for not believing in me many years ago. In the summer of 2012, our family was living in the Westside of Fond du Lac. I took a job in the Milwaukee area and hated it weeks into the job. It was an hour away, paid well, but just a miserable job. For the two years that followed taking that job, I applied for almost every job I could find in the Fond du Lac area, called companies about possible job openings, left messages for business HR departments and sent many letters.
Sorry, your experiences don’t line up with what we are looking for. This sums up those two years of looking for jobs in the Fond du Lac area. Those two years confirmed to me that I’m not in the “boys club” and never wanted to be. I didn’t grow up in the area so I didn’t have childhood friends that could get me in the door, etc.
If anyone in this room believed in me, I’d be stuck working for you and not be up here. Thank you from the bottom on my heart for not believing in me so I could provide so much more for my family that you ever would have.
Then walk away. Say nothing else, let them google my business.
You get the idea. It would have been one of bitterness, regret and frankly pretty pathetic. A speech I would have loved to hear someone else give and feel the awkwardness. It wouldn’t have been something I would be proud of and definitely not a way I would want my kids to look at me.
Our wedding day, November 24, 2007. It was a beautiful day in Fond du Lac, WI. At this time, Michelle and I were living in Allentown, PA. Long story why we were living there, we’ll save that for another entry. Michelle was busy planning our wedding 5 states away. My favorite part of the planning, likely the only part I played in the planning, was working on our soundtrack!
In 2007, it was popular to make custom CD’s of music. If you are under 20, there is a very good chance you don’t know what a CD is, that’s fine, just don’t share that, it will make me feel old. For our wedding gift to those attended, we handed out CD’s of our favorite songs. This really was important to Michelle and I. We spent many hours going over different selections and why. I don’t regret a single selection. But I have been thinking much more lately, if we released a sequel CD to our life since that magical day, what would the songs be?
First of all, let’s review the 1st “release.” See Picture:
All great songs. Looking back on it, #5 How Sweet It is by James Taylor really shows some significance. In the visitation before my mothers funeral, James Taylor was played. She loved his music.
#13 Extra Ordinary by Better than Ezra is still my favorite song. I really enjoy many of their songs, I look forward to taking my kids to their concerts soon!
Now on to Disc #2.
The first selection is a no brainer. Home by Blue October. “I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner, I can’t wait to soar.” Damn right! I love everything about this song. “Only care in the world is that our kids are alright, Daddy loves momma and momma loves him.” I could go on and on. One of my favorite moments in life is playing this song in the kitchen of our home moments after closing on the house we built.
What’s second, this is where it gets tough. I’m going to go with a song I recently discovered. A wild card if you will. #2 is Big Love, Small Moments by JJ Heller. This song really speaks to me and our last 5 years. We are always looking for big moments of change, but the reality is that the big things happen in the small moments. Having a son that happens to have Down Syndrome, he works so hard to achieve some things that our other children did without much fanfare. “Big Magic in the mundane.” “Everything is sacred when you take time to notice.” You are damn right. Good luck listening to this song, I mean really listening, and not have a little tear.
#3, let’s have a little fun. I’m going to have to go with Matea’s favorite song. Yes, our 8 year old gets to have a selection. Anytime I ask her for a song, there is only one answer. You know dad is dancing and singing along with her! I present #3, Best Song Ever by One Direction. When I ask her why this song, the answer is simple “It’s the Best Song Ever.” Hard to argue with that!
If Matea gets a song, the others must! Lydia turns 11 this week and she and music is always changing. Most nights her and I do a song as I tuck her in. We do many different selections from all different years. When we started doing this tradition, this song kept coming up, I bring it back every once and a while for night time. Here it is: #4 Fast Car by Tracy Chapman!
Trent is up for his song selection. I asked him what his favorite song is, he was a little hesistant. He landed on Michigan for the Winter. I do like that song, but when I think of him, the selection is obvious. This kid wants to hunt, fish and love everyday. A song that needs no explaining: #5, Luke Bryan – Huntin’, Fishin’, And Lovin’ Every Day!
#6 is going for our 4 year old Malix. Does he have a favorite song? He’s 4, they are all great. But he does have a dance to a song. Here it is #6: Shotgun by George Ezra!
All good lives need a rock. I definitely have mine in Michelle. She’s always been there for support in our adventures. Times have been tough, times have been amazing. For her, #7: Tell your Heart to Beat Again by Danny Gokey!
In 2018, I quit my full time job as a Director of Buildings and Grounds with a school district. Since then, everyday I feel like I’m living the American Dream, playing with baseball cards for a living. So, this choice is obvious. #8, American Dream by MKTO!
How about a pick up song, feeling like giving up (I’ve been there many times). Feel like calling it a day. I’m four, five seconds from wildin’. We are almost there, just need to get through this. When your kindness is taken for weakness. I have the cure, here’s #9 FourFiveSeconds by Rihanda, Kanye West and Paul McCartney!
In this adventure, the true is sharing it with my wife (Michelle) and kids. This song really speaks of seeing and doing so much, but the best line is “There’s heaven on earth, Seven wonders, And you.” It really is about being with those you love and enjoying that time, then take the adventure, together! Here’s a fantastic song for #10, 7 Wonders by Jon Robert Hall.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, and maybe have some new favorite songs. I love music and love finding “new favorite songs.” Making this list was much harder than I ever thought it would be. I would enjoy your comments on the blog what songs you would include on your soundtrack!
