Memorial service commemorates Zielinski’s life and spirit

Harrah Friedlander (soprano) and Janice Li (pianist) performed at the memorial service Wednesda for Prof. Joan Zielinski, hosted by The Harvey Kapnick Business Institutions Program. Zielinski, who taught for BIP and the sociology department, died from a heart attack in December.

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Harrah Friedlander (soprano) and Janice Li (pianist) performed at the memorial service Wednesda for Prof. Joan Zielinski, hosted by The Harvey Kapnick Business Institutions Program. Zielinski, who taught for BIP and the sociology department, died from a heart attack in December.

Sammy Caiola, Reporter

Friends and family of Joan Zielinski gathered Wednesday at Alice Millar Chapel to mourn the sociology and business professor, who died in December.

About 60 people attended the memorial, hosted by the Harvey Kapnick Business Institutions Program. Zielinski worked there for seven years before her fatal heart attack on Dec. 13. She is remembered with love and affection by students and faculty throughout the university.

Before coming to Northwestern, Zielinski taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. She also served as executive director of the New Jersey Lottery. She is survived by husband Peter Alsberg and her twin daughters, Marisa and Sasha.

“We remember a teacher whose life helped shape the lives of many in our university,”  University Chaplain Tim Stevens said at the memorial. “Today we honor and give thanks for her many contributions to the academy and to public life. She engaged students through her teaching, and for many she became a mentor and a friend.”

Several of Zielinski’s colleagues spoke at the memorial, all of whom emphasized her commitment to quality education and close relationships with students. BIP Director Mark Witte said Zielinski constantly got the department into a scheduling mess because too many students wanted to take her class. He always told them to take it next quarter or next year, assuming there would always be time.

“It was always great to talk to her about the most recent episode of Mad Men,” Witte said. “ She was spunky, she was spirited, she stood up for herself. Any wisdom you could get from her would be worth holding on to. She was hilarious but had a serious side. … I miss her very much.”

Zielinski was well-liked among her students, as made evident by the 2009 seniors who elected her to give their “Last Lecture” during Senior Week at the Cubby Bear in Chicago. Students shared happy memories about visits to Zielinski’s home for dinner, and funny anecdotes about her many interests, including Porsches, parrots and Latin dance.

Jenn Lee (Weinberg ’09), who took one of Zielinski’s marketing classes, said Zielinski was not only one of her greatest teachers, but also one of her best friends.

“Her unconventional teaching style transcended the textbook and gave me a new perspective in the classroom,” said Lee. “After three years I truly understand the impact she has had on my life. Her sincerity, humor, intelligence and grace inspired me to be a better student and a better person.”

The tributes at the memorial were interspersed with musical selections by Giacomo Puccini, who BIP assistant director Lucy Millman said was one of Zielinski’s favorite composers. The memorial concluded with words from Zielinski’s family, who continues to grieve her death while also celebrating her life.

“I miss her more and more each day,” said her daughter, Sasha Alsberg. “But in all honesty, she’ll never truly be gone … I will cherish every moment I had with her, and put her advice to good use in the future. She leaves huge footprints that I hope to one day come close to filling.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Zielinski’s daughter Sasha Alsberg as her daughter Marisa Alsberg. The Daily regrets the error.