Miriam Spisak maintained a reputation of rigor and excellence as the founder of Polk State College’s Radiography Program. She was strict, expecting her students to exhibit the highest levels of professionalism and passion for patient care.
But her former students – four of whom head Polk State’s medical imaging programs today – can’t describe Spisak without also recalling the softer moments that illustrated her warm heart and dedication to student success – from hosting spaghetti dinners where she would help them study for exams, to offering odd jobs to those in financial need to assist them in paying for their classes.
“Many may not have seen her warm heart because of her strong nature for excellence, but she was always there for her students to ensure they would be successful,” said Radiography Program Director Beth Luckett, who graduated with the program’s third class in 1985. “She was a top-notch instructor who leaves a strong legacy at Polk State, with the students going through the College’s medical imaging programs today receiving the quality education she instilled in us so many years ago.”
Spisak passed away Aug. 19 at the age of 84.
She was born in June 1934 to John and Florence Spisak of Sutersville, Pennsylvania. She helped develop Pennsylvania’s first associate degree program in Radiography at Robert Morris College and also taught at Allegheny General Hospital.
“She was a top-notch instructor who leaves a strong legacy at Polk State, with the students going through the College’s medical imaging programs today receiving the quality education she instilled in us so many years ago.” — Beth Luckett
Spisak moved to Winter Haven in 1981 to establish then-Polk Community College’s Radiography Program. After 15 years of service, she retired from the College in 1996.
Bill Luckett, Clinical Education Coordinator for the Cardiovascular Technology Program, graduated from the Radiography Program in 1984; Merrybeth Etherton, Director of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, graduated from the program in 1990; and Kevin Ferrier, Director of Cardiovascular Technology, graduated from the program in 1994.
“What she required of us shaped us into who we are today,” Ferrier said. “Her expectation that things be done a certain way for the patients – her passion for exceptional patient care – shaped me, my career, and who I am as a program director.”
Ferrier keeps his old textbooks and notes from his time in Spisak’s program readily available on a shelf in his office.
“They’re like my security blanket,” he confessed. “Ms. Spisak’s legacy is her discipline and expectations, her knowledge of patient care, and how well students who have completed the program treat their patients in the field.”
Etherton echoed a similar sentiment, calling Spisak an admirable instructor.
“She was very particular and professionally oriented,” Etherton recalls. “She undeniably had a great impact on my career and the development of Polk State’s medical imaging programs.”
As Bill Luckett puts it, “Ms. Spisak lit the fire in me as a young student who didn’t want to sit in class and wanted to be out in the field doing my clinicals.”
“She was tough, but when it was time to take our board exams, there wasn’t anything we weren’t prepared for,” he said.
He noted that the program’s first class started with 14 students and graduated only three.
“That shows how tough of a program Ms. Spisak created and her belief in the quality, not the quantity, of its graduates,” he explained.
“The students and faculty were like extended family to her. She always had a heart for her students and wanted them to succeed.” — Bill Luckett
Spisak never married or had children.
“The students and faculty were like extended family to her,” Bill Luckett said. “She always had a heart for her students and wanted them to succeed.”
In 2012, Spisak visited Polk State’s Airside Center-West in Lakeland, where the College’s medical imaging programs are housed today.
“You could tell she was very impressed,” Ferrier recalled. “It was like we were her children – she told us she was very proud. You could tell by her warm smile and the look in her eyes that she was proud that we advanced our careers at our alma mater, building on the program and strong foundation she laid here.”
Beth Luckett became the Radiography Program’s third director in 2011. After calling her husband, Bill, their children, and her father to share the news, she called Spisak to thank her former instructor and program director.
“Every aspect of our program is thanks to her knowledge, her professionalism, and her passion for students,” Beth Luckett said. “Graduates of the College’s medical imaging programs have gone on to make great advancements, serving as hospital administrators, physician assistants, doctors, and directors of programs like Polk State’s all thanks to her help and high expectations.”
“Her influence is undeniably felt by many,” she added. “Her legacy is strong here at Polk State College.”
Spisak is survived by her sisters, Yvonne (Ed) Eckroate and Florence (Rocky) Laubham; brother, William (Joann) Spisak; and 10 nieces and nephews.
She was an active member of St. Matthews Catholic Church, which will hold a mass in Spisak’s name on Sept. 2 at 5 p.m., at 1991 Overlook Drive, Winter Haven. Her funeral will be held in Pennsylvania.