I don’t like birthdays. Never have, never thought I would. I like to celebrate accomplishments. Celebrate doing something, achieving something. I’ve always thought celebrating a birthday was kind of weird. I mean, everyone has one, what’s so special about having one.
I dislike birthday’s so much that if there is something I want and my birthday is near, I just buy it so it can’t be “for my birthday.”
In the past 5 years my perspective about almost everything has changed. Feel free to read the previous entries of the blog to see why. I’d like to think I’ve evolved. But this birthday thing, I just couldn’t wrap my head around what’s so special, until March of 2019.
*This is a better time than any to make a very important note. I love kid birthday parties. We have been lucky enough to have great friends and family who throw parties for their kids. Those afternoons are some of my favorite events. Mostly because it’s a reason to gather. How I miss gathering with friends, I hope we can be back to “normal” soon. Thank you to everyone who invites our family to your child’s birthday party. I just hope if your reading, you didn’t stop at the 1st paragraph and decide to stop inviting us.
Back to my perspective about Birthdays. February of 2019 it was apparent that my mother was not going to live long. She had been battling cancer and it was obvious to her and us that her time on earth was coming to an end. I tried to spend as much time as I could with her during those months. On one of my visit’s she brought up my upcoming 40th birthday in May.
I didn’t like the idea of turning 40. Really hated it actually. I like to think of myself as 25. Heck, I open baseball cards for a living, I’m really 12. I was really struggling with it and my mom knew it. Our conversation went something like this:
Mom: “Tom, are you excited to turn 40 in May.”
Me: “No, in fact I’m going to skip this birthday and every other birthday. I don’t want to have a birthday anymore.”
Mom: “I wish more than anything I could have another birthday. That would be another year with you, Michelle and most importantly, my grandkids. Instead I won’t have another birthday. “
My mom just put me in my place. I didn’t know what to say. I think she found a little joy in putting me in my place. Who am I kidding, she found a lot of joy in putting me in my place.
The only thing I could really do was to celebrate my birthday. I still wasn’t ok with that. As May approached, mom’s health got worse. She passed away April 25, 2019. 11 days before my birthday. He funeral was 3 days before my birthday.
I decided to not listen to mom. We didn’t throw a party. Our family was living in a 3 bedroom apartment at the time. We were building a house and it couldn’t be done fast enough. The birthday came and went.
41, that will be the party. I turned 41 on May 6, 2020. Guess what people were doing May of 2020. The answer, not a thing. That birthday came an went.
42 is where it’s at. I turn 42 today and I’m pumped. Another year with my wonderful family. Another year of running a business that really started by opening packs of baseball cards in a basement. Now we are remodeling a 6,000 sq ft building into a true destination cards shop that will be an awesome place to work, hang out, and simply be. Another year of traveling and finding new adventures. Another year of making new friends and truly reconnecting with others. No more BS small talk. Either connect with friends or don’t waste anyone’s time.
If your reading this (thank you by the way), what am I trying to say to you. Celebrate every stinking day. Don’t wait for your birthday. Do what you want to do. The first thing, is that everyone’s path and trail is different. Do what you want to do. Not what someone else wants you do to. 1) Want to do a dream job, but your crappy 9-5 is getting in the way. Start your dream job from 9 pm to 2 am. Build it up, then quit your 9-5 and be your own boss. 2) Want to be a better cook for your family. Take the time, learn a recipe and get the “good” food. Take pride in the dinner. 3) Want to write a blog. Just start writing. Don’t care what others think. Guess what, they are jealous if you take risks they would never take. They can sit around the bar stool and talk about you all they want. 4) Want to finish a degree. Do it. Don’t make excuses.
Go all in, be bold. Believe in yourself. My baseball card business is tons of fun. Lately I’ve recognized a saying others say to me when they learn a little about the business. The saying is “who would have thought.” I never really thought much about that saying, but today someone said it to me when I was wiring a large amount of money for a large amount of baseball cards. My answer just came out: ” I thought. I thought about it 5 years ago and decided to pour my heart and soul in it. I thought about it because I have so much self confidence in my abilities and work ethic the hundreds of doubters in my life didn’t effect me. My wife thought it would work, my business partner also thought it would work. I think about it day and night. That’s who would have thought.”
The bank employee looked at me and simply said: “Good for you. I’m glad you thought of it.”
Tom Kulczewski is actually looking forward to turning 42 today, who would have thought.
Sometimes in life we see someone, something and we have sympathy for a total stranger, we connect on a level, if it is just for a few minutes, that we rarely connect with. I’m a believer that often we miss these time. We are too busy avoiding strangers instead of making connections.
I’ve very guilty of this, always busy. Always checking my e-mails, seeing what’s next, seeing what I “need” to see on social media. The time we have to sit back, put our phones down, look around for me is an airplane trip.
I love traveling, I really do. This past year has put traveling to a sudden halt for most of us, but I’m looking forward to doing it again.
October 1, 2019 the Milwaukee Brewers played a 1 game Wild Card Playoff game against the Washington Nationals, in Washington DC. My friend, Jon, has a connection with the Nationals, that part really isn’t important. I flew in the morning of the 1st, we rented electric scooters and drove around DC with really nothing to do. It was awesome. Afternoon came, we made it to National Park, to witness one of the best MLB games I’ve ever seen. After the game we had some fun, that part isn’t important to this story either 🙂
The next morning, I had a midmorning flight from DC to Milwaukee. Pretty routine, morning. Got some Chick-Fil-A nuggets for the flight, easy 90 minutes.
I was one of the last to board the plane, just me, my backpack and some Chick-Fil-A. It was a very full flight, I just went to the back of the plane, saw a family of 5. Dad (35ish), Mom (35ish), Big Brother (maybe 10 yrs old), Sister (8ish) and little Brother (4ish). It was very clear from the beginning, they were having a really tough day. Dad was really struggling, we made eye contact and an instant connection was made. Getting ready for takeoff, it was clear others around me started to get upset with the kids. Rolling eyes, etc. I decided to strike up a conversation with the family. I could tell they didn’t really want to talk, but hey, I’m bored and these other guys on the plane seem like a bunch of stiffs.
So I start with older brother. Simple “What’s up buddy?” He then says, and I’ll never forget it: “I need to go say goodbye to Grandpa.” Hmm, that’s odd I thought, then tears started from Dad. Oh, maybe it’s a funeral, or a grave visit. This is getting deep.
Mom and Dad go all in. Tell me the story. Grandpa is on life support, losing a battle with cancer. The son is a successful business man in Washington DC, and his Dad is dying.
This is October 2, 2019. My mother passed away from Cancer April 25, 2019. I then started talking righ Dad. Looked at him in the eye, both of us crying at this point, told him I know what he’s dealing with. Saying good bye sucks. Told him I did it months earlier. He asked me what I said.
What does a loving son say to their parents? Something we can always think about afterwards, but what about in that moment. Do we say “Don’t go” or something that we have no control of. Do we say “I love you” that’s the obvious one. What do we say? Why did we wait this long to say it if it’s important to say?
He wanted to know. I could tell he’s really intelligent, I’m sure very successful, I also bet he’s never lost for words. But he doesn’t know what to say to his dad before he passes. I could tell it was really important to him.
So, what did I say? I told him, what I’ll tell you now. I knew this would be the last time to speak to my mom, it was 2 days before she passed. I had spent the past few days with him and my father. I went in, hugged her. Told her I love her, then was lost for words. I then said, “I’m going to follow you and do what you always did. I’m going home to my take care of my kids, my wife, your grandchildren.” She smiled and laid down. That was it.
Was that the right thing? I think so. Our job is to take care of each other. My mom always took care of us, I needed to now take care of my family.
The dad looked at me. Really broke down. The mom then told me that is the best advice. Honor your parents, by taking care of your own family. The dad was struggling with did he honor his parents enough. He spent the last 10 years building his own family, running his business. Being a provider. He was struggling, was it a good thing? Was taking care of his family a good way to honor his Dad? I think so.
I have many passions in life, one of the strongest passions I have are baseball cards. For many a baseball card is just a piece of cardboard with a player’s image on it. For me, it’s much more than that. Baseball cards are a great way to connect to a favorite player, connect to a childhood memory or just a great diversion in life.
I have four cards in my collection that mean a lot to me. In the card collecting world, the phrase for this would be NFT/NFS, Straight PC. (Not for Trade / Not for Sale, Personal Collection). I thought this would be a great time to share 4 of my cards and why they mean so much to me!
2018 Topps Update, Ronald Acuna Jr, Photo Variation, White Jersey, Holding Glove.
Fall of 2018 was the release of Topps Update. With a lot of “flagship” releases, I sold quite a bit of boxes. I happen to have a few boxes left in 2019. My mother started to really suffer the early part of 2019. I spent many days in Monmouth over her last few months on this earth. Back in Wisconsin we were building out home and staying in a 3 bedroom apartment. That’s right, our family of 4 kids, 2 adults and 2 dogs was in 3 bedroom apartment. This apartment was really a 2 bedroom as one of the rooms was my office for the baseball card business. We were very cramped to say the least.
One March Sunday Night I just returned from Monmouth, IL to visit my mother. She was not doing well, I came back to Wisconsin knowing her passing was near. I got back to the apartment very late, everyone was sleeping and I was stressed out. I needed something to take my mind off life, then I remembered I had about 6 hobby packs of 2018 Topps Update. Ripping packs is such a great way to relax, and these are “cheap packs.” I thought it would be fun to rip a couple, read the backs and go to bed. My 2nd pack, BOOM.
I noticed something different about this one, it’s an awesome Ronald Acuna Rookie Card Photo Variation! Was so excited about this hit. It was a great diversion, even for a few minutes, on tough times going on in life.
2018 Topps Allen & Ginter Champ Pederson Autograph
In opening hundreds of thousands of packs, I’ve pulled cards that have made me shout for joy, laugh, make me nervous, just about every emotion. But I’ve only had 1 card that I pulled that made me cry.
Allen & Ginter is an annual summer release Topps Set that is known to feature subjects that are non baseball. It has had everything from autographs of actors to a dinosaur tooth in a card!
In 2018 Topps Included, Champ Pederson the Older Brother of Los Angeles Dodgers Outfielder Joc Pederson. Champ has been featured in some advertising with Joc and travels with the Dodgers. Champ happens to have Down Syndrome, same as our son Malix.
In the summer of 2018, Malix was less than 2 years old. As a parent of a young child with Down Syndrome, it’s a lot to process. Like many dads with sons, I’ve always dreamed of having a son that is a professional athlete. When we realized Malix had Down Syndrome, a lot of traditional father dreams change. The minute I saw this card, I came to the realization, that my dreams for my child are not vanished. This card speaks to me loud an clear that Down Syndrome does not limit anyone and having a child with Down Syndrome.
I’m rarely lost for words opening baseball cards, but this pull had me speechless. The collector who hit this card, was nice enough to sell it to me and it’s a staple in my collection.
1983 Topps Ryne Sandberg PSA 10
I realize my passion of cards is not something that everyone in my life shares, but I’m fortunate that my wife appreciates. Michelle gifted me this 1983 Topps Ryne Sandberg Rookie Card for a Birthday a few years ago. I did have a Sandberg Rookie Card, but not in a graded PSA 10.
This is a staple in my collection and a great gift she gave me.
1991 Fleer Ultra Ryne Sandberg Autograph
Summer of 1991, my father (Al) took my brother (Ben) and I to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. This game was rained out and I was devistated. As we waited for our bus, I went to a chain link fence to see what was going on. To my surprise, my favorite Player was walking out, RYNE SANDBERG!! I was shocked and nervous. I pulled out this new Fleer Ultra Card I had in my holder and he signed it for me.
Ryne signing this card, turned what could have a disappointment of a day into a great day. More than a signed card, this really speaks to me about what my Dad would do for us kids. Like a lot of parents, my parents were very busy people, but they always took time to do something special with us! Creating memories like this is something I strive to do with my own children.
This week I took a huge step to achieving of of my goals. I’m 41, this is a goal I had as a young child. A goal that I really didn’t think I would accomplish, that all changed in 2016, just 4 years ago.
In most every other blog post I talk about our children, especially our youngest child, Malix. Hence the name of this blog. We often make the mistake of associating having children with goals in life shifting. Maybe we wanted to travel the world… then you had kids and your only world travel is now your Taco Bell. (I love Taco Bell for the record). Maybe you wanted to focus on your corporate career, then you met the person of your dreams and wanted to spend nights / weekend with them instead of working late in the office. Basically you had career goals, then something important or “life changing” happens, so your career goals dissolve.
My career goal is similar, but turned out very different.
As a young child, I wanted to be one of two things. 1) Professional Baseball Player 2) Own a Baseball Card Shop. Let’s be honest, #1, went out the window when a curve ball came into play. Entering High School, my career goal changed, I wanted to work for Major League Baseball Club. I didn’t sit back, dream it would happen, I wanted to know the path, what I needed to do and then make it happen.
I grew up the Monmouth, Illinois. Population 10,000, home of Monmouth College and birthplace of Wyatt Earp. It’s truly a fine place to live. I graduated High School in 1997, public school, surrounded by Corn Fields. My graduating class was under 40. I always told people I was “Top 10” in my HS class 🙂
After High School, I started at Illinois State University. The spring semester of my Freshman Year, I sent out letters to every Major League and Minor League Baseball Team in the Midwest. If I was going to work for a MLB team, I better get going! This was before days of social media and e-mail, good old fashion letter it was!
I ended up getting an unpaid Internship In Appleton, Wisconsin with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Class A Midwest League. It was an amazing summer, I worked at a baseball stadium! What could get better. I moved into a basement of another intern and lived like a king on Ballpark Hot Dogs.
My baseball adventures the following 2 summers were great: Summer 1999: Intern Butte Copper Kings; Butte, Montana. Summer 2000: Grounds Crew Wisconsin Timber Rattlers; Appleton, Wisconsin.
I graduated from College in May of 2001 with a Business Degree in Marketing and Economics. I just wanted to work in Baseball, nothing else. No interest in having a family of my own, just baseball. That summer I returned to Appleton to work for the Timber Rattles Grounds Crew. June 11, 2001 I suffered a traumatic accident to my left ankle. Long story short, I cut off my left ankle, all accept the Achilles Tendon. My foot was literally hanging by the tendon. 4 months later I could walk again. Onward in my baseball career. I moved to Phoenix, AZ and worked the the next 14 months for the Oakland Athletics at their Spring Training Facility on the Grounds Crew.
In the fall of 2002, I returned to Appleton, WI for my first “real full time job” with the Timber Rattlers. I was Director of Operations for the next 4.5 years.
During this time I meet Michelle, we started dating and she is fantastic. Before meeting her I never thought I would get married or have a family. I worked at a Baseball Stadium, my life was “complete.”
December of 2006 into the spring of 2007, I interviewed for a job with a Major League Baseball Club. I didn’t get the job, but came very close. In discussions with Club Officials after the process, they were nothing but gracious and positive. The biggest take away is that I needed more experience at a bigger stadium. Shortly after that interview process, Michelle and I moved to Allentown, PA when I got a job with the new AAA Baseball Clue, the LeHigh Valley IronPigs. They were in the middle of building a new stadium. I had the opportunity of a lifetime that would surely land me a job with a Major League Baseball Club.
It just so happens, during this transition to PA, Michelle and I got engaged and married. It is now April of 2007, I work all the time, my wife is wonderful and she is now pregnant. Oh, that will change goals in a hurry. My goal quickly shifted from working for a MLB team to being a husband and now father!
We moved back to Appleton the summer of 2007 where I got a job as Manager of Buildings and Grounds for the Menasha Joint School District. I spent the next 12 years working for public school districts in similar roles.
Fast forward to 2016. We have a nice house and a great job in Fort Atkinson, WI. We are expecting our fourth child. We find out our baby will be born with a major heart defect and likely have Down Syndrome. I encourage you to read previous entries for some more details, this entry is really focusing on my career goals. Malix is coming, my wife needs to take a leave from her job to care for him due to his needs. We are short on money to pay our monthly expenses, I start selling baseball cards online to provide for my family…..
In 2016 I met my business partner online through baseball card buy / sell / trade sites. Ryan Holland in Minnesota. This adventure in Baseball Cards would not be successful without his friendship and business relationship.
Just like that, Malix isn’t even born, but he just turned me into a career path for one of my goals as a child. Goal #2) Own a Baseball Card Shop. I started an official company, (easy to do) and now started selling baseball cards online. I guess you could say I had a virtual shop, at least my basement was looking like a shop.
In 2018, I left working in schools to focus my career solely on selling baseball cards online. In 2019 we moved into our “forever home” in Brownville, WI. (side note, in these adventures this is our 3rd “forever homes” but this truly is our last). I had this baseball card business rocking out of the basement.
2019 into 2020 things got busier and busier for the business. Then covid hit, things got crazy busy for the business and hasn’t slowed down since. Now I have an awesome crew that comes to my house daily to sort and ship baseball cards all over the world, but this needs to move out of the house. It’s growing beyond this home.
So, this week I did it. I purchased a building in Waupun, WI (15 minutes from our home). This building is in the Downtown Historic section of town and I’m in love with it.
The first phase is to remodel the upstairs level (2,600 sq ft) and make it e-commerce center to ship baseball cards in a first class manner with a sleek historic urban feel. I’ve hired an architect to insure it’s done in a top notch manner.
Stage 2 is to have a baseball card shop on the street level. I have no timeline for stage 2, but I’m excited when it will happen. I know it will happen and I know it will be amazing.
Just like that, Childhood Career Goal is going to be accomplished. Why did I get to achieve my Childhood Goal? Supportive parents, great siblings, great education, AMAZING wife, great kids, awesome fellow collectors in our community at Real Breaks, great friend and business partner in Ryan, the great crew of sorters / shippers that work with me, but the turning point was having Malix. Our little guy didn’t take anything away from our family or my career. He completed our family and pushed me to follow my Childhood Goal. I truly believe we are blessed to have Malix and all of our children. Without this family, I would never get to do what I wanted to do my entire life! They didn’t take me away from my goal, they brought me back.
I’m so excited to share the amazing adventures in months / years to come!
Fall, my favorite time of the year. Up until 1 year ago it’s always been a huge transition time for me. Growing up fall marks back to school, the transition from the summer fun.
I always enjoyed summer vacation. Growing up our family always took 1 big road trip every year. We went to places such as Disneyworld, Toronto, Portland, etc. The real adventure was usually in the car ride. We never flew, we always drove. It was fun, real fun. Like all families of the 1980’s, we slept on the floor of the mini van, windows down with no AC, driving 55 on the 2 lane highways. Playing games with different colored cars, pointing out billboards and always looking for a Waffle House sign to know we are in the south.
I grew up in Monmouth, IL. Population 10,000. Surrounded by fields of corn and beans. My mother use to say we have a wide variety here, corn and beans then sometimes beans and corn. I really appreciated the getting out and seeing the country, meeting people who may not look or act like our family. Always a good thing!
Getting back to Fall. I love it, but I think one of the things I loved about it is change. Going to school, then after college I worked in Minor League Baseball. The change of the season to the “off season” or winter work. I liked that for about 4 weeks, then wanted the baseball season to start up!
After working in Minor League Baseball I spent 10 years working in Public School Districts in Wisconsin. I was a Director of Buildings and Grounds. My journey of this blog really starts when I was in Fort Atkinson. The summer of 2017, we were living in Fort, but I knew things had to change for our family. Just not sure how to make the changes. The real truth is, I was scared to figure out how to make the change.
School started in the fall. Malix was almost 1 year old, he was fresh off a heart surgery in January. Michelle was going back to work, Malix had to go into daycare. We basically know no one in Fort Atkinson where we live. We find an in home daycare for Malix. We’ve dropped off kids before at daycares and it’s not easy. But this sucked, really sucked. The lady who provided the care was great, I just knew deep down, I need to make a change where we didn’t leave our almost 1 year old (with Down Syndrome) and a heart surgery with a stranger and other kids. In the end, we needed to work to provide for the family.
The Fall came and went. I was 1 year into this little side baseball card business of Real Breaks. I also was teaching a night class for Madison Area Technical College. Both things I loved to do. I was working non stop, but not getting ahead. The baseball card business was starting to show some real promise. What if I never had to go to “work.” What if I could provide for the family with this side gig and Malix didn’t need to go to a stranger’s house? What if!
The winter came and then spring. I never hated my job, never . I liked it ok, was passionate about it for sure. Really enjoyed a lot of the people I worked with, couldn’t stand some others. Basically a typical work environment. 🙂 We have lived in this community for almost 4 years. I have a crazy idea. Let’s move to wherever we want to live and I sell baseball cards in the basement! Done.
June of 2018, I resigned from a completely secure job with ok pay, great benefits and as stable as one could have. I was going to sell baseball cards on Facebook. We put our house for sale and in July moved our family of 4 kids, 2 dogs and Michelle and I into a 3 bedroom apartment in Lomira, WI. Oh, one of those bedrooms was an office for my business! 3 kids in 1 bedroom, Malix in ours. Let’s do it.
I’ve left jobs before, but this one was especially different for a variety of reasons. The journey with our family (Malix). Looking back on it, I should have taken a long extended leave when he was born and had his surgery. Instead, I worked non stop. I felt I gave everything to the school district and put my families needs second.
In a school district, we were under contracts. My contract was a 2 year contract. The weird part is your contract never really expired. I would get a new 2 year contract every year. So as an administrator I would always have another year on the contract. Essentially anytime you would leave, you would have to break the last year of your contract.
July 1 of 2018 was the start of the second year of my 2 year contract. In the June school board meeting, I was asking for release of my contract effective July 20, 2018. The school board had the option to enforce “Liquidated Damages” up to $1,000. Doing my research the school district of Fort Atkinson never enforced those damages. I understand the idea of doing this so an employee doesn’t leave you “high and dry.” I let gave 6 weeks notice of my leave, so I thought it would not be an issue.
The June board meeting my resignation was before the school district. The wording was read that I wanted to leave. There was nothing discussed, nothing. Then they voted to allow me to quit. Then they voted 6-0 to enforce the $1,000 liquidated damages. I was mad, disappointed, and shocked.
Why was I mad? Because of $1,000, not really. I just poured 4 years of myself into a job and not a single person from the district could even speak up and say thank you. At the board table sits the Superintendent, my boss and some of my colleagues. Not a single one said thank you. Crickets.
I keep the letter from the HR dept confirming the receipt of my liquidated damages as a reminder. Reminder how I poured everything into a job and community. In words of Gary Vee, “no one owes you S*it”. I tell myself I’ll never make that mistake again. I’ll never work for someone who doesn’t appreciate me and more importantly I’ll never not appreciate someone who works for a business I own and run.
The next 3 weeks at “work” were actually ok. My colleagues were very nice to me. I do have some great friends from working there. I found out later that most everyone I worked with thought I was lying about what I was going to do and they “heard” I got a job with another school district. I can see why they would think that. Leaving was fun and scary at the same time. I do miss a couple people I worked with for sure. On my last day, some colleagues brought me donuts and a jar of “well wishes.” I’ve never opened the jar to read the. I almost threw it in the dumpster when I left, but thought I’d keep it for another day.
I just opened a jar I received when I left with phrases from people I worked with. Here are some for good measure. Note, I have never read these. I’ll add my thought for good measure.
1) “I appreciate your sense of humor and open honest spirit.” I’ll take that one.
2) “I appreciate you calling B.S. BULLSHIT” That is hilarious. In school districts people are full of BS a lot of the time. I tended to call them out.
3) “It was great getting to know you and your family. You did an awesome job of bringing new ideas to SDFA. You will be missed” I don’t think I’m missed, but I did bring some awesome ideas.
4) “I hope this move is just what your family needs. Take care and be well.” They clearly don’t believe I’m going to sell baseball cards.
5) “I appreciate your passion for kids and commitment to our mission. Your sense of humor and joy in your work is awesome. I also appreciate how you’ve been a friend to me.” I believe this person. She was very nice to me.
6) “Be your own boss! I hope you find what makes you happy and follow your passions and dreams. Best of Luck!” She’s calling me BS and thinks I’m working for another district.
7) “I wish you happiness and that you may be a blessing to others as you have been to me and so many others here.” I think this one is sincere, that was nice of her.
8) My wish for you is to find happiness and peace with your family. I truly believe you are doing the right thing at the right time for your family’s lives. I wish you the best of luck.” The truth is I should have done it much sooner!
9) “I hope that your next adventure allows you to do what you love, weather it’s baseball cards, a similar position, or something new. I know that we will miss yo and your amazing family A LOT! Thank you for all you’ve done for us!” Clearly she doesn’t believe I’m going to sell baseball cards. Lol.
10) “I wish you amazing success in your new path and abundant joy with your family” That is nice.
11) “I appreciate your love for food!! You were fun to work with. God bless you, Malix, and all your family.” I do love to eat!
12) “I hope your move takes you on a great adventure. Praying for god’s very best for you and your family!” That is very nice.
I’m excited for the change fall is bringing here. The business in going great, I’m buying a 5,200 sq feet building in Historic Downtown Waupun, WI in 2 weeks. The business is going to move out of our house! I love change and growth! So much more on that later!
February of 2017 we left Children’s Hospital in Madison, knowing we would be back. Well, we are coming back this week!
In February of 2020 we realized Malix needed his tonsil’s removed. They were really swollen and apparently it’s common for a child with Down Syndrome to need them removed. Covid came and all “elective” surgery procedures were put on hold. They are back!
For Malix to be able to have surgery he needed clearance from his Heart Doctor. We have always anticipated a second surgery for his heart. The surgery would not be nearly as risky as his first. Great news. The bad news is that after his second surgery he would be on blood thinners the rest of his life. Bad news. Apparently being on blood thinners for many years has side effects… kidneys… etc. I’m not going to pretend I know all, but you get the picture.
Michelle took Malix to our Heart Doctor for the full check up. I decided to stay home and work. I wish I went. Well, Malix did great. He is cleared for surgery, but the miracle is his heart’s gap that needed surgery is closing. That means that the likelihood of surgery went from a certain to likely will never need it!!!
The day after learning this, something hit me. It hit me hard. My mother passed away last spring. Before she passed, she sometimes would say things as if they were fact. It really bothered me, because “how could she know.” We got into many discussions about Malix’s second heart surgery. Anytime it came up, she would tell me with 100% certainty that Malix would not need another surgery, no questions asked. I always thought it was a tatic to make me not worry about it. So, of course, I would argue with her, but she was so certain.
Well, mom was right. She was a strong believer in Christ. I know she prayed like crazy for all of us, but especially Malix. That kid is so lucky to have awesome grandparents, even if he’ll never get to see one of them again on this earth. Love you mom, thank you for looking out for us like you always do!
I am not a patient person, not at all. I acknowledge this as one of my weaknesses, but frankly I think it’s a strength. Malix is not patient either, and after his heart surgery on January 25, 2017, that is just fine.
Our journey, we last left off when Malix returned from surgery. Late afternoon on a snowy Wisconsin Wednesday. Now we (Michelle and I) are in his room with him. Oh, he’s still out and will be for a few days. Hooked up to dozens of monitors and dozens more wires. The biggest thing I could not take my eyes off was his heart. His heart? Yes. He came out with his chest open, covered by a transparent covering. You could see it beat. It was incredible, frighting, crazy, scary, beautiful all at once.
The lead Doctor is Dr. Petros Anagnostopoulos, MD, MBA, FACS. (Dr. A) He’s the Surgeon in Chief at University of Wisconsin, American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, WI. He saved our son’s life. That simple, that complex. We would get to know Dr A much more in the week ahead. I wrote about him in earlier posts, but he’s worth writing much more about.
After surgery, we were with family in the waiting room. Dr. A came to speak with us. We stayed in with our family. Dr. A was calm, optimistic, but didn’t want us to get to excited. I remember Michelle’s brother, Kevin, thanking him. Dr. A responded “Don’t think me now, thank me when Malix leaves this place.” That stuck with me that the surgery is over, but there is a very long ways to go.
Going into surgery, we really had no true idea how long recovery would be. Days? Weeks? Months? No clear idea. Dr. A never gave timelines. He stuck by day by day steps. Told us some steps would be forward, some backwards. Be ready for days with no steps.
My favorite part of each day of recovery was the morning rounds. Our hospital is a teaching hospital for the University of Wisconsin. Each morning Dr. A would be with a group of students. He would question them on each patient, etc. He would ask the group of students, how do we proceed with Malix. They all had blank stares. “LIKE A TURTLE.” Slow and steady. You will want to push him, because he is a pusher patient, but he’s a Turtle. Dr. A would then tell the others how he made great gains, but would have set backs.
Then the next day. He would say “LIKE A TURTLE.” Malix had great gains, but would have set backs….. same thing the next day. Guess what, Malix is a fighter, impatient, can do it himself and nothing is going to stop him. 3 years later, he’s still the most determined kid I’ve ever met. It’s awesome!
In my mother’s battle with cancer, she would often tell me that it’s “Like a Turtle.” She loved this line and so do I. I believe I received my lack of patience from her. She would agree it’s not a bad thing. Having her pass on April 25, 2019 still hurts. She loved Malix and would love to see his impatience now!
Surgery as Wednesday, on Friday his chest was closed. On Saturday, we brought Trent into to see his little brother. To this point, the kids have not seen him. It was tough to show a child their sibling, laying there with dozens of monitors and medicine cords attached to him. Trent insisted to see him. It was a special moment!
The next day, it was time to wake up Malix. The nurses were shocked how soon he was ready, they shouldn’t have been. Malix does things on his time and that time is NOW! Taking Malix off of sedation was a scary time. Then a cough and breath on his own. We can now hold him. To this point he had to lay flat and still in a small bed. We were able to have the other kids see him. This family picture really captures it.
That picture says so much to me. The first thing you may notice is the cords / wires from Malix. That is nothing. He had so many more before. That was the “light” cord duty. I see a tired family, one that is going through something very few do go through. This experience changed our life, no doubt. Malix is now our inspiration really completes our family from before he was even born.
Just a quick side note, it’s my blog so I don’t need permission to go “preachy.” So many people say something to the effect of “I can’t imagine.” Guess what, I don’t care if you can imagine or not. Frankly I feel a statement like that basically says, I don’t care about what your going through, I’m so selfish that I try to turn every situation about me and I can’t do it. How about saying this instead: “You are doing great. I support you and am always here for you.” I know this will offend some people, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to be offended by it. 😉
Back to Mighty Malix kicking butt. Around Sunday I’m ready to get out of the hospital. He’s awake, he’s a love and needs lots of sleep. He can sleep at home, is what I’m thinking. Sitting in a hospital room all day makes a strong minded parent ask a lot of questions. Well, sometimes care givers don’t always appreciate all the questions. We had a nurse that would get bothered by us always asking why and when. Looking back on it, maybe (just maybe) I asked to many questions. Dr. A sat Michelle and me down and gave the greatest compliment we could get. He told us that as parents we are 3 standard deviations to the right and that nurses don’t always know how to deal with such great parents. Using Standard Deviations to describe someone as a parent if fantastic. I love him for that (and for saving Malix’s life).
Well, the day has come. February 6, 2017. We can go home. We know we’ll be back, but now it’s time to go home and be a normal family. Guess what, normal is boring. I have this little side business that is about to take off, I teach college class one night a week and work a full time job as Director of Buildings and Grounds for the School District of Fort Atkinson.
It’s been a while (2 months) since I’ve updated my blog on here. So much is going on in our crazy world and frankly, I just thought you had more to worry about in your life than to hear of our journey. In the past week, 4 friends have asked me why I stopped. That really encouraged me to keep going and maybe, just maybe people are interested. I started this blog to help me process life, especially the past 4 years with. To give you the cliff notes, we (my wife Michelle and I) have 4 kids. Our youngest was born in 2016 with a major heart defect and happens to have Down Syndrome. Read all about it in other posts.
I feel that there is so much more to write on our journey that has got us to this point. I will continue that journey. But right now I want to jump to the now and ramble a bit.
Like so many people right now I don’t know how to feel. I’m scared that people are getting sick, I’m pissed that I can’t go to my favorite restaurants, I’m frustrated with “E-learning”. I’m really excited our state (Wisconsin) Supreme Court said we don’t have to be stuck indoors anymore, but then I’m scared people may get sick. But I kinda feel like it’s all crazy and whatever I say, some crazy person will go nuts. At the end of the day, I feel lucky as hell I have an amazing wife, awesome kids and a great business partner.
In the fall of 2016 I co-founded a Facebook Group for doing “breaks” of sports cards called Real Breaks. Actually it was called Keep it Real Breaks, but that’s a drama filled story that really doesn’t matter. I co-founded with a guy that I never met in person, we never even spoke on the phone. His name is Ryan Holland. Over the past 4 years we have become great friends. We are blunt, honest, etc with each other. This morning in fact I yelled at him, told him to get lost, etc. Then we moved on to talk about the ridiculous market of baseball cards. I was really in the wrong for yelling and getting upset, but hey, he’ll get over it 🙂
This little fun business adventure got a little crazy over the years. At first I would spend a couple hours a week on it. Put kids to bed and then do cards at 9 pm. yadda, yadda, yadda, it blew up. I quit my really awesome job with the School District of Fort Atkinson, we moved to a village of 500 people of Brownsville, Wisconsin and now I sell sports cards out of my basement. I do not know for a fact, but I am pretty confident I sell more baseball cards than any other company in my state. I am confident that Ryan and I are one of the top 5 companies in the country that sell sports cards direct to collectors.
In our adventures, I have learned something that my mother told me is so very true. She once told me that I am the most passionate person that doesn’t care she ever met. This made zero sense to me until recently. I am passionate about many things, but on some of those very things, I could care less what others think of me because of my passion. It’s screwed up, I know. Basically, having self confidence is a great thing, but I hope it never comes off as being arrogant.
Speaking of my mother. April 25, 2020 marked the 1 year of her death. Losing her hurts, flat out hurts. I would love to hear her try to be positive about our world right now. I’m blessed to have Michelle, my father, my sister and my big brother.
Where am I going with all of this? It’s a great world. I feel this blog helps me relax and keep rocking. Speaking of Rockin’. There is a facebook groups for Parents of children with Down Syndrome. I’m in the Rockin’ Dads, and today joined a Blog group. Turns out it’s a Rockin Moms Blog group. I’ve yet to find a father that blogs, so I’m it!
So what’s next? I am going to work on keeping this blog updated. But I can guarantee the next few years are going to be awesome for the Kulczewski Family. Our kids are doing awesome. Malix (our 3 year old that happens to have Down Syndrome) is smart as can be. To be very honest, him having DS really does not come to my mind. I could care less if he has DS. He’s really smart, fun and independent as hell. My mom would be proud!
In one of my first blogs, I wrote encouraging you to contact me and we would have you over for dinner. That offer still stands and I have 2 dinners to schedule. In this time, reach out. Let’s be friends, virtually at a safe social distance.
Last year I had the honor of speaking at my mother’s funeral. The day before, this came to me. “Meaning to do, is meaning less, without action.” My mother was a woman of action. I like to think I am making her proud.
Thank you for reading, it’s an honor to me if you made it this far. I promise I’ll pick back up with our adventures in 2017 in the next post.